Independence and playing games with sport

arnos-valeEarlier in the week this country observed the 35th anniversary of Independence.
Note that we used the term, observed, as opposed to celebrated.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has long since lost the capacity to celebrate our Independence if only because the majority of the populace have come to understand that the politicians have played so many games that it is extremely difficult to find much to celebrate.
In this Column we address the pathetic state of affairs in sport under the current dispensation.
Independence has often been associated with taking responsibility for one’s own development in all aspects. This should not translate into a complete abandonment of the fundamental principle of learning from the experiences of others or the sharing of ideas and best practices.
Independence is intended to give a people a sense that they possess what is required to facilitate their own way of doing things given their recognition that they too have ideas and can work together in their own collective best interest.
Independence therefore is not merely the replacement of flags and anthems. It is much more than trying to establish political and economic structures.
Independence is supposed to engender a sense of pride in oneself as a people and a commitment to creating a culture that is decidedly unique.
It is unfortunate though that in the construction of a modern post colonial society in St Vincent and the Grenadines we have all but retained a particularly colonial stance on physical activity and sport. The end results is a near-debilitating authoritarianism that allows for the political elite to play games rather than give physical activity its appropriate place in national development.
Perhaps this is the reason why even on the 35th anniversary of Independence the best we could do remains the Independence Day Parade and the Feature Address. That sums up our independence and exhibits to a large extent where we have reached with our creative genius.
National Sport Policy
Since taking office in 2001 the current political administration has twice reviewed the national sport policy. Where one would have imagined that the review of the policy would have yielded positive change the reality reflects the malaise of the administration itself and the fact that it has spent more time playing games with sport rather than facilitate its development.
There are times when the actions of the government compel one to question whether any minister has ever taken the time to read and understand the contents of the policy document.
In the recent past national sport associations have been asked to pay duties on medals, trophies and uniforms. One is not sure what will come next.
One is left to conclude that the government’s inability to adequately manage the Vincentian economy has left it so cash-strapped that national sports associations, anxious to offer the nation’s children and youths the option of a physically active lifestyle, have found their ambitions derailed by the administration.
The efforts by the current Minister responsible for sport to convene meetings with stakeholders under the mistaken label of tripartite, are stymied by the seeming failure to plan. Some of the associations have found the meetings well short of professionalism. There are no minutes of previous meetings and there is no real focus or sense of direction beyond just having people talk.
But the approach is consistent with the failure to appropriately determine what is to be the national sport policy and how it is to be implemented.
So after 13 years in office the ruling regime does not yet have a grip on the critical point of departure for sport development, a clearly delineated and implemented national sport policy. Since the start is blighted the rest would also experience the same fate.
Physical education
Over the past few years we have seen the introduction of physical education and sport on the secondary schools curriculum. While this may seem a good move the truth is that there is much to be concerned about.
We did not introduce the subject because of our understanding of and appreciation for its role in the health of the people of our country. Had such a motivational factor been considered we would readily have introduced the subject at the very first tier of the formal education programme of the country. This did not happen.
We introduced physical education and sport on the secondary schools curriculum because the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) decided to make the subject an examinable on under its ambit.
It is to be understood therefore that had the CXC not made the aforementioned decision we would probably never have had the subject on the curriculum of our secondary schools.
We remain embarrassed by the fact that as yet the authorities have not recognised that our children are being given an option to take physical education and sport as a subject only when they get to the secondary school and can readily drop it when selecting their CXC subjects a few years later. This makes it all the clearer to all and sundry that there is no direct link between the immense benefits that can accrue to the people of this country and by extension, the nation as a whole, and the subject being taught in our secondary schools.
While many people have grown conscious about the need to live a fit life they do not seem anxious to encourage their own children to do likewise. This is not surprising since we do not have any broader physical education programme for parents and children on our local television programmes. Our close relationship with Cuba has not been used to embolden us to create any initiatives in this regard.
Our pre and primary school students are still engaged in games rather than physical education. Examine their timetables and this fact is most glaring. It means we are aware that we are not introducing them to a subject but leading them to believe that it is all frivolity or building up a sweat.
Our Physical Education and Sport Teachers Association (PESTA) has also not been encouraged to become a bastion in the promotion of a culture of physical activity amongst Vincentians. PESTA is well placed to engage the nation in this regard since the members are appropriately qualified to aid in the preparation of programmes relative to the link between physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.
PESTA should be commissioned to do more than focus on getting students to achieve a passing grade in their CXC examinations. They have the capacity to play a leading role in the fashioning of a new health-oriented culture in Vincentians society driven in large measure by physical activity and sport involvement.
We are here speaking of a major paradigm shift in the way we do things.
We have always been told that one of the benefits of sport participation is discipline.
Experience has however taught us here that this is a major challenge.
We have on several occasions lamented the approach of many of our sportspeople to the respective disciplines with which they engage themselves.
We do not see the athletes with coaches utilising our playing areas to hone their skills as frequently as happened in the past. Indeed the older sportspeople lament this fact and suggest that this is perhaps why today’s athletes are not as consistent in the team sports as was the case decades ago.
Since the 1990s when we first entered the FIFA World Cup we found that the national football seemed almost incapable of completing a game with the same gusto with which they started.
Reading the recent debacles in Antigua and Barbuda and again in Guadeloupe in short order, the current national football team showed an inability to take home the advantage gained in the earlier part of the game. The last 15 – 20 minutes of any major encounter reveals a Vincentian national football team lacking the stamina and by extension the capacity to hold on to any advantage they would have gained in the encounter. Significant leads simply evaporate and the players walk off the field dazed by their own lack of staying power.
Interesting that was the experience in the Columbus Cup that was a product of a collaborative effort between Austin Warner and Basil Cato in 1992. The furore of the selection of the name for the home and away encounter between us and Jamaica saw a change to The Kamperveen Cup.
In the away game we were leading Jamaica 3 – 0 at the half time and ended the final minutes of the game with an unbelievable draw. That was in 1992. Today we are still doing the same nonsense on the field of play.
In the final 25 minutes in Guadeloupe recently we were able to squander a lead to end up being humiliated.
There is more than enough reason to believe that the chronic state of our national teams reflect the failure to have coaches work with players at the school, community and club levels.
Instead of taking stock of what we are doing and undertaking a more studied approach to the preparation of our athletes we are stifling initiative and creativity.
Additionally, we have some individuals who have adopted an approach to sport that is designed to facilitate their own perception of themselves and the image they wish the public to have of them. Instead of working with others to facilitate genuine sharing and development they adopted the stance of humility while quietly speaking ill of their fellow coaches so that in the end the best athletes are drawn into their respective camps. Such an approach bods no good and cripples the very development that is supposedly intended. It gives the lie to any genuine commitment to the athletes to say nothing of commitment to the nation.
The very discipline some coaches seek to exact from their charges they do not apply to themselves. It remains a matter of doing as I say but not as I do. The end result is essentially marking time.
Independence has not really ushered in a greater sense of national pride.
We have failed to make the strides expected with the granting of Independence.
Perhaps it is the fact that we did not fight for the Independence we now have that impacts the way we treat it.
Successive generations will look back on this new dispensation and chide its leaders for grandiose speeches at an annual parade while ignoring the realities of a debilitating myopia that is proffered as governance.
Sport can make little strides under the new dispensation. Perhaps the clearest evidence of this is the fact that after 13 years we are still unclear as to precisely what constitutes tripartitism in sport.
We are still playing games with physical activity and sport.