Football’s immense potential

The recently concluded Hairoun Community Football Championships may well have much to tell us about the immense potential that exists here for the development of the sport and of the entire nation.
While initially the football fans around the country seemed tentative about the success of the event this changed significantly as the competition wore on to the point where football authorities here could pat themselves on the back for capturing once more the enthusiasm for the sport that our people are known for.

Unlike Cricket the sport of football here, like elsewhere, was always an attraction to the people from the lower social classes.
It must be remembered that cricket was brought to us in the region as the sport of gentlemen and at one time only the white people, colonisers and their successive generations were the only ones allowed to play the game.
In several Caribbean countries blacks were only allowed near the cricket arena to collect the balls when they were struck into the nearby bushes.
Football, on the other hand has been a most appealing sport and the members of the lower classes readily gravitated to the game. While cricket required that players don flannels and relatively expensive gear football could be played without shoes and with any form of clothing although the preference was shorts and t-shirts.
Over the years the sport of cricket has certainly undergone change in terms of the population that it attracts and many people from the lower classes have taken to the sport with much success. This is not to say that the sport has lost its image of being the game of gentlemen.
Football however remains what Basil ‘Bong’ Cato dubbed, The Game of the People. Many may recall that it was Cato who led the rallying cry, Soccer – The Game of the People, that eventually became the mantra for the sport for many years.
What we saw over the years has been the continued involvement of youths from all across the nation, cutting across class boundaries, entering the sport. Nonetheless people from the lower social classes dominate the sport here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, as indeed is the case in many countries around the world.
Many would recall the poverty-stricken nature of the origins of the world’s greatest craftsman in the sport, Edson Arantes do Nascimiento – the legendary Pele. His elevation to the top of the world in the sport of choice, football, opened the door for successive generations of Brazilian footballers to access lucrative contracts across the globe and rescue them and their families from the poverty that sought to stymie their development.
In the past few decades we have witnessed opportunities opened for footballers from the Caribbean with Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago being the most successful in accessing contracts largely in Europe but also in the USA.
In our case our players have not been as fortunate. While we have had Rodney ‘Chang’ Jack opening a gateway to Europe we were only able to get three players in Europe and two or three in the USA’s Major League Soccer. Marlon James is still in Malaysia having been there before along with Cornelius Huggins.
Some players, including Kendol ‘Ken I’ Velox, have been fortunate enough to play in the Pro league in Trinidad and Tobago.
For one reason or another we have been unable to access places abroad as frequently as some of our Caribbean neighbours. This is unfortunate since for decades this country has produced outstanding footballers, many with immense skills, who should have been exposed to international contracts. The achievements of the Vincentian teams of the period 1979 – 81 remain legendary but there are many who would suggest that there were players with great skill who happened to be playing at a time when other countries in the region also had their fair share of outstanding players.
Perhaps it was the location of Jack Warner in the FIFA that allowed him to assist players from his country in getting greater exposure. He must be credited with bringing teams to the region with greater frequency allowing the Caribbean players to match skills with their international counterparts.
It was perhaps unfortunate that St Vincent and the Grenadines did not have the wherewithal to be involved in such arrangements.
The inability, for many years, to access FIFA membership did not help the local situation in any way and congratulations must be given to Venold Coombs who, while serving as President of the organisation here, worked assiduously to gain FIFA membership for the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation.
Still, there are opportunities available and we must do much more to access them in the interest of facilitating advancement for our athletes as well as the ultimate development of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Hairoun Community Competition
For many years the football scene was dominated by teams form the broader Kingstown area. However there was never any doubt that talent in the sport abounded in several rural areas just as was the case with cricket.
The distractions of urban development may well have negatively impacted the city folk to the point where in many sports practised here the rural youths have come to prominence.
The recently concluded Hairoun Community Football Competition opened many eyes in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
For some time in the recent past there were many sceptics about the future of the sport in this country. Our poor performance in the FIFA World Cup Preliminaries seemed to have angered the once-loyal supporters of the sport in the country and many stayed away even when the games should have demanded their presence.
Thanks to the excitement generated in the Hairoun Community Competition we saw a return of patrons to the sort they love so very much.
That two rural teams, Barrouallie and Layou, were able to skilfully outmanoeuvre their opponents and take top honours in the competition tells a great deal about the relative shift in the sport development process.
The growth in attendance at the games as the competition developed was a most welcome sight for the football authorities here. It was an indication that the sport is certainly alive and well enough to return to attracting far more people in attendance at the local level than any other sport practised in this country.
Lovers of football in the country were able to see the immense potential of our athletes and also recognise the importance of a sound development strategy that is long-term in its focus, if we are to take our rightful place amongst the footballing nations of the world.
There is no shortage of talent in the sport here and what we have seen in the competition speaks volumes of what can be achieved if the talent is appropriately harnessed.
Congratulations are in order for the football authorities here on the successful hosting and completion of the Hairoun Community Football Competition.
Of course there were hitches along the way and valid criticisms have been levelled but the competition continued and ended with patrons feeling that the sport is still strong.
At the conclusion the victorious teams showed why they were able to get to that point.
The St Vincent Brewery has had a longstanding relationship with the local football fraternity and kudos is in order for their continued sponsorship of the sport. As a good corporate citizen commendations are in order.
Sport and community development
While many of the sports continue to focus perhaps all too heavily on the capital and its immediate environments the evidence seems to suggest that the people in the rural communities are still paying greater attention to sport where distractions remain limited by comparison.
Despite not being in possession of the best facilities and at times the best competition gear our rural youths spend more time at sport than their urban counterparts. This may well have to do with the fact that time spent on computers and cell phones is significantly less.
Of course our rural communities still possess stronger commitment to traditional values and a greater sense of community than is the case with their urban colleagues.
In our rural communities sport still has a place.
In the past it was common for the local Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) to advise sporting organisations that there was no place for sport in their project documentation since funding would not be allocated.
Now that the NGO fraternity has been exposed to the global shift that addresses health for all through regular practice of physical exercise things have changed. The problem is that many of the NGOs have no idea of how to engage in the paradigm shift and have been left behind.
For those knowledgeable about sport there has always been an important link between sport and community development. Here in the Caribbean and especially in St Vincent and the Grenadines we allowed ourselves to be blinded to this reality even though it stared us in the face.
In the context of a supposed Wellness Revolution there has not yet been appropriate recognition of this vital link between sport, recreation, community and national development.
It is an unfortunate reality that leadership is sadly lacking in this understanding at the governmental level and this filters down negatively impacting the broader sport development and broader national development processes.
What our footballers have been able to show is that they are in many respects community based.
Many do not yet grasp the fact that the Barcelona Football Club in Spain is in fact a representation of the aspirations of the people of that community who insist that there are Catalans and not Spaniards.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines the recently concluded Hairoun Community Football Championships have shown that Barrouallie and Layou are still strongly rooted in their respective communities perhaps more so than any other of the participating teams. Historically their communities have been highly supportive of their endeavours and follow them with immense pride.
In many respects therefore the victories were community victories and good reason for the respective populations to feel justly proud that they have been able to prove to the nation that their talent is good enough to rule.