Just how important is sport here?

arnos-valeHow does one judge a government’s commitment to sport?
This is a question that often occupies the minds of athletes, coaches and administrators especially when they complete an evaluation of their performances at home and abroad in any given year.
Of course national sports associations receive the brunt of the attacks levelled by critics if only because they are responsible for the development of the respective sporting disciplines, the selection of teams and the preparation of those selected.
Often we forget that national sports associations, while being autonomous, do not usually possess the wherewithal to construct their own facilities and procure all of the equipment needed to develop their respective sports.
National sports associations must therefore inevitably have a working relationship with government in order to function effectively.
It is unfortunate that the matter of the relationship is often misunderstood.
There are occasions where the governmental authorities may well want to lay claim to the benefits brought to the country by the various national sports associations when they did not lift a single finger in the process relative to their acquisition.
It is not that the associations are totally reliant on government. Instead, it is that they are all aware of the role that government must play in the national sport development process. They are also very cognizant of the fact that here at home there is little to show that the government has even begun to understand its role in sport and the critical importance of sport to the broader national development process.
This columnist has repeatedly made reference to the national sport policy of this country that emerged from an initiative of the National Olympic Committee.
Having a policy is one thing implementing it is something different altogether. The case of St Vincent and the Grenadines is a classic example of the disparity in this regard.
It remains an unfortunate fact that the government has never really examined the national sport policy to the point where it can safely be said that there is an understanding of and appreciation for its content.
One is not even certain that as yet the government recognises the spirit of the policy although it has been reviewed under its watch.
National sports associations attempt to hold fast to the spirit and content of the policy only to find that the government is not doing the same. This has meant a distancing between the two.
In some instances it appears that the government operates with its head buried in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, ignoring the reality of the different sporting bodies, content merely to play the political game in their own best interests. In the end the sportspeople and their organisations are readily sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.
Policies are intended to guide practice. Where the policy is ignored it eventually ends up not being worth the paper on which it is written.
It is therefore not acceptable for the government to ignore fundamental aspects of the policy yet expect that the national associations should comply with the obligations placed upon them in the same document.
National sport structure
Very little attention has been paid to the national sport structure in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Indeed few are able to discern what exactly is our national sport structure.
What institution sits at the top of the national sport structure?
Where does the National Sport Council fit in the national sport structure?
Where are the national sports associations placed in the national sport structure and what are the relationships between them and the other components of the aforesaid structure?
These are important questions that need to be answered.
One can say without fear of contradiction that it is the lack of clarity in respect of the national sport structure that has allowed the sporting scene in this country to be essentially bereft of any real control.
Much has been said and written in respect of the state of sport infrastructure in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Over the years successive governments have constructed sport infrastructure without much by way of collaboration with national sports associations, with few exceptions.
We are aware that in the late 1960s, it was the Cricket fraternity that got together and persuaded then Premier, Milton Cato, to facilitate the construction of the Arnos Vale Playing Field as the veritable home of Cricket in this country.
Then there was the eagerness of the Tennis fraternity at the time that persuaded the James Mitchell administration to engage the Taiwanese in the construction of a home for the sport at Glen.
Finally, the Squash fraternity was happy to have convinced the National Lotteries Authority (NLA) to allow them to maintain their home at what is today the latter’s headquarters in Paul’s Avenue.
In most cases however, the politicians have done as they pleased allowing the acquisition of votes at general elections to be the principal determination of the particular type of sport infrastructure to be constructed, its size and location.
The assumption is often that sport is essentially frivolous activity and therefore those who practise sport count for very little. The feeling is that they only need to satisfy themselves that they get the opportunity to break a sweat from time to time.
If the governmental authorities pay little attention to sport infrastructure in this country much less is given to the equipment needs of the various sports practised here.
It can safely be said that no government official has any idea of the sport equipment stock of this country or of the sport equipment needs of the various sporting bodies as they seek to develop their respective sporting disciplines and appropriately represent the country.
Where governmental agencies procure their own equipment it is often the case that they are working on the basis that what they acquire is really to facilitate their own work in the field rather than be art of a broader national development strategy that requires collaboration.
Government officials frequently engage in the development of bilateral relations with other countries on behalf of the country.
One understands that such relations are inevitably designed to bolster the development of our country and by extension, be in some way mutually beneficial.
It is difficult to recall an administration here seizing the initiative to make sport an important component of any bilateral relations established between our country and others.
While the Taiwanese government ensured the construction of the Tennis Facility at Glen, the reality is that this was an initiative of the Tennis Fraternity as mentioned earlier in this Column. It should perhaps be stated here that that initiative was encouraged by the Taiwanese Charge d’affaires located here at the time who was an avid Tennis player, if not fanatic.
We have had respective governments here milk the fact that Teofilo Stephenson, Cuban, world and Olympic heavyweight Boxing champion several times over, was of Vincentian descent.
The James Mitchell and Ralph Gonsalves administrations, in turn, brought the boxer to local shores, ostensibly as some sort of showpiece. The local Boxing fraternity readily thought that there was some optimism given the legacy of Stephenson.
Former Parliamentarian, Rene Baptiste even drew on the importance of Stephenson’s visit and indicated that efforts would have been made in the future to return Boxing to Edinborough where it has a somewhat popular past.
Of course the reality is that today Boxing remains without a home. The last location for their equipment and training was downstairs the old Community Centre at Campden Park. Following the passage of Tomas the facility became inhabitable even for practice. The roof caved in and the equipment was exposed to water every time rain fell.
What is it about sport that leaves respective governments in this country so insensitive that our national sports associations are ignored when bilateral relations are being established and agreements being signed?
Cuba is known for having coaches in several countries across the world yet the current administration, which seems to have had excellent relations with Cuba, has not been able to offer a single coach from that country to any of the national sports associations here.
Outside of the situation where we got some assistance from Libya very early in the life of the current administration the several travels of our politicians have failed to yield one solitary example of sport being considered of sufficient importance to the government to make it in any assistance package.
One can only hazard a guess that the Libyan trip came early in the first term of the current administration and it was politically opportune to seek out the funding for the much-promised national stadium to sustain the momentum amongst Vincentian youth gained prior to the general elections of 2001.
Gadhafi did not give another cent following the first tranche received and the national stadium was relegated to the dark corner of Santa’s home.
There is an abundance of literature available to those interested in reading about the immense benefits of sport.
Over the past weeks we focused on sport tourism in an effort to increase public awareness as much as to facilitate a shift from mere
ole talk to a more scientific approach to understanding and planning to access the benefits of sport for the country.
It is unfortunate that too many at the leadership level continue to see sport as mere frivolity rather than the valuable asset that has been exemplified by Usain Bolt’s contribution to Jamaica’s global profile.
Physical education and sport as twin disciplines can transform a society by enriching the lives of its people.
We can work together to realise in this country the immense potential that we have in our youth.
The onus is on all of us.