Promoting health, education, inclusion and development in sport

The following is the feature address that this Columnist delivered to the 17th Special Meeting of the Council and Social Development (COHSOD) on Monday last.
On Sunday 7 October, West Indians everywhere got a new lease on life.
Everywhere West Indians tuned themselves in to the strains of David Rudder’s, Rally ‘Round D West Indies.
Bear in mind, though that many faint-hearted could not take the tension and would have turned off their radios and television sets only to ask time and again of a family member or friend the latest score.
The fact is that regardless of individual status and/or condition – class, race, ethnicity, religious orientation, physical stature, age – the entire Caribbean populace at home and abroad all joined in the celebration of our cricketers because it involved us all.
Yes! The West Indies won a world title.
Not since 2004 did we in the Caribbean have reason to celebrate our cricketers being victorious in a World Championship.
As is so often said, it was long in coming but behold how sweet it is.
One of the features of David Rudder’s calypso, Rally ‘Round D West Indies, is its reflection on the importance of the game of cricket to all of us. Indeed, Rudder joins the renowned CLR James in bringing into focus the inextricable link between the fortunes of the West Indies cricket team and the aspirations of us as a people.
It is James who first insisted that for us as a people in this Caribbean archipelago, the sport goes well beyond a boundary.
Hilary Beckles, and others who collaborated with him in his prolific series on West Indies Cricket, characterized our approach to the game of cricket as quintessentially, Liberation Cricket.
Sunday’s victory came as a breath of fresh air to those who, like Rudder, remained faithful; who never abandoned the commitment of our sportspeople to realize our potential; our capacity to stand alongside the best in the world without a feeling of powerlessness; but rather, with a strong sense of pride.
For all of the years that we have been without a major cricketing title, our involvement in the sport has continued, without fail, to reflect the essence of who we are as a Caribbean people.
Our topic, Promoting Inclusion, Health, Education and Development Through Sport, is most timely. We are in the throes of serious challenges in these times. What we have before us are rapidly changing times, causing severe disruptions in the way we were accustomed to do things, leaving us all the more circumspect about how and where we tread and most importantly, who we are.
In many respects I may, here, be preaching to the converted. You are all here because of your love for and profound commitment to the twin disciplines of physical education and sport. For the rest of this presentation however, I would use the term physical activity.
I choose to speak of physical activity if only because sport has come to be associated with competition. I believe that the topic speaks to the broader context of physical activity aimed at facilitating physical and mental well being and not the narrow confines of competition usually associated with sport.
Interestingly, here we are in the Caribbean discussing this very important topic, Promoting Inclusion, Health, Education and Development Through Sport.
Germany will, through 27 – 30 October 2012, engage in a seminar entitled, Communities in Crisis – Inclusive Development Through Sport.
It is therefore fair to say that what we are addressing is of global significance and not limited to the Caribbean region, even though the latter is our primary focus here.
In many respects, our involvement in physical activity in the Caribbean has been about development. Once we got involved we have attempted to use sport as an important vehicle for social transformation. That is in essence the raison d’etre of CLR James’ thesis in Beyond a Boundary. He saw our cricketers as etching for themselves and indeed, for all of us, a developmental pathway of radical social change.
The desire of our cricketers was to prove to the former colonial masters and their cohorts that we are as capable as they are. Physical activity offered us a remarkable medium consistent with our emerging character. We were engaged in a fun-filled activity, that was being used to fashion our Caribbean character even as it allowed us to liberate ourselves from what Bob Marley has dubbed, mental slavery.
Sunday’s victory in the World T20 Championship is an historic link with our first ever test match victory and our first World Cup victory endorsing Marley’s insistence that none but ourselves could free our minds.
Development is about people. It is about improving the social condition of every individual in our society. Perhaps, in our anxiety to forge ahead in tandem with the developed world and more particularly, our closest neighbour to the north, the USA, we confused the leaves for the forest. We lost sight of the importance of physical activity to our development. It is the argument that many have had about the malaise that inflicted and infected West Indies cricket for the past two decades. What was palmed off as professionalism really translated into a commitment to the almighty dollar bereft of any appreciation or the rich legacy of struggle to forge our character in the heat of the sun-baked fields around the globe.
Our Caribbean society is made up of people. We all have abilities that must be nurtured. Some have been born or have become mentally and physically or otherwise challenged and have been captioned peoples with disability.
We have come to understand though that disability does not in any way mean inability. While we have clearly made significant advances in our understanding of and appreciation for people with disability we have merely begun to scratch the surface. We are light years behind some countries in terms of fully integrating people with disability into mainstream society let alone in such areas as their involvement in physical activity.
Even as we have come to acknowledge that physical activity is an integral part of national development we are yet to see physical activity as being all-inclusive.
The Canadians have always insisted that the quadrennial Commonwealth Games must include events for people who are challenged in one way or another alongside the events for the rest of the Commonwealth. There must be no discrimination. It is the reason that the Commonwealth Games Federation has never considered separate Games for these athletes. There is full integration.
This is the reason that the Commonwealth Games is so different from the Olympics and Paralympics. They are indeed very, very special.
The time has obviously come for us, as a Caribbean region to take the dust off the Kingston Accord fashioned by CARICOM Ministers with responsibility for Disability issues in Jamaica, in May 2004.
Our Caribbean society has become sufficiently callous in our pursuit of development that we have not only ignored those who are challenged but also the older persons among us. We have very quickly adopted the production of Homes for the Elderly as a panacea for the aging crisis that looms and leave our people – our mothers and fathers and other family members – properly cloistered rather than offer them opportunities to live life to the full through physical activity in community.
On the one hand we boast of the capacity of physical activity to facilitate camaraderie, engender discipline, fellowship, enhance our capacity to care and share, improve productivity, facilitate alertness, yet we turn our backs on the elderly as though somehow, by some mystery, their golden years have rendered them less than human.
No member of any society is deserving of abandonment. Similarly, no member of any society is deserving of being denied the opportunity to enjoy the experiences that come with participation in physical activity whether that be dance, walking, running, skipping or engaging in competitive events.
The story is often told that the Germans, in an effort to gain governmental support for their programmes in physical activity, immersed themselves in research on the deleterious effects of a life devoid of it.
The plethora of lifestyle ailments, now popularly characterized as Non Communicable Diseases and Chronic Non Communicable Diseases are not new to this world of ours. Long before we came hip to the idea the Germans understood it. They used it and they sold their government the concept that with physical activity as an integral component of German life the re could be significant reduction in the annual number of deaths resulting from NCDs and CNCDs.
A trifle late, our CARICOM members found it opportune in the Port of Spain Declaration of 2007 to speak to the challenge that the Germans have long since addressed. Vincentian Prime Minister, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, in endorsing the stance of the CARICOM on the issue called for a Wellness Revolution across the region. In other words, the Declaration must not be seen as business as usual but the commencement of a radical departure in the way we approach addressing NCDs and CNCDs.
Education in its broadest sense speaks to the all-round development of the individual.
Physical education is fundamental to wellness. It facilitates an appreciation for the body, movement, coordination and development.
Physical education is integral to education and not an adjunct, as many seem to think.
The time has come to put away the old perceptions where physical education has been confused with frivolity. As with all aspects of life, our first encounter with physical education is in the home. We have to sensitise parents to an appreciation of the value of physical education to the overall education of their children and their own continuing education. Beginning in the home, physical activity must be introduced as fun. Children must be enthused by the joy involved in effort, a feature that should stay with them throughout their lives. Parents cannot use the cessation of physical activity as a means of compelling students to take greater interest in their academic work.
Our school principals and teachers cannot claim to be committed to education and deny children exposure to physical education. They cannot use the withdrawal of access to physical education sessions at school as a form of punishment for failure in academic work or for deviant behaviour.
Ministries of Education must resist the temptation to characterise student and teacher involvement in physical activity as loss of instructional time. Nothing that engenders character building, improves capacity to produce and stimulates the mental faculties should ever be so erroneously characterized as loss of instructional time.
In its heyday Presentation College San Fernando, Trinidad, was renowned for attaining athletic scholarships. Amazingly, the recipients were also academically very strong. They had the leadership that forged an appreciation for the happy blend between academics and physical activity to engender excellence in both. The one does not necessarily translate into the negation of the other.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, on Monday 8 October, we had a full session with principals and curriculum officers addressing the matter of Olympic Values Education. For the next four days we have Training of Trainers Workshop for teachers who would be involved in promoting Olympic Values Education, not only in the PE programme, but also in every possible subject area.
There are significant positive values that are inherent in physical activity that aid in the building of the character of the student. This is our new and deliberate focus. All too often we assume the infusion of values in our promotion of physical activity. Today we are deliberately teaching values through this medium. In the Olympic Movement, these positive values are captured in the concept of Olympism. The Olympic Charter puts it this way:
Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.
Equally we can learn from Bernard Coard of Grenada who, in working in a Juvenile Home in Britain during vacation from his studies, got the children to be successful at mathematics through the use of football. That is but one example.
Our PE Teachers and coaches must come to appreciate the immense value of physical activity. They must understand the nuances of the Long Term Development of the Athlete, monitoring and evaluating the synergies between chronological age, physical transformation, training age and emotional development. The tendency to push the athlete beyond his/her overall developmental stage is tantamount to abuse and must be resisted at all cost.
For some reason we all too often take the contribution of physical activity to character development, educational success and healthy lifestyle for granted. For far too long we have fashioned for ourselves a perception of physical activity as being something of lesser value in terms of meaning to one’s life.
Today, we can suggest with a certain amount of confidence that COHSOD is prepared to take on the challenge alongside the Ministries of Health across the Caribbean.
COHSOD, by its work, now seems ready to work in tandem with the Ministries of Education, the Ministries of Sport, the Ministries of Culture, The Ministries of Tourism, in one massive drive to transform Caribbean lifestyles through healthy living with physical activity as its core. COHSOD now has a very unique opportunity to partner with the numerous organisations already working in the field – OCASPE, TTASPE, CANOC, National Paralympic Committees and TAFISA, among them.
We must find a way of ensuring that the media is with us every step of the way in promoting physical activity as a way of life in this Caribbean of ours. We must creatively utilize the array of new media options to market physical activity as a means of fashioning the characteristics of what has been called, The Ideal Caribbean person, a concept emerging from CARICOM itself.
Who is this Ideal Caribbean Person?
He/she is an individual who engages in physical activity as an essential ingredient in the development of his/her being, bubbling with confidence, productive and eager to hold the hands of others in pursuit of the realisation of individual and collective excellence.