Greater recognition needed for sport in SVG

In this Column we have always found time to point to the many issues that hinder the advancement of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Every time it appears that we are making strides forward there are several matters that emerge to derail the process, leaving us essentially marking time on the same spot.
Given the way in which the government has failed to address key sporting issues, virtually burying their heads in the sand, one must conclude that there is no real understanding of or appreciation for this most important component of human development.
One is often forced to smirk when one hears the Prime Minister speak about a so-called ‘wellness revolution’ when in stark contradiction we have witnessed the proliferation of ‘fast food’ chains in this country. Clearly there is a crass disconnect between his seeming desire to drop trendy phrases and the implementation of a decisive policy that positively impacts the genuine well being of all Vincentians.
There is reason enough for us to believe and argue that the current administration does not have a clue as to the role that sport can play in the holistic development of our children.
There is a sense in which one gets the impression that the government of the day believes that recognition of sport rests solely with the provision of the decrepit ‘awards’ from the Queen of England or the disbursement of a diplomatic passport to this or that sports personality. This is a most myopic view but nonetheless gives us a better understanding of the government’s perspective on things. It allows us to know what steps we must take on our own to facilitate the genuine development of sport and of our youths through involvement in sport.
Recognition does of course mean much more that what we have been seeing here. It involves an appreciation of sport in all its aspects.
Recognition of sport means understanding that it is part of the holistic development of the individual regardless of class, race, gender, ethnic origin or religious orientation. It means understanding that it is not frivolity for its own sake but a science that at once responds to the physical, biological, social and psychological needs of the individual, developing a better person to contribute to the betterment of the society into which he/she lives.
Recognition of sport means ensuring that it is an essential part of life in general. This means that within the family there must be an interest in playing, in engaging in physical activity as a collective.
Recognition of sport also means ensuring that the schools of the nation offers our children the opportunity to be exposed to physical education – motor skills and coordination of movement – and sport in the same way that they learn English, Science and Mathematics. Proficiency in sport is impossible without a sound foundation in physical education, except in very rare cases of sporting geniuses.
Recognition means facilitating a national policy that should guide the sport development process in the country in tandem with the various national sports associations.
Recognition means the implementation of the national policy and engaging in on-going monitoring and evaluation to ensure the genuine development is in fact taking place and we are not spinning top in mud.
In the naming of the new Cabinet the Prime Minister recommitted his poor judgement in respect of what to do with sport. He attached it to a most cumbersome and unwieldy Ministry with a ‘young turk’ yet to be grounded in the rudiments of politics far less the nuances of governance.
On yet another occasion sport has been an appendage to a Ministry with a slew of portfolios leaving sport as the very last to be named. What does this tell us about the government’s recognition of sport? It says beyond the shadow of a doubt that winning the elections at all cost, even with empty sport promises to the youths of the nation, is what matters. Once victory has been procured then it is back to business as usual.
The nation’s sportspeople like the nation’s poor, are hardly given any measure of serious consideration.
The country had not yet created mechanism to appropriately recognise sport and its leading personalities. Thus far we have made politics in respect of the appointment of sports ambassadors – as yet undefined – and the disbursement of diplomatic passports. This is a crying shame and should be stopped. Unfortunately totalitarian regimes such as we are fast approaching here do not readily lend themselves to any genuinely consultative processes where decision-making is required. Hence, we are unlikely to see any significant change in the way we do business in the realm of sport in this country.
National sports associations
There are many who would want to suggest that the national sports associations have only themselves to blame for the current lack of recognition for sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines. There may well be much truth in all of this.
National sports associations seem not to yet grasp that professionalism is necessary for progress and success. Too many are prepared to do little in the hope that things will simply fall into place.
Too many associations are afraid to be openly critical of the government’s failure to understand the importance of sport to the national well being. Some may well be too caught up in the divisive politics of the day such that they cannot speak freely for fear of recrimination.
It is imperative that national sports associations understand their role in Vincentian society and stand up in defence of their clientele – the athletes, the youths of this country who are the inheritors of what we do today.
Accessing waivers
On several occasions in the past we have had cause to utilise this forum to highlight the problems so often experienced by national sports associations in accessing waivers from government in various aspects of their work.
Several years ago the government approved a National Sports Policy developed by the National Olympic Committee (NOC), the national sports associations and the many stakeholders in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This document has undergone several reviews since being originally produced and approved.
In the Policy the sports associations wanted the authorities here to be cognizant of the exorbitant prices of sporting equipment and sportswear and hence called for a process to allow them to access waivers of duties on these items when being brought into the country under their ambit. They were specific that the waiver should be on items coming directly to them for the sole purpose of furthering their respective disciplines.
Policy versus Ministry of Finance
On wonders whether the leadership at the Ministry of Finance, including the Minister, has ever really studied the National Sports Policy.
In the recent past we have had reason enough to raise this concern.
Information coming from the Ministry of Finance indicate that there is no waiver available for sports shoes and clothing. To put it mildly this is simply preposterous. There is no other way to define the adopted position.
The National Sports Policy speaks to the matter of waiver of equipment and materials associated with the various sports associations. What ought to be required and suffice is the official seal of the respective national sports association.
One of the most expensive components of any of the sports practised here in St Vincent and the Grenadine sis the footwear. If the Ministry of Finance is to adopt the remarkably backward attitude that sport shoes are anathema in so far as a waiver of duty is concerned we might as well call a halt to the practice of sport in this country.
One can understand that it has become fashionable for non-sports people to purchase and wear the training shoes of the various sportswear manufacturers this ought not to translate into a carte blanche stance on the part of the Ministry of Finance in respect of making all sports shoes brought in by national sports associations dutiable.
The sordid reality that currently obtains is but a reflect of the lack of understand the administration has of sport.
What is required is for the national sports associations to provide the National Sports Council with appropriate evidence that the procured shoes and other equipment are in fact solely for use by the athletes of the respective sporting bodies. Once the NSC is satisfied that all is above board the way should then be clear for the Ministry of Finance to effect the waiver.
The problem today is that the Ministry of Finance has its own position regardless of their understanding of sport and insist on their mode of operation as the custodians of the national treasury. This ostrich-like approach leads to gridlock.
There are times when the Ministry of Finance officials simply do not believe that an international federation (IF) actually donates equipment and materials to their affiliates around the world and so engage the national body in a rather lengthy and costly exercise to get access to the materials and equipment sent to them. They sometimes refuse to accept the documentation from the IFs. One wonders whether they would wish that the local affiliates simply manufacture other types of evidence that not available to them.
Surely the time has come for the Ministry of Finance to get real. The institution needs to have more confidence in the other institutions established by the very government of which it is a part and show some measure of trust in the national sports associations. Additionally, it is imperative that the Ministry of Finance officials, including the Minister, familiarise themselves with the National Sports Policy approved by the same government and play a more active role in its implementation.
There is much that needs to be done to facilitate a change of attitude on the part of the government of the day relative to the role of sport in nation building. Clearly the leadership does not know anything about this and so it is necessary for the national sports associations to avoid the politics of division and work together for the development of St Vincent and the Grenadines through the nation’s children and youths.