Getting sports to work for the country

As has become the norm over the past few years, this country’s Prime Minister again announced two more sport ambassadors for St Vincent and the Grenadines. This time around it was the turn of former netballer, Dellarice Duncan, and former cricketer, Michael Findlay.
Congratulations are in order for all of those who, over the years, have been beneficiaries of the distinction bestowed upon them by the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is nonetheless important to raise, in this week’s Column, a few issues that are somewhat bothersome since the very first sport ambassador awards were named.

National Awards

The populace of any nation is pleased when the government of the day, as a policy, continues to give recognition to those individuals who it deems worthy of recognition for their achievements and/or services rendered for and on behalf of said country.
It is most appropriate that a nation recognises those who have done well and have in one way or another contributed to the growth and development of our society and significantly enhanced our regional and global image.
Of course, it has become normative that generally, governments everywhere tend to display remarkable political prejudice in the identification and selection of persons named for awards.
One of the most disturbing features of the governments of St Vincent and the Grenadine sin the post-Independence era is the fact that they continue to perpetuate the colonial tradition of recommending the Queen’s honours for Vincentians who have distinguished themselves in one field or another.
Particularly disturbing is the fact that the current Prime Minister has, during his early political life appeared committed to breaking with the colonial past. His continued reference to having started some sort of ‘education revolution’ pales in insignificance when the slew of occasions on which he has recommended Vincentians for honours from the British Crown is taken into consideration. The political contradiction is patently obvious.
It is incredible that a Caribbean politician who seemed to have considered himself a progressive and a Caribbean political personality, would allow his leadership to be so sullied.
Sir James Mitchell, hardly to be considered revolutionary in the context that was so often used for Dr Gonsalves over the years, had, albeit belatedly, established a committee to work on the creation of Vincentian national honours, with the intention of replacing the Queen’s honours.
It appears that much work was done by the committee and that all that was missing was the allocation of funds to facilitate the production of the awards themselves.
One is uncertain whether, since taking office in government, Dr Gonsalves or any of his Ministers have ever publicly acknowledged the work of the former national awards committee or even gave a commitment to introducing such awards.
So here we are, almost 17 years after taking office and the government of the day unashamedly and rather embarrassingly continues to recommend Vincentians for Her Majesty’s honours.
The only thing that is perhaps worse than the actions of successive Vincentian governments regarding the continued recommendation of persons for the Queen’s honours 38 years after Independence, is that Vincentians continue to accept them.
Each time a new set of persons have been recommended and they accept is evidence of just how much we remain a colonised nation.
British loyalists must be enthused at the obvious contradictions of our seeming continued obeisance to the Crown, evident in our perpetuation of Her Majesty’s honours.
Some sportspersons have been honoured by governments here by being recommended for one of the Queen’s awards.
There are many Vincentians who nonetheless believe that the time has long since come when we do away with outstanding Vincentians being recognised by an award from the British Crown while we boast of being an Independent nation.

National Sport Awards

The fourth objective of this country’s national sport policy as amended in November 2005, maintained from the original policy, states, “To establish a range of incentives and appropriate awards for those involved in the sports development process.”
The foregoing objective was considered important in light of the fact that sportspeople are all too often overlooked in terms of national recognition. In a country lacking a genuine sports culture, outstanding sportspeople are only recognised for their immediate success. Once their playing days are over, it is hardly the case that anyone pays them any mind as they move about in our society.
The thinking behind the objective was to facilitate due recognition in some tangible way such that it stands the test of time.
Article 5.8 of the aforementioned policy states, “Appropriately designed awards shall be established by the National Sports Council commensurate with the significance of the performance of the particular sporting personality. Recognition extends from athletes to coaches, technical officials and administrators.”
Article 5.9 states, “Among possible awards shall be accession to a National Sports Hall of Fame, having titles allocated, having streets and facilities named in their honour, inclusion to sports-tourism promotional packages and in advertisements of local business houses.”
In this country we have had several attempts at awarding outstanding sportspeople. There was a time when the St Vincent Jaycees conducted an awards ceremony for outstanding sports personalities. Then the National Olympic Committee re-established it until the Sports Department took hold of the reins. In the more recent past, the National Sports Council again revitalised the Annual Sports Awards.
Close analysis of the history of national sports awards reveals a relatively high level of uncertainty that is founded on the reality that sports have not yet been given its place in the broader national development strategy and process.
Sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines is still largely seen as frivolous. This is somewhat embarrassing as countries around us have come to the recognition of the value of physical activity to overall well-being of the populace and the growing revenue-generation capacity of a well-structured national sport development policy and programme.

Sport Ambassadors

The very first named Vincentian sport ambassadors under the current administration were Pamenos Ballantyne, Cameron Cuffy, Skiddy Francis and Nixon McLean. They were each given diplomatic passports. There was talk of some financial assistance to some of the sports ambassadors. However, that did not appear to have lasted very long.
Some may recall the comments made that at the time that the diplomatic passports were provided to the aforementioned sport persons, the Prime Minister boasted that while the likes of Brian Lara and the rest of the West Indies team had to waiting to be processed by the Immigration authorities in long lines in different countries, our sport ambassadors would enjoy rapidly treatment.
Michael Findlay was given a diplomatic passport while he served West Indies cricket as a selector and chair of the cricket committee. One is uncertain as to why at the time he was no considered for the award of sport ambassador for St Vincent and the Grenadines. Following Ollivierre and Roberts, Findlay became the third Vincentian cricketer to travel with a West Indies team, unofficial or otherwise and hence, one would have expected that he would have received sport ambassador status at the very start of marking such appointments. Perhaps it is a case of ‘better late than never’.
Likewise, many Vincentians were left aghast at the failure of the government at the time to include then NBA player, Adonal Foyle, of Canouan, amongst the inaugural appointments of sport ambassadors of this country. Certainly, at the time, he was the most popular Vincentian athlete, the most highly paid and a pioneer for Vincentian basketball players relative to the professional pathway.
Apart from being declared a Vincentian sport ambassador and granted a diplomatic passport, one is uncertain as to what happens after being so appointed.
We have never heard of any professional training session with the awardees that engages them in an understanding of the requirements of a nation’s ambassador. While some may claim their own knowledge and understanding of some of the requirements the same cannot be said for all who have been beneficiaries of such appointments.
The matter of one’s decorum at all times once declared a national sport ambassador must always be emphasised. This addresses everything from manner of speech through to one’s grooming to one’s dress code and the like.
Sport ambassadors must understand that the designation of a national sport ambassador and receipt of a diplomatic passport bring serious responsibilities that must not be taken lightly. Everything said and done would be taken as a reflection of the very country and not just of the individual involved. It is as though one is always bearing the stamp of St Vincent and the Grenadines on one’s forehead.
It is normal for sport ambassadors to be trained to conduct themselves with distinction at all times, wherever they are. They must be trained to speak since they are often called upon to address students at different levels in the education system, be interviewed at home and abroad and engage young children and their parents, encouraging them to be good sportspeople and citizens.
Sport ambassadors are expected to be model citizens and general role models in their respective communities and societies.
In St Vincent and the Grenadine sit is hardly ever the case that mention is made of a sports ambassador whenever he/she is present at a national function, regardless of whether or not they are on the podium.
Time has to be taken to revisit what exactly is involved in the appointment of a sport ambassador in St Vincent and the Grenadines beyond receipt of the designation and a diplomatic passport. As it now stands such appointees have no status above the ordinary Vincentian citizen and this belies the recognition that should be otherwise due the persons whose contributions to nation building have been significant enough to locate them in the annals of Vincentian history.