Is sport a political football?
The recent global scandal involving the top guns at the level of FIFA and some of the regional and national football bodies should come ads no surprise to the followers of the sport.
Many analysts have always made the claim in more than jest that sport involves as much intrigue and politics as national politics in countries around the world.
Importantly, in many instances, the way in which some approach sport leaves analysts wondering whether sport has become a convenient political football.
Everywhere politicians are aware of the importance of sport to young people and so they often dangle and array of sport promises in order to garner the votes of these young sport enthusiasts. Unfortunately, following the conclusion of general elections the same sportspeople are often transformed into beggars to get the winning party to fulfil the promises made on the political platforms while on the campaign trail.
There may well be reason enough for many of our peoples in the Caribbean to suggest that governments often do not yet see sport as playing any role in the process of national development and nation building.
More often than not government officials pay lip service to sport and this, even if some of those holding the ministerial portfolio were actively involved in sport in the past. The gamesmanship that appears to characterise national politics takes hold and they forget the significance of sport and physical literacy.
There are some who would suggest that rather that see physical literacy and sport as integral to national development and nation building, many of our politicians are incapable of rousing themselves from the slumber that allows them to construe these as mere frivolity.
What is it that drives politicians to play games with physical literacy and sport so much so that they do not form part of their agenda beyond the electoral campaigns?
One reason may well be the lack of understanding of the immense benefits of physical literacy and sport to a nation. Even many of them are prone to delivering great speeches on the value of sport they do not follow this with decisive action. There is a great disparity between what is said and what is actually undertaken.
One gets the impression that politicians dispense some assistance to sporting organisations to get rid of their perceived bothersome ways and to appease the youths. They however fail to recognise that the youths are on to them and are not in any way fooled by the token assistance.
The abysmal short-sighted nature of so many of the region’s politicians can readily be blamed for what obtains in our respective countries today. Those who rise above the myopia are to be credited but they have been unable to influence their counterparts.
St Vincent and the Grenadines falls well short of the regional governments in respect of understanding and appreciating the role that physical literacy and sport play in the broader national development process.
We have long since established in this Column that the Vincentian government does nto appear eager to hold fast to its own national sport policy in many respects, not the least of which relates to duties on team uniforms.
Without an understanding of physical literacy there can be no genuine commitment to it and so we are not surprised by the continued failure to introduce physical education at the early stages of child development in the country – pre-school and elementary school.
No attempts are even made to get our people physically active throughout their lives.
Most societies now cater for the physical fitness of the people. Communities around several countries are provided with exercise trails for walking, jogging and riding as well as an array of outdoor exercise machines. They do not have to go necessarily to gyms where they have to pay.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines we have not done anything really to assist and encourage our people to do better in terms of their physical well being.
Some may suggest that the near-scary pronouncements on the deleterious effects of non communicable diseases (NCD) and chronic non communicable diseases (CNCD) appear to have had more of an impact on people’s attitudes towards exercise and fitness than a carefully developed scientific approach to promoting physical literacy as an important pillar of personal development and wellbeing.
The lack of awareness of physical literacy is compounded by the fact that our drivers seem to feel that people should not be on the roads exercising. They drive the people off the road more often than not.
Many individuals have already been robbed in the wee hours of the morning when attempting to get an early exercise session going.
While we have playing fields across the country there is no attempt at consistency regarding size, gradient, quality and maintenance. The undue haste on the part of politicians to appear to be responding to the needs of our sportspeople have given rise to a number of facilities being built with little attention paid to the real requirements of the very people for whom they are intended.
Perhaps even more unacceptable is the fact that national sports associations are hardly ever consulted when the sports facilities are being constructed so that there is an assumption that whoever is doing the construction is supposed to know the latest infrastructure requirements of the respective international sports federations.
The interests of politicians are not necessarily those of the sportspeople of a country. For the most part the politicians are apt to do what they deem politically expedient. They are concerned with garnering votes. This often impacts their decisions in respect of what facilities to build and where to locate them, whether or not they would benefit our athletes.
Successive government ministers have displayed a penchant for talking in glowing terms about the value of sport but these statements are largely restricted to electioneering and at meet and greet sessions when our athletes perform well abroad.
Of course the most noticeable hypocrisy is evident by the fact that when teams are leaving the politicians do not go to the airport to send them off. They do not associate themselves with them at that point.
Ministers are often given to speaking at one function after another proclaiming their interest in sport but at the same time brokering no criticism or challenge in respect of the content of their speeches.
Despite commitments to the sport development process the evidence reveals a very stark contradiction.
Government officials often fail to get the requisite information about the different sports before they engage themselves on political platforms and at different sports forums.
It is difficult to imagine that governments that have so long befriended Cuba, have failed to engage that country in bilateral relations in respect of some sports practised here.
Two visits from Teofilo Stephenson whose father was from Biabou, has not seen an invitation to a single Cuban boxing coach. This is all the more ridiculous when one understands the status of Cuba in the world of boxing. Instead, we heard rumblings of Vincentians helping Cubans in Cuba learn to play cricket.
Cuba has also been good at hurdles and field events in the sport of track and field athletics, Volleyball and some of the combat sports yet we have had no discussions with them in terms of helping us develop these sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
What is the explanation for this from a government that continues to boast of its friendship with Cuba and where both countries have ambassadors in their respective countries?
Despite repeated appeals from national sports associations our visits to countries around the world, establishing diplomatic relations and exercising a sort of beggar-maid type of policy has not been sufficiently open to include sport. No equipment is requested, even at the most minimal of levels.
Where then is the evidence of genuine interest in sport and the sport development process in St Vincent and the Grenadines?
The reality in this country is that our politicians seek the youth vote through making promises to them about what they will do for sport. The historic evidence suggests that this is all talk and little else.
The sad reality is that for too long, sport has been a political football.