Independence 2016 – Reviewing sport development in SVG
This country gained Independence, at least on paper, in 1979.
37 years later we must ask ourselves whether we have made any real progress in sport.
Sport and national development
Perhaps an important point of departure in this Column is the fact that in the 37 years of Independence there has never been a government that locates sport anywhere of significance in the broader national development process.
While we have seen sport highlighted in the manifestos of the contesting political parties none of them has ever given sport pride of place in national development.
In 1996 the National Olympic Committee invited the then head of the Commonwealth Sport Development Programme (CSDP) for the Caribbean, Colin Higgs, of Canada, who was at the time based in neighbouring Barbados, to assist with the development of a National Sport Policy.
All stakeholders were invited, the national sports associations, the National Sports Council, the government, the Chamber of Commerce and members of the general public. The consultations lasted several months and the draft policy was presented for final approval.
It took some time before the final document was taken to Cabinet for approval and so the National Sports Policy was officially accepted and put into practice.
Following the accession to office of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration, the National Sport Policy has been twice reviewed. Today, however, the issue remains the implementation process.
It appears that the government chooses what aspects of the policy it applies at any given point in time.
The fact remains that despite the several years that the policy has been accepted and officially implemented, we are yet to feel satisfied that the government feels that it should somehow positively impact the broader national development process and programme.
Physical Literacy – an alien concept
The world is well aware that physical literacy is one of the fundamental pillars of the education process of every child. It stands alongside literacy and numeracy.
Simply put physical literacy allows the individual to engage in physical movement with confidence.
Physical literacy is therefore fundamental to getting our children through to their adult life, fully competent in their movement. The individual learns coordination and balance.
Not every child would become an athlete. Not every athlete would become an elite star. However, every individual can and should learn how to move with confidence.
Physical literacy is the basis of physical activity.
In the recent past the incidence of non-communicable and chronic non-communicable diseases in the Caribbean has scared governments of the Caribbean into action, may into a sort of panic mode.
Despite global scientific evidence produced for decades the Caribbean leaders paid no attention to the evidence that linked growing incidence of non-communicable and chronic non-communicable diseases in tandem with higher standards of living.
It is only when the Pan American and World Health Organisations produced the findings of studies undertaken in the region that the panic button was pressed and the governments responded in panic.
In Trinidad and Tobago in the latter part of 2007 the CARICOM Ministers of Health yielded to the evidence and readily accepted the clarion call of Vincentian Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, to engage in a Wellness Revolution.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines the term revolution has been applied, almost willy-nilly to several activities to the point where the concept appears to have lost its original significance.
Attempts by the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment to wage war against the incidence of non-communicable and chronic non-communicable diseases has not been adequately inclusive of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Community Development, as well as of Youth and of Sports. In other words, the efforts have lacked a holistic approach so necessary to achieve any measure of success.
The best response to the increases we are witnessing in the incidence of non-communicable and chronic non-communicable diseases is a recognition that they are lifestyle issues and that an understanding of and appreciation for physical literacy, physical activity and sport are essential ingredients to the fight.
The introduction of physical education in our schools have only recently been taken seriously following the decision by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) to make it an examinable subject at both the secondary and tertiary levels in the region. The aforementioned benefits to be derived from physical activity were in no way considered important enough to have impacted a decision in this regard at an earlier date. Our Independence did not allow us to so review our approaches to education as to engage in an application of physical literacy to our understanding of the fundamentals of education which requires the holistic development of the individual human being.
Even now, with physical education an examinable subject in St Vincent and the Grenadines there is as yet no inclusion of the subject at the Pre and Primary School levels in our education system. Students at the secondary school level need not engage in physical education beyond the first three years if they are not taking it for exam purposes.
It is therefore fair to say therefore that we are still extremely deficient in respect of the application of physical literacy to our education matrix in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Since Independence this country has had mixed performance sin sport at the local, regional and international levels. There has not been much to shout about.
It may be true to say that we have not done as badly as several other countries around the world. For example, at World Championships, the Olympics and several multi-sport Games, we have achieved some measure of success. Our athletes have occasionally risen to the semi-final level and in some cases, medalled.
Our sporting achievements have however not been recognised and supported by successive post-Independence governments beyond mere lip-service. Evidence of this is the continued referencing to the development of sporting infrastructure but the failure to acknowledge that there has been little or no involvement of national sports associations in their design, location and outfitting.
We remain without standards for the establishment of gymnasiums across the country as well as any certification requirements for the physical trainers as of policy.
Athletes are essentially without governmental support and it is expected that national sports associations would find the resources to facilitate training and access to competitions at different levels.
Whilst we boast of an education revolution this does not appear to extend to sport. Parents of athletes have to seek out resources they do not necessarily have to meet the growing needs of their children who have taken sport as a viable option.
There is little recognition of the value of success in sport to national well-being and global recognition of the country.
It is a challenge for many to appreciate the fact that our continued limitations in sport performance in St Vincent and the Grenadines is in large measure a result of our failure to appropriately locate physical literacy in the education process and physical education and physical activity as a lifelong process.
We never really cease to exercise our literacy and numeracy skills during our lifetime. It should be the same with physical literacy. We can and ought never to cease applying it in our personal lives.
Parents are critical to the sustainability of a healthy lifestyle to their children and so are the first line of attack regarding the introduction of physical literacy in their lives.
Teachers, physical educators and coaches are important to engaging our children in active lifestyles, not just to become elite athletes but to be fit and hence more focused and ultimately more productive for a longer period in their own lives.
Our government must engage researchers into the value of physical activity on the lives of Vincentians of all walks of life.
There has to be greater effort expended on educating the nation of the value of an active lifestyle.
Sport must be for all and not only for those who we deem to have an aptitude for it.
Our Independence must lift us to be a better nation and that begins with being more committed to moving about with confidence, knowing that it makes us better persons more readily and therefore more meaningful contributors to the health of our nation.