Significant changes needed at the National Sports Council

We are nearing the end of yet another year in sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines and one cannot help but bemoan the low performance standards across the board.
The News newspaper, clearly the nation’s leader in sports coverage, has, since being established in 1989, been chronicling the performances of Vincentian sportspersons across the globe. It is this document, more than any other in this country, that as been there every time, encouraging our athletes even as they watched the performances decline, leaving us so often behind our neighbours in the various sporting encounters.
Over the past few years we have taken time in this Column to highlight several areas of weakness that have left us virtually near the bottom of the heap in several of the disciplines practised in the country without really being able to effect change.
We reiterate the importance of recognising the abundance of talent amongst the nation’s youths and the way in which the talented athlete suffers for one reason or another.
In this week’s Column we revisit one of the many areas where change is urgently needed – the National Sports Council (NSC) – if we are to improve enough to win medals at the regional and international levels.
On several occasions we have utilised this Column to remind Vincentians of the mandate of the NSC. This organisation was established with a mandate for the development and maintenance of sports facilities across St Vincent and the Grenadines.  We have watched in amazement as the NSC experienced no end of problems maintaining Arnos Vale alone, far less the numerous facilities around the rest of the country, no one seemed concerned of the NSC’s inability to meet its mandate. Perhaps it was a case of successive governments paying lip service to sport.
The NSC, since being established, has never been able to adequately respond to its mandate.  The Arnos Vale Sports Complex is the best testimony to this harsh reality.
Since being established, the NSC has suffered from inadequate funding. There have always been immense problems in meeting the challenges of meeting the costs of the overhead expenditures – salaries, cleaning and regular repairs.
Salaries alone have always been a heavy burden limiting the NSC’s capacity to accomplish its own established targets at Arnos Vale. This has meant that the NSC has often been unable to pay due attention to the multitudinous activities necessitated by the several other facilities under its charge.
Year after year the NSC has been treated to paltry sums in the annual Estimates.
Indeed this is consistent since sport has always been an adjunct – an ad hoc project – of the government of the day. This has become much worse in the aftermath of the ULP’s accession to political dominance and government in this country. Under the new dispensation the NSC has not been the recipient of adequate financing.
It remains something of an enigma that each year the National Lotteries Authority finds resources to make available to the NSC for the annual National Sports Awards while being unable to meet the annual financial requirements of the NSC itself for day-to-day management/administration.
The Estimates for 2012 as presented by this country’s government last week suggests that the Arnos Vale Sports Complex is set to receive yet another stack of money aimed at upgrading the facilities there.
It was in 2005/6 that some $54m was allocated to the same Arnos Vale Sports Complex to upgrade the facilities to the point where this country justified its request to host some ‘goat cook’ matches for the Cricket World Cup.
We were promised much at this outstandingly idyllic venue. Indeed, the world, having come to know and experience St Vincent and the Grenadines, were highly expectant of change.
Many watched as the Arnos Vale Sports Complex received its upgrade but at the conclusion they wondered whether indeed it was worth the while. To begin with it seemed difficult to point to precisely where the money went. $54m is plenty money and some felt that it could have been better spent on the proposed national stadium for Athletics and Football rather than on the original intention.
We all expected that given the heady expenditures on the facilities that the world would have had a change in their experience. Alas! They did. But what they experienced was far from their expectations. They were sorely disappointed as were all of us.
The ‘Goat Cook’ matches were treated to some warmed-over facilities that could not stand the test of time.
Now, four years after the Cricket World Cup 2007 we are being told that the Arnos Vale Sports Complex is in need of another significant inflow of funds for rehabilitative work.
To some of us who have been astute sport enthusiasts the first question that comes to mind is, what has been the situation at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex since 2007?
The answer is simple.
Let us examine this situation very carefully.
Many Vincentians remain unaware that the use of Arnos Vale Sports Complex leaves much to be desired. It seems that were it not for the several religious groups that apply for use of the Arnos Vale Sports Complex the organisation would have been in even more dire straits than is currently the case.
The claim that Cricket uses the facility often enough to make it economically viable is nothing more than a fallacy. The same can be said of the other sporting organisations that request use of the facility.
The religious organisations may well be putting more into the coffers of the NSC than the various sporting organisations combined. However, even with the religious organisations paying for access to the Complex the NSC remains in financial trouble.
There is nonetheless little by way of marketing of the Complex at home and abroad to satisfy anyone who once thought that the institution had the intention of being financially self-sufficient.
At the time of preparing for the ‘Goat Cook’ matches of 2007 as part of the Cricket World Cup of that year, St Vincent and the Grenadines procured some very important equipment.
The covers that were purchased, the delightfully bright blue, is of such material that once it is left anywhere covering grass, in no time flat the grass disappears. The heat generated does not allow the grass below the covers to survive.
Interestingly, this fact applies to the wicket as much as it does to anywhere else in the arena. When the covers are left too long on the wicket the grass literally disappears in record time, leaving the wicket rather bare.
When the covers are taken to the side of the field and left for the day when there is much sunlight, once it is removed one finds great difficulty identifying grass.
Surely, it could never have been the intention to procure covers that would act in stark contradiction to what is expected when preparing fields and certainly not during competitive matches.
In addition, mention should also be made of the weight of the covers. They are particularly heavy and that requires many hands on deck once they have to be removed during a match.
The equipment purchased for the cutting of the field as well as the other treatment required for the arena were all delightfully expensive. It is also very difficult to find parts for the equipment. The result has been that several of the equipment had problems requiring parts. It has taken the National Sports Council (NSC) several months, in some cases years, at very high costs.
Thus it is that in the preparation for the recent matches where the West Indies Women Cricket team took on international challenges at Arnos Vale this country was embarrassed by the absence of appropriate equipment for the field to attain international standards. Those of us who have an understanding of the game of Cricket knew that whatever matches were scheduled for the rest of 2011 at Arnos Vale could never have benefitted from an adequate outfield.
We have come to see this happen before our very eyes.
Almost in disbelief our local sports enthusiasts called for the heads of those responsible. That may well explain some of the machinations we have recently witnessed at the NSC.
Thank the Australians
The Arnos Vale Playing Field # 1 is currently bearing a sign indicating that the facility is under repairs. There seems to be much work being done in the arena.
Workers are daily working in the sun digging out the ‘bad grass’ in the hope that they would not return.
What has given rise to this flurry of activities?
It is the announcement that the Australians are expected here next year.
The fact that the Australians are coming here to play three One-Day matches in March 2012 seems to be the primary reason for the proposed upgrade the Complex is set to receive next year. This is significant.
The government appears eager to look good in the eyes of the international Cricket community. While that is laudable it nonetheless tells us much about the lack of understanding of the importance of sport to the ruling regime and their lack of commitment to the genuine development of our young people.
We seem incapable of preparing our own Arnos Vale Sports Complex and maintain it in keeping with international standards. It is unfortunate but it does appear that we often have to wait until we are embarrassed. It is only when we are granted international encounters in sport we seem to appreciate the sad state of disrepair into which we have allowed the Arnos Vale Sports Complex to sink.
The government should be embarrassed at the announcement that yet again we are focusing on the Arnos Vale Sports Complex – which has experienced serious disrepair since the Cricket World Cup of 2007.
The authorities have little real interest in sport. Instead, they seek to make political capital from the fact that every now and again we have consented to accept international sporting encounters. When this happens we get very busy and boast of the monies we have allocated to the pending ventures.
In fact, however, we do little more than showcase how inept we are in terms of the broader sport development process in St Vincent and the Grenadines.