National Sports Associations and Government

arnos-valeAs one follows sport and its development or lack thereof in different countries around the world it becomes evident that the relationship between national sporting organisations and government is of critical importance.
In some countries the national sports organisations are literally controlled by the governments with ministers of government holding the top positions. In some cases the government officials influence the leadership of the associations in an effort to ensure compliance with the government’s dictates.
In some countries governments forcibly seize control of national sports associations in order to have their way and the international sports federations have had to suspend many national associations as a result until such time as they have been allowed their autonomy.
Of course in some Left Wing societies and dictatorships the national associations are directly under the firm control of the ruling regimes and the international federations are led to believe that they are genuine when in fact they are not.
In the Caribbean we have had a mixed bag. While Ministers of government stay their hands and avoid seeking elective positions on national sports associations they often do seek to influence who gets elected so that they can wield great influence on the national sport movement.
In Grenada, there has been a longstanding relationship between national sports associations and government in respect of accessing and supporting scholarships for track and field athletes that has proven quite successful.
Philosophical and structural differences
Governments are elected by the people of a country with a mandate to govern society in all its aspects, one of which is sport.
It is therefore expected that a government would develop a national sport policy that speaks directly to its perception of the role it sees sport as playing in the broader process of national development.
A national government may choose to affiliate to several international and regional organisations such as the United Nations, the Organisation of American States, ALBA, CARICOM and OECS, each of which has its own established requirements for continued membership. There is no compunction for a government to join any or all of these institutions. Governments often select which of the activities of the various organisations it wishes to comply.
National sports associations, on the other hand, have as their mandate the governing of their particular sport in all aspects. In this regard the national sport association is made up of athletes who are students in school and who later join clubs that constitute the membership of the governing body. The national association then affiliates to the international sport federation (IF) for the particular sport. This means therefore that the national sports associations are expected to satisfy the requirements of the international governing body for the sport in all aspects and be accountable to it in this regard and at the same time be answerable and accountable to their local membership.
In the contemporary period all international sports federations have established continental federations which take responsibility for the development of programmes at this level and so the local associations have another institution in their global structure of their respective sports to which they are answerable and accountable.
Increasingly we have witnessed the emergence of regional and sub regional groupings of the different sports bodies. Thus the global structure of a sport practised in the Caribbean may allow for the existence of the IF, a continental federation, a Caribbean federation and an OECS federation in addition to the national sport association.
Unlike governments, once the IF’s structure is established and the system operational the national association has obligations to each of the components in the structure.
The ideal
Ideally, governments and national sports associations coexist in a country operating within the context of mutual respect. National associations, like their IFs value their independence and autonomy and this is not in any way inimical to the forging of strong bonds of collaboration and cooperation with governments once the national wellbeing is the ultimate objective.
In the world of sport the ideal is for governments to establish its own national sport development policy and programmes for the peoples of the entire nation. They then allow the national sports associations to operate as independent, autonomous institutions working in tandem with their respective IFs for the development of their respective sports.
Ideally, governments and national sports associations should see themselves as partners in national development, locating sport an appropriate place in the broader national development process. In this regard therefore the development strategies of the respective national sports associations are, properly speaking, in sync with the strategies of the government of the particular country.
Investments by governments in sport infrastructure and other aspects of sport development are to be ideally seen as part and parcel of the broader national investment strategy of the entire country. Even where national associations develop their own infrastructure there is still a need for a strong relationship with the government.
The relationship between the associations and the government should be one of a developmental partnership and certainly not confrontational.
National associations, however wealthy, cannot and ought no, for example, to seek to host major sporting events without the knowledge and blessings of the government and both should contribute to the activity in order for it to aid in enhancing at once the image of the country and the association in addition to delivering high quality products.
The recent emphasis on physically active lifestyles as a means of ensuring a healthy nation has given greater impetus to the forging of closer ties between national sports associations and governments in countries around the world. This common ground is fertile for the advancement of the development of both institutions all to the benefit of the nation.
Practical Realities
What obtains in respect of the relationship between governments and national sports associations around the world is really a mixed bag. The reality often stands in stark contradiction to the aforementioned ideal. This is not to say that there are not several countries where the ideal is vigorously pursued and serve as good examples to others.
In some countries the sports associations have engaged themselves as professional institutions, seeking to develop themselves and their programmes on a solid base of sound academic research. There is no development without appropriate research as its basis. An organisation’s failure to engage in research means a continuation of the hit or miss approach which is woefully deficient as a development option.
Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the UK, South Africa, all of the Nordic nations, are among the countries that have taken the plunge into sound research as the basis for creating strategies that have placed sport as one of the more important pillars of the respective national development.
It is the research of sporting organisations in many of these countries that nudged governments into action respecting physical activity and sport participation as critical to a healthy nation and an enhanced global image.
In the Caribbean we tend to underplay the importance of academia in the sport development process. We shun research in physical and activity like the plague, chiding those administrators who push for a change is this mode of operation. We prefer to speak off the top of our heads with little or no foundation in empiricism.
For all of the mouthing by governments around the region on the importance of sport tourism and the boast by some that they are focusing on this as a critical component of their development arsenal, not a single Caribbean country has a researched sport tourism project undertaken and on the basis of which they have forged a strategy to link it to the broader national developmental objectives.
National associations continue to seek to host regional and international events and, without the research to prove it, often include in their portfolios to governments the importance of the activity as a sport tourism phenomenon, largely in the hope of gaining government approval.
A case in point was the appeals by the West Indies and respective local Cricket Boards around the Caribbean when seeking to host the Cricket World Cup in 2007. There was no researched basis for the excessive claims of those promoting the event in the Caribbean and yet all Caribbean governments readily bought into the offer. The result was a colossal disaster and a fine example of what not to do in the future.
The same has been the standard practice of the West Indies Cricket Board for decades yet they got away with it because governments somehow remain adamant that cricket is part of our culture.
Witness in stark contrast the phenomenal success of a researched approach to Cricket in the very same Caribbean in the midst of severe economic challenges, the newly introduced Caribbean T20 League competition.
There are of course occasions on which governments’ expectations in respect of sport development are far too high and they appear particularly disappointed when their expectations are not met.
National associations have often hoodwinked governments and vice versa in respect of what should be done in respect of the development of sport in their respective countries.
In the Caribbean, the glamour of sport is something that appeals to politicians. Success in sport often commits them to wanting to bask in the glory alongside the successful athletes and associations. This is the rationale for the distribution of lavish gifts on successful athletes, many of whom hardly got the time of day from the same governments prior to their achievements.
Collaboration and Cooperation
In St Vincent and the Grenadines as in the rest of the world we ought to strive for a relationship between sports associations and government characterised by collaboration and cooperation.
What has happened in the past has proven unsatisfactory.
The unilateral decision by the government to pick and choose those aspects of the national sport policy it would implement is a model for disaster.
The recent decision to insist on having national sports associations pay full duty for uniforms, including those that have been donated by organisations free of cost, is unreasonable and perhaps unconscionable.
Change is necessary if we are to establish a cohesive national sport programme that allows for mutual respect between national sports associations and government here at home as well as in several Caribbean countries.