Should we tear up the National Sport Policy?

PolicyIn the political campaign of 2001 the then Opposition Unity Labour Party (ULP), seeking to access government, produced a second manifesto that targeted the youths of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
With ace distance runner, Pamenos Ballantyne, on the front cover, many thought highly of the political strategy on the part of the ULP to capture the imagination of the nation’s youth, especially those associated in one way or another with sport.
Few Vincentians at the time thought that the political strategy of producing a Youth Manifesto placing much emphasis on youth involvement in sport would have petered out into nothing more than empty phrase-mongering and that after more than 13 years in office, the government’s understanding of sport and its approach to addressing this important developmental component would have been like the national economy, so embroiled in a decrepit state of affairs that much of the nation feels decidedly blighted.
The Preamble of the National Sport Policy as per Cabinet Memo 421/05, officially approved on 15 November 2005, states…This policy is designed to provide the broad framework within which Government, the Private Sector and National Sports Associations work together to facilitate the creation of appropriate strategies and mechanism to promote the development of physical education, sport and recreation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Preamble, National Sport Policy November, 2005).
The foregoing is the very first paragraph of the Preamble. It should be noted that from the very beginning therefore emphasis was placed on a tripartite approach. It is important to stress this here since it does appear that based on recent comments the Minister of Sport, Cecil McKie, does not have a grasp of precisely what tripartite means. Had he taken time to review the National Sport Policy he would readily have seen the very first paragraph in the document addressing precisely that matter and delineating the three partners in the process.
It is also necessary here to state that perhaps McKie should not be b lamed for this seeming lack of understanding of the very National Sport Policy adopted and twice reviewed by his own government since taking office in 2001. Mike Browne, himself a former Minister of Education, Youth and Sport, also displayed major deficiencies in respect of the same issue even though he thought he had created a Tripartite body on sport during his tenure in office.
Had the respective Ministers of Sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines taken the time to study the National Sport Policy they so readily approved they would have recognised the important role that is given to a tripartite approach in the sport development process and by extension to the broader national development process in our beautiful country.
To date, since the initial approval of the National Sport Policy in St Vincent and the Grenadines, none of the Ministers of Sport in this country has ever really understood the content and intent of the document and this may well explain the major deficiencies that continue to plague the government’s approach to sport. The role being played is certainly not developmental. Indeed at times the role of government in sport in this country is often so backward that it serves more as a deterrent than anything else.
Since the initial consultations on the establishment of a National Sport Policy that were led by the National Olympic Committee (NOC) following the conclusion of the Atlanta Olympics, there has not been any attempt by any government to involve the private sector in discussions of any sort in respect of the latter’s role in the tripartite approach to national sport development. This is the reason that the private sector remains totally outside the process and is under no compunction to become integrally involved. The members of the private sector make their own determination of just what they would do when approached by sporting organisations involved in sport.
For the Minister of Sport to speak of a tripartite approach of any sort being undertaken in this country in respect of the sport development process is something of a travesty and a sad reflection of just how little he understands sport as is also the case with the National Sport Policy.
What is disturbing is that the old adage is still applicable… If you do not know something do not be afraid and do not hesitate to ask someone who does.
Financing sport
In respect of the financing of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines the National Sport Policy states… Government shall make an appropriate annual provision to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the National Sports Council for the sport development process. The National Lotteries Authority shall be one of the primary sources of local funding for National Sports Associations. However, such funds shall be channelled through the National Sports Council and the National Sports Foundation (3.2 National Sport Policy November, 2005)
The annual national budget address since 2001 has been akin to a mixed bag of tricks in respect of sport and its location in the broader development process.
In the early years in office especially following the so-called agreement with Libya, the Minister of Finance boasted of funding for the construction of a national stadium for athletics and football. This was reflected in the annual Estimates laid and approved by the Parliament. Of course, since the initial $1.5m USD that we received from Libya for the stadium, the item has long since been dropped from the Estimates. It is questionable therefore whether the government ever intended to utilise available local resources for the undertaking.
Successive budgets have revealed no more that two or three paragraphs in respect of Sport. So much for the government’s commitment to sport!
The absence of a cohesive and comprehensively planned approach to sport development is consistent with what seems to be the case at the level of the national economy, more generally. This is the reason that some analysts can point to the decision of this country’s government to accept the goat cook matches for the T20 Cup in 2007 and the heady expenditures attendant thereto. We accepted a package that Bermuda, much better off than us economically, had flatly rejected since there were no real legacy benefits on offer. We readily committed in excess of $50m. Vincentians are still trying to decipher the benefits that accrued to this country. No one has as yet been able to point to the benefits, and seven years have already passed.
So how is sport financed?
The government makes an annual allocation to the Ministry responsible for Sport. Much of the funding for the National Sport Council (NSC) comes from the National Lotteries Authority (NLA). This becomes the budget for the Department of Sport. The majority of persons located at the Department of Sport however are on the Youth Empowerment Services (YES). The Taiwanese government essentially provides the YES Programme funding.
National Sports Associations
There is no allocation from government to national sports associations. Instead, there is a rather clumsy situation where the associations are asked to submit requests for funding to the NSC on a case-by-case (event by event) basis, not an annual budget. The NSC then makes a recommendation to the NLA. The NLA however does not respond ether to the NSC or the respective associations. Instead, it is incumbent upon each association that made requests to call the NSC, which then advises that calls be addressed directly to the NLA with whom negotiations then begin, in most cases.
The foregoing process is considered clumsy and largely untenable since there is no direct communication between the association and the NLA in the first place. If the association has to be calling the NLA in the final phase then the role of the NSC becomes unclear.
The foregoing reflects the absence of any cohesive process. The result is that in any given year no association can plan for NLA assistance for any of its projects. The NSC, the recipient of the submissions can never guarantee any association that it will definitely receive funding for any project and even less, the amount of money that would be provided by the NLA.
The NSC does not usually have the resources to adequately maintain Arnos Vale Sports Complex, far less to appropriately address the many other facilities and attendant activities under its current mandate. The proportion of existing NSC machinery/equipment that does not function is evidence of this fact.
National sports associations have to fend for themselves for their day-to-day activities. They approach the private sector institutions based on individual needs and so funding provided is also directly related to the individual preferences of the different institutions. Here again there is no coordination. It is every association for itself.
Schools are not better off in respect of funding for sport.
Generally, schools have to raise funds internally and seek external sponsorship to cover their own sport programmes.
The Ministry of Education and national sports associations work together to procure sponsorship, however small, for inter-school sport competitions with the Ministry of Education providing the transportation cost, the single largest component of any of these activities.
The single largest inter-schools sport competition is the annual Athletics Championships where the budget exceeds $100,000 ECD. Three years ago the government agreed with a proposal to have the NLA fund a large part of the cost of these annual Championships, for four years in the first instance. Unless this continues the events would not be held in the format that has been introduced in the recent past.
Revenues from the Athletics Championships are the largest coming from any of the inter-school sport competitions and this is used by the Ministry of Education to meet its commitment for its entire annual sport programme, adding to what was already allocated by the Minister of Finance.
The upshot of the foregoing is that the government grossly underfunds the sport development process.
Had there been an understanding of precisely what constitutes a tripartite approach we could probably have demonstrated a more mature and responsible approach to the development of sport and its location in the national development process. Financing sport is an important responsibility of the government.
Talk is cheap
Politicians want the youth vote and in some cases they would say anything to get it. Unfortunately, experience in St Vincent and the Grenadines has shown a failure of our politicians to engage in activities that reflect an understanding of the importance of sport to human development and the ultimate development of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The boast of a wellness revolution has never been supported by an appreciation for the role of physical activity and sport in the development of the human condition.
Not surprisingly therefore the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment has not yet been able to broker studies with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Tourism, Sport and Culture, in respect of the immense contribution physical activity and sport can make to the development of our human potential and that of the entire nation in all aspects.
We should therefore not be surprised that we have been unable to make sense of the National Sport Policy. It is the reason it remains gathering dust as another toothless tiger.