Reorganising the National Sports Assembly

In the recent past there has been talk emanating from the Ministry of Sport and the National Sports Council regarding the reactivation of the National Sports Assembly here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The decision to reactivate the Assembly may well be a good idea in and of itself. Getting it to work is literally a horse of a different colour.
The idea of establishing a National Sports Assembly (NSA) arose when discussions were taking place on the creation of a National Sports Council (NSC).
The National Sports Council Act No. 9 of 1988 established the organization as the body responsible for the administration of all sports facilities belonging to the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines excluding the Victoria Park. The latter was omitted because it was already under the ambit of the Kingstown Town Board and was seen as the nation’s premier outdoor entertainment centre in addition to being a sports facility. Indeed the bulk of income at the Victoria Park came from shows, inclusive of carnival, held there during the year. Often times the entertainers gained precedence over sporting organisations requesting the same date to host activities there.
Under the Act provision was made for the establishment of a National Sports Assembly that would serve in an advisory capacity to the NSC. This institution was intended to be composed of all of the national sports associations in the State.
While the NSC has been established and in operation since the passage of the Act, the NSA has been operational only for a brief period and without much success.
NSA issues
From inception the NSA found extreme difficulty in constituting itself.
Many of the national sports associations recognised that the NSC was a largely political body. Its membership was determined by the government of the day and this usually translated into a number if ‘politically correct’ individuals appointed to serve on the organisation.
The agenda of the National Sports Council was essentially set by the government of the day and this often reflected the latter’s priorities based on their perception of the voting patterns across the country.
Additionally, it was clear from the very beginning that the membership of the NSC and the organisation’s mode of operation revealed a distinct bias towards the sport of cricket. The eventual location of the NSC at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex only served to cement this view on the part of national sports associations as well as a significant proportion of the Vincentian sport loving public to such an extent that the organisation became popularly known as the National Cricket Council (NCC) instead of the NSC.
Given the aforementioned scenario it was not at all surprising that the NSA membership found themselves largely ignored by the NSC whenever decisions were taken. To a large extent national sports associations ceased to attend meetings of the NSA because they thought that their advice was in no way impacting the agenda and operations of the NSC. They considered the NSA a colossal waste of time.
When members of the NSA complained about being largely ineffective they were told that the organisation was advisory and nothing more.
Hugely frustrated at being ignored the NSA ceased to exist. Attempts at its revival proved futile.
What has changed?
Over the years the NSC has changed in some respects. The organisation is now not only responsible for the administration of the playing facilities but it is the body to which national sports associations must submit their annual request for assistance from the National Lotteries Authority (NLA) to conduct their affairs. This has been a major bone of contention.
None of the national sports associations can understand the rationale for making requests of the NLA through the NSC. The reason is that when the NSC makes its submission to the NLA on behalf of the national sports associations the NLA then makes its independent decision.
National sports associations, anxious to know their fate in respect of their submissions, are told by the NSC that the submissions have been made and that they should check with the NLA. When the NLA is checked then only do the associations know what, if any, has been allocated.
What then was the reason for going through the NSC when the NLA makes a decision independent of the NSC? None that we know of.
An analysis of the current modus therefore it appears that the NSC has no real input in the decisions of the NSC and therefore is a ‘lame duck’ in the process.
One would have imagined that the NSC was mandated to receive the submissions of national sports associations, make an assessment of the requests and make a final submission to the NLA on what each applicant should receive. This is not how it works in practice.
The NSC has also experienced several changes in respect of its membership and leadership over time. The changes in both cases have done little to facilitate any difference in the organisation’s mode of operation.
The idea of establishing Area Management Committees has floundered, largely because of the divisive nature of our national politics. The NSC, ever under the watchful eyes of the government of the day, has been seemingly unwilling to take on board at the area level individuals who are appropriately qualified and competent to manage the facilities in their communities if they are not of the same political coloration as the ruling regime.
Thus it is that after more than 20 years in existence the NSC cannot boast of a single Area Management Committee that has been established and sustained long enough to meet the intended requirements.
We still have the spectre of the field cutting equipment being located at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex, headquarters of the NSC and local cricket, and being moved across the country to maintain the outdoor facilities everywhere. This should otherwise be considered untenable. Unfortunately it is still the norm today.
What is more is that the equipment is not well maintained and spare parts are apparently hard to come by largely as a result of the unavailability of adequate funding to the NSC.
National sports associations find themselves having of necessity to use inadequately prepared outdoor facilities with great frequency each and every year. Little has change din this regard.
All of the foregoing has added to the frustration of national sports associations and their loss of confidence in the NSC and the national governmental sport system.
The case for the NSA
Since the NSA collapsed several years ago respective ministers of sport have adopted different strategies to reaching national sports associations.
Mike Browne created a Sports Advisory Committee. This body met infrequently and the national sports associations were never treated to the courtesy of an explanation as to how its membership was determined. Decisions were hard to come by and consequently difficult to implement. In the end the Sports Advisory Committee operated much like the National Stadium Committee in its later stages – meeting to confirm minutes of the previous meeting.
In his later return to the Ministry of Sport Mike Browne then started having meetings of national sports associations, seemingly called on impulse rather than the result of a systematic plan. This never led anywhere.
Newly appointed minister responsible for sport, Frederick Stephenson, obviously wanted to make an impact on sport and would therefore wished the NSA reactivated. One is not certain about the future, however given that the government seems to be playing musical chairs with the sport portfolio and has once more placed it in the hands of Cecil Mc Kie.
Whether McKie would want to continue along the same vein as Stephenson is anybody’s guess. He may want to make his own pathways following on from where he left off prior to the 2010 general elections when he thought he was going to retain the portfolio.
The National Sports Council Act has to be reviewed to reflect the changing times.
The NSC operates with an outmoded system.
Inadequate policy, inadequate staffing, inadequate funding all combine to leave the NSC inadequate to service the needs of the national sport development process. This is the reason why the organisation, for example, has no one capable of preparing anything but cricket fields. No one on staff can lay out a football or rugby field to ay nothing of an athletics track and areas for field events.
For the NSA to be successful it has to have a complete overhaul. To begin with there must be a clear policy framework that guides its structure and more of operation. Members must get a sense that they are meeting to discuss issues of national developmental importance and that their decisions are taken seriously. Any deviation from such an approach would inevitably lead to the same frustration that plagued the organisation in its infancy and left if still born.
Arrangements must be made for the NSA to have a presence on the NSC when matters emanating from the former are being addressed by the latter. This is imperative if the members of the NSA are to feel that their decisions are being adequately addressed.
In the absence of the NSC’s own clarity regarding it mandate especially where the NSA is concerned it would require a meeting of minds to affect the change that is needed.
The NSC cannot remain as something of a political ‘patsy’. It must be perceived as autonomous enough to guide the national sport development process in the collective best interest. Only then would national sports associations take an interest in the reactivation of the NSA.