In the Column carried in The News newspaper dated Friday 13 December 2013 we began by asking the question, How does one judge a government’s commitment to sport?
The Vincentian reality would be comical had it not been for the fact that we must be serious about what we are doing in the field of sport.
The recent comment by a government official that swimming is doing well since they have been given the pool at Shrewsbury House by the current political administration is a case in point.
The reality is that the Swimming Association under the leadership of Wendell Lewis, several year ago, approached the James Mitchell administration for ac cess to the pool at Shrewsbury House and permission was granted since then. At the time, the Swimming Association had acquired the services of Coach Davidson from Grenada who was also allowed to take up residence at Shrewsbury House.
Interestingly, at the time, no government official thought is necessary to seek to make political capital of the fact that the administration gave access to the facility to a national sports body.
It was during this period that the Swimming Association asked and received support for the expansion of the swimming pool with the intention of making it a 25m facility in accordance with the regulations of the international governing body, FINA.
Unfortunately, an error was made by those responsible for the construction work and the pool ended up a half metre short.
It is also unfortunate that the Swimming Association sputtered into inactivity so the pool was never completed as intended. Rickydeane Alexander almost single-handedly kept swimming alive in St Vincent and the Grenadines when the Association fell into abeyance and he then garnered the support of Niesha Alexander. Together they did what they thought was best for those interested in swimming
The pool project was restarted when Andre Cadougan was elected president of a revived St Vincent and the Grenadines Amateur Swimming Association. He and his executive worked assiduously to complete the project and make it usable for the enthusiasts of the sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Sometimes, it is important that the whole truth be told.
The role of government in sport is to ensure that it becomes fully integrated into the broader national development process. It ought never to be about chest-thumping since that gets us nowhere.
Back to basics
National sports associations have little choice but to rely heavily on government for sport infrastructure. Only a select few may eventually have the wherewithal to acquire their own home and so break this dependence.
It is important therefore that national sports associations structure themselves so that they become strong organisations. This necessitates a return to the establishment of clubs.
Older folks here recall with pride the days of well-established clubs in the country and the way in which they served the interest of sport. It is not difficult to trace the decline in clubs and their replacement by teams.
Teams are transient. They form merely to achieve the immediate interest of individuals interested in playing in a particular competition. A leader emerges to facilitate the cohesion of the team enough to get letters out for sponsorship of the uniforms for the competition.
Teams do not have constitutions. There are no written rules that dictate the mechanisms for membership. There is no executive apart from the players themselves and other interested persons who have been asked to assist. There are no mechanisms for disciplining members.
Teams may last for one competition in any given year or several seasons over time. What keeps them together is the very competition in which they participate.
Clubs on the other hand are distinguished by the fact that they have constitutions that serve as a guide to address all aspects of the organisation. Limits to what the organisation and its members can do are well established.
Clubs are structured organisations with clear lines of authority. There are mechanisms for determining who can become a member of the organisation and under what terms and conditions. Member obligations are clearly established.
Clubs also have clear objectives – their reason for being in existence.
It is the formal and structured approach that allows clubs to sustain themselves over time, well beyond the life of teams.
Perhaps the several national sports associations in St Vincent and the Grenadines need to examine themselves in respect of where they are regarding their membership. They need answers to the question, are our associations dominated by teams or clubs?
If teams dominate our associations then it stands to reason that they are themselves on thin ice.
Associations cannot feel confident in respect of being able to forge a development pathway if the majority of their membership is teams, given what we have stated earlier in respect of these latter organisations.
Close examination of the several national sports associations in St Vincent and the Grenadines reveals that clubs are rare; teams dominate. There has to be a reversal of this trend and sooner rather than later.
It is important therefore that associations forge a strategy to get back to basics by reviewing their membership and set about deliberately encouraging the development of clubs.
Templates for the formation of clubs abound everywhere. The Internet has made it very easy for anyone interested in forming a club to get it together.
Any individual desirous of moving the organisation in which he/she is involved from a team to a club needs to examine a template and tweak it to suit the particular sport practised as well as to the requirements of the national federation to which they wish to be affiliated.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a small society and it seems extremely difficult to establish many clubs. Perhaps this is something already recognised, hence the reason so many individuals have opted to form teams instead of clubs.
Clubs require finance in order to meet the needs of the membership as well as those of the respective national sports associations to which they are affiliated. Here again due attention must be paid to the fact that we have a small, open and highly vulnerable economy with an equally small private sector, all factors that impact the capacity of clubs to sustain themselves over time.
It has been suggested that in small societies where clubs struggle to survive the best option might well be to establish community-based clubs. This limits the number of clubs overall in the society.
Community-based clubs tend to be directly linked to the development of the respective communities in which they exist. People in the community tend to give support to an organisation that they perceive to be theirs. They claim ownership and associate their own aspirations with those of the club in their midst. They tend to see the fortunes of the club to inextricably linked to their own fortunes and those of the community at large in the context of the nation.
There is a greater tendency for the businesses in the community, however small, to associate themselves with a community-based club and in turn be supported by the members of the organisation and the people of the community because of their involvement.
Not so long ago the rivalry in national football piqued when the teams from Barrouallie and Layou competed against the teams from the urban area, especially Sion Hill and Frenches. The supporters of the rural teams came to the Victoria Park in their numbers using whatever means of transport they could get, eager to give their support. Equally, the communities of Sion Hill in particular, thronged to Victoria Park to let their team understand that they were at one with each other in the cause of sport.
Sport is an essential component of community development and clubs play a major role in this regard.
It is unfortunate that for decades the donor agencies in the international community insisted on avoidance of sport projects like the proverbial plague. Now they have made an about face.
Community-based clubs have much going for them and should be encourage din small societies like ours.
Small societies may also wish to encourage the development of multisport clubs even though they are community-based.
Multisport clubs facilitate optimal utilisation of scarce resources and people. They tend to allow for strong leadership to emerge and greater participation since the work can be spread through sub committees within the organisation as they seek to address their annual sporting calendar.
We have observed in the past that in some communities the setting up of numerous teams for the different sports in which people wish to participate has led to several of them dropping out of one tournament or another for a variety of reasons which had not been addressed before agreeing to become involved.
National sports associations cannot expect to develop themselves and the respective sports they represent with teams that are merely transient.
Getting national sports associations to get serious about the establishment and sustainability of clubs – a sound club structure, would not happen overnight in a society like ours where teams are the order of the day. It is nonetheless a very necessary and challenging undertaking.
There has to be a commitment to engaging in a scientific approach. There has to be creativity and an appreciation for what it was that facilitated the success of clubs in decades past and what went wrong.
International sports federations (IF) are increasingly demanding that their membership – national associations – establish strong club structures. They recognise the value of clubs and insist on their members falling in line so that the global organisation would promote growth, development and sustainability of their sport.
Here at home we have to get serious. We are already well behind in this process of club formation.
We need to get back to the way we were, only much better.