A rationalised national sport structure

It is unfortunate that despite claims by successive governments in this country little attention has ever been placed on locating physical literacy, physical activity and sport an appropriate role in the broader matter of genuine national development.

While we have become aware that development is about people we have failed to do much to encourage Vincentians into an understanding of the importance of physical literacy, physical activity and sport in the development of the human condition.
Little has been done to bring together the ministries of health, education, agriculture, tourism, community development, youth and women to facilitate programmes and projects aimed at having a healthy lifestyle for all in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There is no national structure currently in place that adequately addresses the known benefits to be derived from an active lifestyle and the numerous career opportunities emerging from physical activity and sport.
As it now stands we are plagued by the dynamics of an increasingly tribal politics that threatens the very fabric of Vincentian society. Many in sport have become infected and now promote a thesis that the supporters of the ruling regime must not only own the campaign and own the jobs but must also own the sporting organisations. There must not be any area of Vincentian life that is not under the direct control of the ruling regime. Only one grouping of Vincentians must be able to live life to the full.
As far back as December 1989 this Columnist penned a document that addressed the matter of developing a more appropriate sport structure for St Vincent and the Grenadines. Since then there have been several attempts by governmental authorities here to construct a national sport structure without success.
Critical to the proposal was the establishment of Area Sports Committees (ASC). Some recent concepts refer to these as Community Sport Councils, an obvious attempt at placing them under the direct management of the National Sport Council (NSC).
As we come to the close of yet another year it somehow seems appropriate to revisit and improve on the original proposal. The intention here is to focus on genuine national sport development devoid of the myopia associated with the existing divisive Vincentian politics.
National Sports Council (NSC)
We already have an NSC. However, there is an urgent need to engage in a comprehensive review of the Act that gave existence to this entity and produce a completely new institution that is inclusive.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, as in most countries around the world, the government is directly involved in the sport development process, playing important leadership and facilitative roles. But it is also the case that the broad national sport development process must include several stakeholders engaging in the sustained planning and delivery of sport institutions and programmes that guarantee significant contributions to the broader national development process of the country as a whole. It is therefore important that this approach is reflected in a new NSC Act.
The existing Act has become useless in many respects. It still speaks to a very limited role for the NSC by focusing attention to the oversight of playing fields across the country with the exception of the Victoria Park.
In today’s reality, the NSC has effectively been marginalised with several of the playing fields, old and new, having been taken over by the National Lotteries Authority (NLA), seemingly largely from a political perspective.
It remains significant that in 2015, prior to the general elections, it was the NLA and not the NSC that borrowed $6.5m from the National Insurance Services (NIS) ostensibly to upgrade sports facilities around St Vincent and the Grenadines. To this day, two years later, the NSC is unable to declare which of the upgraded facilities have been returned to them under their original mandate.
It remains something of an abomination that immediately following the conclusion of the Cricket World Cup warm up matches here in 2007 the toilets at the newly constructed double decker stands have been non-functional. That is just over seven years ago. Each year the Ministry of Education has to rent portable toilets for patrons using that facility. There is no surprise therefore that neither the International Cricket Council nor Cricket West Indies, have given us the time of day for major international competitions in the recent past.
As it has been since its establishment, the NSC is essentially a creature of the politics of the day. It is composed of individuals selected by the government of the day who are deemed loyal to the ruling regime. There are no established, public criteria for the selection of the members of the NSC and no public reporting either of its planning, programming, finances and achievements, to say nothing of the performances of the individual members or of the Board as a whole.
While the foregoing approach may seem ideally suited to the politicians the fact of the matter is that sport requires greater attention to its very nature and potential to effect meaningful change in Vincentian society.
As it now stands the NSC is grossly underfunded viz-a-viz its original mandate.
The proposal here is to revisit the very structure of the NSC.
The composition of the NSC should include representatives of the government, the private sector, national sport associations and the media in the country. These are the primary stakeholders of sport and should be given the opportunity to lead the national sport development process. There should be balanced representation that would at least facilitate the autonomy of the organisation.
The NSC has to be run as a major organisation with qualified professionals at every level. It is not about being a charitable organisation.
The mandate of the NSC must be to promote the systematic development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines. To do this effectively there must be a structure that is organisationally strong and adequately funded with ample opportunities to engage in programmes that caters to the whole gamut of sport involvement from mass participation through to elite status.
The NSC must have clear departments that are consistent with its mandate and should therefore cater for participation, performance and operations. Each of these departments would then have sub components that speak to the efficient conduct of the work required.
Among the departments should be: Infrastructure, Technology, Finance, Human Resources, Governance, Research and Development, Strategic Relations, Community Sport, Sport Tourism and School Sport, to name a few. Of course, some of these can be collapsed under large departments thereby initially requiring fewer personnel. However, as the NSC develops there would be a need to have some of these engage more professionals and stand alone in their own right.
Clearly the intention is to establish an organisation that would have the broadest possible scope for ensuring that the process of sport development in this country is sustainable.
The NSC should work in close collaboration with the St Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Committee which, by its mandate from the International Olympic Committee, must facilitate the preparation of athletes to compete favourably at the Olympic Games and other multisport Games. By working together, the two institutions can guarantee the laying of a strong foundation for the development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines on the one hand, and the emergence of elite athletes on the other. This, combined with the conduct of pertinent research, the provisioning of appropriate facilities, and the systematic programming for the development of athletes, coaches, technical officials and administrators would lift this country to another level in sport alongside the rest of the world.
Area Sports Committees (ASC)
Area Sports Committees should be a reflection of the NSC in some respects and be allowed to make recommendations to the latter organisation relative to the overall mandate of developing sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
ASCs should be composed of representatives from the community with an interest in the development of the area, representatives of the national sport associations resident in the area and of the organisations working in community development and of youth resident in the area.
Interest and participation
The idea here is that around the country we should engage the different national sports associations whose sports are practised in the respective areas. They have a vested interest in having their sports grow and develop in these areas and by extension in the entire country.
The basis of sport is physical literacy and with this introduced in our schools across the nation we can therefore bolster mass participation in physical activity and sport.
Collaboration on facilities and schedules
Area Sports Committees can engage in appropriate planning for each of and all the sports practised in their respective areas.
The representative of each national association on the ASC would be seeking to implement the mandate of his/her organisation in the community in order to facilitate enhanced participation, improved skill competencies and better performances in competitions at the local and national levels.
Each of the sport being practised in the area would be able to rationally discuss the emerging talent and point the athletes in the sport and discipline for which he/she is deemed best suited. This breaks another of the major hindrances to the broader sport development process in the country. While each sport is anxious to develop and compete for the athletes in each area it is in the best interest of the athlete, the sport and the country that time is taken to realistically assess the options and facilitate the right fit between athlete’s talent and sport of choice to garner best results in the long term.
The ASC would be better equipped to prepare agreed schedules for training and competition on the existing area facilities, lessening the tension that so often rips apart sport in areas.
Sport and society
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we seem all too unwilling to understand the importance of sport to society. Sport is an important vehicle for the promotion of and inculcation of positive values in our children.
At the global level, many nations have understood the critical nature of the relationship between sport and the development of a nation. There is sport as community development and sport for community development. Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we have done neither.
We continue to tinker with the mouthing of concepts about sport without understanding their significance and doing nothing beyond mere talk.
Physical literacy must become one of the fundamental building blocks on Vincentian society alongside numeracy and literacy. Our educational foundation is the key to the holistic construction of a society that is committed to genuine national development.
The time has come for us to take a very serious look at what we are doing with our society.
The annual murder rate alone should compel us to act decisively..