Getting more out of sport

For the past several years we have advocated that St Vincent and the Grenadines is not yet ready to grasp the immense benefits that can be derived from sport. We are missing out on what is on offer and by the time we catch ourselves we would end up at the bottom of the heap.
In the lead up to the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) Cricket World Cup 2007 (CWC2007), much was made about the large number of visitors expected in the Caribbean, anxious to witness the mega sporting event.
Everywhere the governments of the Caribbean, except perhaps Trinidad and Tobago, anxiously competed for the rights to host one or more of the cricket matches of the CWC2007.
Bermuda did not get one of the matches that would impact the competition. The country’s bid resulted in them getting a set of warm up matches. Given the potential investment required, the Bermudans, in their wisdom, rejected what they and others for the most part saw as a sort of ‘brown paper bag’ offer. They wanted something really important.
St Vincent and the Grenadines eventually took on board the offer rejected by Bermuda.
On paper, the Vincentian public was informed that the government was spending approximately $52m to upgrade the requisite facilities for what this Columnist labelled, ‘Goat Cook’ matches that had no real bearing on the outcome of the CWC2007. This meant expenditures on the fields: Arnos Vale #1, Arnos Vale #2, Stubbs and Sion Hill. The attendant facilities such as pavilions, would also be significantly upgraded. At the prestigious Arnos Vale #1 a new Players’ Pavilion, a double decker stand and a media centre were constructed. The old players pavilion was converted into The President’s Suite.
Additionally, this country’s Prime Minister, chimed in with a pronouncement that some investors were developing a tourist facility at Buccament Bay and that some of it would be completed in time to host some of the visitors coming in for the aforementioned matches.
Of course everyone expected the developments would, at least in the long run, add significant value to St Vincent and the Grenadines as a cricket beacon, attracting teams from just about everywhere to come to train in their preparatory season and earn the right to host major international cricket events. This was therefore supposed to be a major sport tourism thrust.
But there were several problems.
There was no sport tourism policy and programme in place at the time of the decision to develop our cricket facilities for CWC2007. There was no one in place either in sport or in tourism trained in or assigned to the development of sport tourism in St Vincent and the Grenadines. There was also no decision anywhere in the country at any level that sought to include sport tourism in the marketing of our beautiful country as a sport tourism destination. Sport has never been included in the tourism marketing efforts by the authorities in this country. That remains the same today.
For all of the talk of the benefits of sport as an economic tool, there has not been any deliberate strategy on the part of the authorities here to even signal that we are serious about sport tourism and the realisation of its immense potential to serve as a critical component of the national development strategy.
Over the last Independence period in St Vincent and the Grenadines we heard much of an effort to host some cricket matches that involved some once-heralded cricketers from the Caribbean. One of the problems that initially plagued the planning was where to host the events given that the government was anxious to seize the opportunity to showcase its facilities. The discussion also featured disagreements about the following the sport of cricket has or does not have in St Vincent and the Grenadines and where the participants would have supporters in the pavilions.
Such is the state of thinking in the country amongst those who are in authority in sport and tourism even though the two major economic areas are housed in the same government ministry.
Promises are all too easily made. The realisation of promises requires a far more studied approach involving personnel with the relevant expertise. In this regard it would be of immense help if the authorities can cast aside petty tribal politics and advocate instead the national well -being with special focus on accessing the best expertise and the unfettered application of meritocratic principles and practices.
Established Unit and framework
In St Vincent and the Grenadines unfortunately, we have allowed tribalistic politics to cloud our vision and deny ourselves the opportunities that exist for significant advancement and development.
The suggestion here is that for us to do better we must agree the importance of committing sport tourism as an integral component of the nation’s development strategy for the foreseeable future.
A team of experts must be brought together to lay the groundwork for the production of a national sport tourism policy and operational guidelines.
There must be a strong, well structured, equipped, professionally manned, empowered sport and financially resourced tourism department established at the earliest opportunity.
Sport tourism must be seen as a critical pillar of the tourism product of St Vincent and the Grenadines rather than be accorded the fleeting interest that currently obtains.
A sport tourism department or authority must inevitable engage all of the national sports associations in the forging of the strategy for the development, promotion/marketing and delivery of the products. There is no room for politicking here. The associations bring the expertise in the sport as well as a significant part of the global contacts.
Sport tourism must feature prominently in the tourism marketing strategies of the authorities.
It may well be possible to collaborate with our Caribbean neighbours to create a broad-based regional sport tourism strategy.
There is every reason for us to work with the regional University of the West Indies to create a sport tourism programme that would lead research and development of the subject and advance the cause of sport tourism as a vehicle for economic development in the Caribbean.
We can, here, advocate some ideas of importance going forward.
Sports Facilities
It is common to hear boasts of the several sport facilities that have been provided by the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The truth is that the facilities are of significantly differing qualities and many cannot meet the requirements of the respective international sport federations (IF) to such an extent that they would be rendered unsuitable for regional and international encounters.
The foregoing has emerged largely because there has been little or no planning, involving the national sport associations, in the determination of the specific IF requirements for the different facilities before construction takes place. Instead, political expediency characterised by potential for the garnering of votes has led to the location and construction of the vast majority of our sport facilities. This also includes the involvement of inadequately qualified and/or trained personnel in the decision-making process.
There is also the matter of the changing regulations of IFs regarding their respective facilities. If we wish to be relevant we must know and implement these changes.
St Vincent and the Grenadines does not yet have a digital scoreboard at its premier cricket facility. There has to be a sense of urgency to correct this or we would pay dearly for what is now an intransigence in the sport.
Even with all the facilities we currently boast it is not possible for us to host a multi-nation international if only because of the disparity in the different available football fields – the quality of their surfaces as well as the distance of the stands from the playing area, the inadequacy if appropriate international standard facilities for the media and the standard regarding dressing rooms and anti-doping facilities and connectivity.
We cannot attract international athletics track and field competition because of the absence of a synthetic surface.
The International Tennis Federation now requires eight courts to gain access to major competitions for seniors. When, several years ago we hosted the Americas Zone Group 4 we were forced to quickly install an additional two courts to meet the six that were the minimum requirement at the time.
St Vincent and the Grenadines does not yet have an indoor sports complex to facilitate international competitions in boxing, table tennis, taekwondo, basketball, volleyball, karate and netball.
While we are currently allowed to host the Caribbean Squash Championships the reality is that we are well short of the requisite facilities in a singly complex for major international competitions.
Even in swimming, we would be unable to host the annual Carifta Swimming Championships. The existing facility is much too small and suited more to the short course competitions.
St Vincent and the Grenadines also lacks the hotel stock required for most major international sport competitions.
The annual Carifta athletics often features between 700 and 800 athletes not counting officials. The event is held over the Easter weekend.
Our reality is that as yet we are simply not ready because we do not allow for a proper understanding of the requirements of the international sport community.
We commit to playing petty village politics when sport is global.
We make real the old adage, “In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king”.
Getting real
In order for us to benefit from sport we must review, restructure, retool and begin planning in serious. Thus far we do not appear prepared to do any of the aforementioned.
While our local media attempt to make something of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines they are hamstrung by gross inadequacies since, like the national sports associations, they are not involved in the planning at any level.
Those in authority are yet to understand that it is not enough to assign to top decision-making positions in sport people who once played the sport or did some training in it. Sport today requires much more than this.
Sport has the capacity to bring into the national treasury much more than what currently obtains from our agriculture. It could catapult revenues from tourism to ever-increasing levels and so transform St Vincent and the Grenadines in ways hitherto unimaginable.
The opportunities available to our young academics currently exiting secondary schools and our colleges are immense yet we fail to give this aspect of national development the attention it so sorely deserves.