National Representation at regional/international sports events
2012 is yet another Olympic year and the age-old question in respect of St Vincent and the Grenadines’ participation at this event would be raised in several quarters and perhaps rightly so.
Many would again compare St Vincent and the Grenadines with others in the region in particular, anxious to point out by way of comparison the achievements of others versus those of our own athletes.
Often times, however little attention is paid to the circumstances under which this country attempts to prepare a representative team as compared to others, some of which are much smaller than our own.
One is yet to understand why it is that many of those anxious to engage in criticising the national team performances at many regional and international sporting events seem unwilling to research the realities that constrain this country at so many different levels.
Many fail to realise that there exists a gross disparity amongst the sports practise din this country. Some have their own facilities while others have none. Some can therefore train uninterruptedly throughout the entire year whole others are almost completely ignored for most of the year. Yet others are given access to facilities rather grudgingly.
One often gets the impression that at the very highest level in this country there is in reality very little interest in our athletes doing well in sports at the regional and international levels.
For some sports, success at the regional and international levels may well constitute an act of heroism more than anything else.
Congratulations are in order for the junior squash team that won the recently concluded OECS Squash competition.
Squash has been hard at work over the years and there is evidence that some progress is being made. Concern however does exist in respect of the performances at the broader Caribbean, continental and international competitions.
Even as we congratulate the successful squash team however we must acknowledge that among Vincentian sports this sports has much to boast about by way of privilege. The government bought the Cecil Cyrus Squash Complex from its original owner and gave the Squash Association the facilities to have and maintain as their own.
The National Lotteries Authority (NLA) owns the property and apart from the segment of the building allocated to Squash the organisation takes care of maintenance of the major part of the surroundings.
Squash therefor enjoys a very fortunate position amongst sporting bodies here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Its athletes can train whenever they wish. They can readily seek to host regional competitions that give the association improved status amongst the membership of the international governing body for the sport.
Thus it is that the Squash Association here has been able to host sub regional and Caribbean Championships here with great local support and be very successful at it.
There may be reason enough now to broaden the coaching base of the organisation and determine a mechanism to bring the sport to the rural areas. There are obvious challenge sin doing so but we can all be creative.
Thanks to the initiative of the Taiwanese at a time when the Charge d’Affairs had a very intensely passionate interest in the sport, the local tennis fraternity was handed their own home – the National Tennis Centre at Calliaqua.
Additionally, while the tennis court at the ‘Triangle’ at Richmond Hill remains the property of the NLA tennis has use of it for most of the year. Occasionally when there is a regional tournament the volleyball association gains access.
Like the squash association the tennis authorities in this country can afford to engage in training all year without interruption due to demand by others for use of the facility.
The tennis authorities here have enjoyed the support of the government, which added two courts to enable the hosting of the Americas Zone Group Four Davis Cup tournament here some years ago. Before that however, once the Taiwanese handed over the facility at Calliaqua the local associations was able to successfully bid for and host a Junior International Tennis Federation (ITF) Tournament for several consecutive years.
Surely the international standard facilities combined with the year-round training and frequency of competition facilitated a new generation of tennis players whose fortunes should easily be much better than is currently the case.
Tennis also enjoys the benefit of the Haddon courts now managed by Grant Connell under his Grassroots label. This initiative continues to bring significantly large numbers of youngsters from all social groupings across the country into the sport, offering them a well-maintained facility on which to train and compete throughout the year.
There is also the Kingstown court that is available for training throughout the year.
The National Olympic Committee continues to provide training for coaches in Tennis none of whom have committed to the organisation’s Grassroots Talent Identification Programme (GTIP) to take the sport, free, to youngsters across the nation at least one day per week for a minimum of three hours. Such a programme would unearth the immense talent possessed by the nation’s youth and bring to the fore many more athletes who can at once lift their game, the sport and the image of St Vincent and the Grenadines in the global sports arena.
The netball fraternity fought for and procured its won home at New Montrose thanks to the indefatigable efforts of Gloria Ballantyne and the Prime Foundation for Sports and a few local organisations including the National Olympic Committee. This facility is its home but unfortunately remains limited in terms of its satisfaction of international standards for the sport as per the International Federation of Netball Associations (IFNA).
Despite its limitations however the National Netball Centre facilitates year-round training and the hosting of a variety of competitions at the local level without the interruptions created by other activities. It is the sport’s home.
At the Arnos Vale Sports Complex it is possible to have four courts for use by the netball fraternity when hosting competitions. They may have access to one throughout the year.
Netballers do have access to several hard courts around St Vincent and the Grenadines, access to which necessitates competition with a variety of other activities including basketball, small-gal football, cricket and several types of cultural events. The Arnos Vale Sports Complex hard courts fall into this category.
Nonetheless we can still speak of netball having a home that many other sports do not have.
Of all sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines cricket enjoys the greatest privilege.
Perhaps this has to do with the fact that it was once the nation’s most popular sport; a position that has changed over the past several decades.
Perhaps too its occasional hosting of an international match or set of matches that attracts large numbers to Arnos Vale can explain the sport’s privileged position. It is now clear that the nation’s authorities are taken in by the seeming accompanying euphoria.
While Arnos Vale is the nation’s premier facility and the cricket association does not own any the fact remains that the sport enjoys the benefit of primary access to every playing field in the country with the sole exception of the Victoria Park which is under the NLA.
The fact that cricket is no longer the nation’s most popular sport has not changed the foregoing reality.
There is however no commensurate development taking place in the sport that has lifted our players in sufficient numbers to the top of the game beyond the sub regional level in the past decade. This has not yet hit home with the authorities of sport in the country.
There were Olympic qualifiers for football, basketball, boxing, table tennis, taekwondo, cycling and volleyball. Aquatics (which includes swimming) and athletics qualify on the basis of standards, failing which they are each allowed participants at the Olympics.
In the case of swimming and athletics the norm was that each association would be allowed one male and one female participant along with two officials regardless of standards.
The international governing body for aquatics has since insisted that the potential participants must have attended and competed at its World Championships in the year preceding the Olympics. In our case that leaves us with one male competitor.
Athletes in track and field have until 30 June 2012 to make the standards set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). The local association still has the option of sending one male and one female athlete to the Games once the NOC approves.
Swimming in St Vincent and the Grenadines has recently acquired its own pool but it is well short of what obtains at the international level. The NOC has been providing assistance to the lone participant to the London Olympics to enable him and his coach to benefit from more frequent competition ahead of the Games.
Following the conclusion of his examinations here he and the coach would travel to Bath, England, to train in the weeks leading up to the Games. This training cannot be had here.
In the case of athletics while there should be more home-based athletes seeking to meet the qualifying standards the lack of adequate facilities, compounded by the inaccessibility of Arnos Vale playing field between 1 November 2011 and 21 March 2012, have not given them much of a chance. This gives the overseas-based athletes an unfair advantage in terms of making the team to the Games if the country is to even look reasonable.
In contrast, St Kitts and Nevis, with a significantly smaller population is the lone Caribbean country where an athletics track of international standard is available to track and field athletes alone to train and compete all year.
Despite the damage wrought to the infrastructure in Grenada by hurricane Ivan in the latter part of 2004 the Mondo synthetic track is still in good enough condition for the athletes to engage in year-round training and competition.
Barbados, where the national stadium is in need of a new track, possesses enough of a synthetic surface to allow for training and competition of a much higher standard than we here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There is far too much talk and unnecessary promises by our politicians who play games with the sporting youths of this country.
The distinctive bias of the National Sports Council towards cricket remains a major humbug to the development of sports in this country. This is unlikely to change for years to come.
Until such time as athletics, football, table tennis, volleyball, basketball and taekwondo get their own home these sports are unlikely to offer home-based athletes a level playing field relative to their counterparts across the Caribbean whose progress is often cited by our harsh sports analysts and enthusiasts.
Politicians must desist from making promises they cannot keep and instead facilitate genuine objective analysis of the problems and their root causes in order to systematically facilitate change for the better.
Sport is an important vehicle for community development – a truism we are yet to grasp. Sport is a great national development tool.
If only we can put in place those capable of understanding the invaluable role of sport in national development we would be much better placed in participating at the regional and international levels.
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