Governments and sports development

arnos-valeThe issue of government’s involvement in sport has attracted many an enthusiastic analyst across the globe for decades. Indeed, at its most recent Congress, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) focused some attention on this aspect of international sport.
Governments see themselves as having been elected by the people to govern. This is their mandate. Part of that mandate is to facilitate the health of the nation.
It has long been argued that the right to health care is a fundamental right of every human being. There are many ways in which the government of any nation seeks to facilitate the general well being of its population. While many governments expend resources on the provision of appropriate curative facilities there has been increasing emphasis placed on the preventive approach. Part of this preventive approach involves the promotion of physical education and sport.
In most societies therefore governments establish ministerial portfolios to cater for sport. It is unfortunate though that in many of these societies the ministerial portfolio for sport is often tacked on to some other portfolio or set of portfolios. Sports analysts claim that this reality reflects the government’s failure to understand the importance of sport to national well being and signals their intention to be most frugal in their budgetary allocations to what should otherwise be considered an integral component of national development.
Some governments see sport as essentially addressing the energies of the youths of their respective societies. From this perspective they include sport in their campaign manifestos just as they do with youth, essentially to give the young people of their countries a feeling that they are being considered. The reality however is that for the most part the governments merely pay lip service to sport and youth development in their manifestos to capture the youth vote. Once elected it is the case, more often than not, that the government’s budgetary allocation to sport and youth can barely sustain the variety of activities that these two aspects of society require.
The governments is not the only institution that sees itself as having a mandate in respect of facilitating and developing sport in given country. Sporting organisations also see themselves as possessive of their own mandates. They exist to give members of the population ample opportunity to engage in physical exercise in a particular range of sporting disciplines.
Teams and clubs constitute the membership of national sports associations. These associations in turn affiliate to their respective International Federations (IF), which establishes their own mandates for the global development of the respective sport in which it is involved.
National sports associations however also possess a mandate to be independent and autonomous, free from encumbrances from any sector of society. Their focus is essentially on the development of the respective sport in an objective, efficient, professional and totally unbiased manner.
In many societies however the governments and the national sports associations are not engaged in the best of relations. They are often at odds with each other. In several countries though there is evidence of collaboration between them.
In far too many countries governments see sport as sheer frivolity and a waste of time. They therefore expend little resources on sport and avoid establishing relations of any sort with national sports associations.
Collaboration between governments and national sports associations is the ideal situation if they are both serious about national development and of empowering participants in this regard.
In some countries national sports associations have been able to garner statistical support for their case relative to the importance of sport to the well being of the population. They have been able to convince their governments that by supporting sport they would be contributing significantly to national development. A healthy lifestyle means a more alert nation as well as a more productive nation. This is the basis for the development of national sports policies in some countries.
In other countries governments have established Sports Commissions that are mandated to provide governments with the necessary advice in respect of where they should be focusing attention and expending resources to enhance the contribution of sport to the broader developmental objectives of the entire nation. These Commissions are actually funded by the respective governments.
At many international sports conferences we often hear complaints of political interference coming from national sports associations.
In the recent past such complaints have come from the National Olympic Committees of Panama and Colombia. It seems common practice in several other nations and in a variety of sports. This phenomenon has been on the agenda of the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) for several years and several cases have been brought forward at the level of the different international federations.
Generally it appears that some governments come to the realisation that sport is important to the nation’s youth and that the leaders of sporting organisations often wield some measure of influence in society. This is often seen as the purview of politicians.
It is therefore not surprising that in several countries governments attempt to deliberately influence the process for determining the leadership of national sports associations.
Of course in parts of Asia – China, Taiwan, Malaysia, to name a few – it is difficult to draw any definitive line between the government and the national sports associations. In several places it has been common to find a minister of government being the president of one or more national sports associations. They appear not to see a conflict of interest in this regard.
In socialist societies the situation was even worse. The leadership of the national sports associations hold their positions at the behest of the government. Their retention of the leadership is retained only and in so far as they carry ‘the line of march’ of the ruling regime. They are lost in oblivion once they are perceived as having transgressed the dictates of the government. Additionally the leaders are promoted to aggressively pursue leadership of the IF in order to facilitate global recognition and ultimately legitimation of the local regime. Sport is a vehicle for meeting these objectives rather then the enhancement of the human condition per se.
The recent spectacle of the football elections in St Vincent and the Grenadines may therefore well be a cause for concern. Prior to the elections there were individuals who sought to justify putting in place leaders who were in full support of the government of the day since this was seen as the best way to access financial support from the ruling regime.
Caribbean reality
Caricom’s ‘wellness revolution’ sounds good and perhaps looks good on paper. That is as far as it gets, unfortunately.
Caricom as an institution intended to facilitate regional integration seems to have lost its way. Its seeming insistence that economic union will inevitably lead to political union has proven to be a colossal mistake even though as yet the politicians are oblivious to this reality.
Unfortunately, the message delivered to the region’s leaders by calysponian, Black Stalin, has been ignored. Stalin suggested that there was something that the Rastafarians had found and practised among themselves wherever they went in the Caribbean. There was a sense of openness and unity among the Rastafarian community that did allowed for a meeting of minds as one people. All barriers to acceptance of each other were demolished.
In Caricom the leaders still quibble over who gets what in a region where it remains clear that these rocks that dot the Caribbean sea were really not intended for human habitation in an economically viable manner independent of each other.
Caribbean leaders, despite their political prattlings, have not yet come to an understanding of what sport does for a nation. They miss the point altogether.
Caricom leaders fail to grasp the capacity of sport to bring a nation together. They saw it with Garfield Sobers, Herb McKinley, Arthur Wint, Dn Quarrie and Merlene Ottey, Brian Lara, the Reggae Boys and Soca Warriors and most recently, Usain Bolt and the Trinidad and Tobago Cricket team. In each instance the successes of the aforementioned athletes impacted well beyond the confines of their local shores. They are Caribbean icons. The response of local governments to the successes of these and other athletes of the Caribbean has been to hastily organise airport receptions where they get another political platform to boast, host luncheons and dinners where once more they sell their political wares, dole out national awards and distribute cash from the national treasury often to the point of excess and without regard to the precedent being so established.
It is unfortunate that many of the region’s political leaders have not taken on board advisors who know and understand sport. They do not employ people who are well equipped to assist them in forging a new vision and charting a new developmental course in which sport is an important feature.
Things will remain the same for a long time to come given the absence of any genuine initiatives at the local or regional level to locate sport at the centre of national development.