Independence and sport – unconnected

imagesOn Tuesday 27 October 2015 this country will observe the 36th anniversary of Independence from the British. To many we have merely had a change of flag, anthem and a few other things, largely cosmetic, instead of the more fundamental changes that ought to have taken place.
While it is very easy to lower one flag and raise another and to create and deliver a national anthem it is most difficult to change the minds of the people. Attitudinal change takes time and unless there are systems put in place that are designed to facilitate attitudinal changes people will remain psychologically colonised for decades if not centuries after they have gained Independence.
Politicians are apt to delude both themselves and the populace in respect of all that they would be able to achieve under Independence then spend the rest of the lives distracting the very people away from recognising their abysmal failure to effect meaningful, sustainable change.
36 years after having taken the paper Independence as significant to the nation’s future, St Vincent and the Grenadines has not displayed any genuine understanding of the importance of physical literacy to national development.
In the recent past much has been made of the importance of waging an incessant war against non-communicable diseases (NCD) and chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCD) and we have really not yet grasped the fundamentals required.
Our lifestyles, fashioned as they are after the advanced industrial nations of the north, leave our people hopelessly embarrassed as we challenge the latter in the realm of obesity and attendant illnesses resulting.
Physical education and sport have been given lip service since the attainment of Independence and what has been done over the past several weeks since the National Lotteries Authority’s loan of $6.5m from the National Insurance Services for sport infrastructure is shameful and threatens to take us back to the decadence of an age that preceded the colonial era.
We are of the view that the mere construction of facilities, regardless of size, location, usefulness and relevance would suffice in deluding an entire nation to cast a favourable vote.
Physical literacy, physical activity and sport are not for sportspeople. They are for an entire nation and we keep missing that very point.
Political charlatanism
The 36 years since Independence reveals an embarrassing reality in respect of the role of the people in this country’s development. It appears that one political leader after another considered the business of leadership of the country as relating more to their personal development and image cultivation than to the people of the country.
Consistent with their own socialisation under the yoke of colonialism our post Independence leaders are yet to display a change of attitude so necessary to take the colonisation of the mind out of the peoples they have been chosen to lead. Perhaps this is because they too are victims of that same malady.
One administration after another has displayed a penchant for the construction of fanciful buildings as a means of showcasing their commitment to the development of the nation, seemingly oblivious to the fact that development is about the well-being of a people not the number of large buildings or the allocation of titles.
The judgement of leadership relates less to what leaders do for others and more to how leaders have worked with the people for their own well-being. This is one of the fundamental truths enunciated by the outstanding international scholar, Paolo Friere.
The strong tradition of divide and rule politics perpetrated by those who engaged in the conquest and colonisation of our peoples has left our leaders essentially authoritarian to such an extent that they delude themselves into persistent denial that this is their modus operandi.
Talk is cheap and each time we hear our leaders speak glibly about a commitment to wellness we must inevitably cringe since the examples speak for themselves.
Education revolution
In the recent past it has become fashionable for many Vincentians to repeat the political phrasing that in this country we have had an education revolution. The statement is near farcical and is a reflection of our own failure to understand the concept of a revolution.
The transformation to universal secondary education can hardly be described as revolutionary since concept has been around for a very long time. We were late in getting there and nothing more.
We have long since had in place directors of sport and officers for physical education but we only placed physical education on the schools’ curriculum after the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) made it an examinable subject.
There was then major push to train physical educators to meet the demands pursuant to the CXC decision. This meant that several teachers, most with an interest in sport, were fast-tracked through different training programmes and designated physical educators. Many really had to learn as they went along teaching the subject.
A few have actually attained degrees in physical education but the overall number of graduates is well below what is required to allow us to feel comfortable and confident that we are serious enough to make physical education and important component of our education programme.
There is therefore no genuine programme for the development of physical education in the education system that we have unfortunately labelled since 2001, an education revolution.
We continue to lament the fact that physical education is the only subject that a student can pick up at the secondary school level without ever having had a foundation in the primary school system. This is unbelievable and at the same time unacceptable.
While physical literacy insists upon children being taught the fundamentals of movement at home we have no programme for these parents.
We also have no programme for the teachers in our pre-schools who have the children in their charge from a very early age. They do not have a grasp of the requirements of physical literacy and its importance to a healthy lifestyle.
Leaving the pre-school it is only those children with an aptitude for physical activity who are given any thing significant at the primary school level.
Instead of being engaged in physical education at the pre-school and primary schools our children are simply involved in play, most of which are not appropriately structured.
Competition between schools start at the primary school level and this means that the teacher charged with responsibility for ‘games’ is required to produce teams and individual athletes. He/she therefore readily grabs hold of those students showing some sporting proficiency and they become the nucleus of the school’s team. Those who show no proficiency are cast aside with a ball or two to do as they please while the teacher concentrates on bringing glory to the school with those deemed proficient.
The foregoing reality continues through the secondary schooling period of the students.
Throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines we can attest to numerous students who went through the entire school system without ever once being engaged seriously in sport.
It is quite common to find several of our leading sportsmen and women who, despite their success in sport have immense difficulty displaying the fundamentals of coordinated movement.
Reality check
Governments seek re-election and often conjure up projects that they deem developmental without the requisite information. This is understandable since the motives that drive the spate of construction are political rather than genuinely developmental in nature.
Sport hardly ever features beyond the likes of what we saw here in 2001 when one of the contesting political parties produced a youth manifesto with the nation’s leading distance runner on the front cover. At the time it seemed opportune to sell the youths the promise of a national stadium.
Nearly 15 years later, the youths have abandoned the idea of a national stadium built by the ruling regime. The government has f ailed to provide funds from its own coffers to facilitate the construction of a national stadium. Presumably it was expecting that the Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi would have funded it all. Gaddafi’s revitalised relationship with the US and the UK proved of more interest to he and his government and so we were left out in the cold.
In the eagerness to impress the electorate in the lead up to the pending general elections the government is spending monies on the sport infrastructure.
Interestingly, the evidence of a lack on interest in sport is the absence of any form of consultation with sporting organisations regarding the basic requirements even for a training facility.
Are the facilities being developed and/or refurbished intended to be part of a broader national sport development strategy?
As it now stands not even the National Sport Council has appropriate technical expertise resident in its Board or its staff, to advise on the fundamental requirements of the various sports practised in the country.
If we are expending resources at this time by the millions it must be to garner the youth vote for the pending general elections. There is no reason to believe otherwise.
One would have imagined that had there been a genuine interest in sport development that it would have started with a bring together of the Ministries of Education, Sport, Tourism, Community Development, Youth and Health, the national sports associations, the Physical Education and Sports Teachers Association (PESTA), the Principals Association, the Head teachers Association, the National Sport Council and the Department of Sport as well as community and youth organisations.
The electorate is fed up with the undue haste that is evident every time general elections come around. Just ask the people in the Cumberland and Spring Village areas. They have watched work being undertaken on the Cumberland playing field only when elections are pending – 2005, 2010 and 2015. Finally, the field may be completed this time around.
The ruling regime has, over the years in office, shown no genuine commitment towards making physical literacy an integral component of national development. Physical education is not yet compulsory across the education system despite the erroneous pronouncement of an education revolution.
The eagerness to meet and greet our successful sport personalities at the airport and to be associated with them and their success is as far as the ruling regime gets with sport.
Independence has meant nothing really. It has certainly not changed in any way the approach of our government to physical activity and sport and by extension to the role of these twin disciplines to national development.