Sport adds value to what we can become

reviewThere are times when in preparing this Column the author is saddened by what can only be referred to as the chronic myopia of the governments of this Caribbean region we call home.
It is truly amazing and a startling revelation at once that we hear our leaders speak in glowing terms of sport yet few take the time to even attempt an understanding of and appreciation for the true value of sport in personal and national development of the respective societies in the region.
It is certainly not for any shortage of literature on the subject that the Caribbean leaders pander to the populace speaking platitudes on sport while in practice doing very little to realise its role in genuine national development.
The Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines was the one to speak of a Wellness Revolution at the CARICOM Summit that ended with the Port of Spain declaration on 15 September 2007. The concept was not new although many in the gathering seemed to think so. Indeed in 2002, economist, Paul Zane Pilzer wrote the book, The Wellness Revolution, in which he chronicled how the wellness industry had captured the imagination of the world showing scientists, fitness providers and others focused on disease prevention and anti-aging that they were part of a worldwide revolution.
Today, the wellness industry has grown to in excess of $500billion USD and counting yet CARICOM twiddles its thumb and makes sporadic forays suggestive of an interest in sport but not in any way genuinely linked to wellness. This is reflective in the annual budgets of the respective Caribbean governments, the best indication of genuine interest – putting your money where your mouth is.
The European Union commissioned a White Paper on Sport that was delivered on 11 July 2007. The declared objectives of the White Paper were to set strategic guidelines, encourage debate on specific problems, increase the visibility of sport in the EU decision-making process, highlight the needs and specific characteristics of the sector and identify the appropriate level of government for future action.
The following three themes covered by the White Paper were:

  • the “societal role of sport”, i.e. what sport represents as a social phenomenon;
  • the “economic dimension of sport”, i.e. the contribution of sport to growth and thecreation of jobs in Europe;
  • the “organisation of sport”, i.e. the role of each stakeholder (public or private, economic or sporting) in the governance of the sports movement.

We must understand immediately the level at which sport is placed in the overall development of the EU member countries. There is no lip service but rather a systematic appreciation for what needs to be done. This is the reason that the focus is three-fold.
If sport is to be brought to its full potential it is necessary to engage in the intellectual exercise of research and that is what informed the White Paper. The finished document is not from the fanciful ideas of some politicians looking for votes.
Not surprisingly therefore the Action Plan emergent from the White Paper features the following as indicate din the Summary of the document:

  • the development of guidelines on physical activity and the establishment of a European network for the promotion of sport as a health-enhancing activity;
  • greater coordination in the fight against doping at European level;
  • the award of a European label to schools which encourage involvement in physical activities;
  • the launch of a study on volunteer work in sport;
  • the improvement of social inclusion and integration through sport using European programmes and resources;
  • the promotion of the exchange of information, experiences and good practices between law-enforcement services and sport organisations for the prevention of racism and violence;
  • the promotion of the use of sport as a tool in European development policy;
  • the creation of statistics to quantify the economic impact of sport;
  • a study on public and private financing of sport;
  • an impact assessment on the activities of players’ agents and an evaluation of the value-added of possible Community intervention in this field;
  • better structuring of dialogue on sport at Community level, in particular through the organisation of an annual forum on sport;
  • intensification of intergovernmental cooperation in the field of sport;
  • promoting the creation of European social dialogue committees in the sport sector, and support for employers and employees.

On 21 May 2014, the Ministers of Sport of the European Union (EU) met to discuss a range of important issues that speak to the developmental role of sport in society. The first such plan ran the period 2011 – 14. It established priorities for the EU sport agenda. The implementation of the Work Plan involved the Member States, the Commission and sport stakeholders, and got support from six sport Expert Groups covering the areas of ‘anti-doping’, ‘good governance’, ‘education and training’, ‘sport, health and participation’, ‘sustainable financing’ and ‘statistics’.
The content of the first work plan highlights the approach taken by a group of countries of varying degrees of development and economic status in their collective best interest. This is so unlike the Caribbean, which attempted to forge regional unity long before Europe even conceptualised the European Union.
In January of this year the EU received the report of Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou.
The meeting of Ministers of Sport earlier this week adopted a resolution on the European Work Plan for Sport (2014 – 17) that included measures to strengthen cooperation at EU level, in particular in relation to the fight against doping and match fixing, and to enhance good governance, health, economic value, skills, qualifications and employability.
In the Column dated 7 February 2007 this author reminded readers that in the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (4 July 1973) that gave rise to Caricom in the aftermath of Carifta, did not make specific reference to sport in Article 6, which stated the Objectives of the organisation. The region’s leaders saw no room for sport in their determination of the future of the region.
It is not that the leaders of Caricom, often referred to as pioneers of an Independent Caribbean, did not know of the outstanding sporting achievements of Caribbean sportsmen and women at the time of crafting the Objectives of the organisation. At the time of the establishment of Caricom CLR James had already produced Beyond A Boundary that was an intellectual engagement of the role that Cricket played in the liberation of the peoples of the Caribbean from the mental slavery in which we were forced for such a long time.
Many of the Caribbean’s leaders of government achieved their advanced education in metropolitan Europe, especially in the United Kingdom, where they were exposed to societies that placed a premium on physical education and sport, yet they returned home, sought to establish themselves as politicians keen on developing the Caribbean in its own interest. Yet they all ignored the important role of the twin disciplines – physical education and sport, when they fashioned what should have been the prime vehicle for forging regionalism and ultimately, our collective development.
The Caricom Sport Desk was designed not for the development if sport in the Caribbean but t=rather to give Garry Sobers a job. Caribbean leaders felt saddened that such a Caribbean personality, having taken the cricket world by the scruff of the neck and established himself and the region on the global sporting stage, should have been scrounging around unemployed.
Rather than address the problem from an understanding of physical education and sport and the role of these twin-disciplines in genuine development we tinkered with one of the symptoms and gave Garry Sobers a job he was no trained to do.
Today the COHSOD within Caricom is intended to lead the way in restructuring the region’s approach to physical education and sport. But here again the approach is lacking.
The sporadic interest of the Caricom Heads in physical education and sport has not led to the emergence of a consistency in respect of the application of research and development in the immense potential of these disciplines.
Jamaica is today the recipient of a type of global recognition largely resultant from Brand Bolt. The home of the world’s fastest man is the beneficiary of global interest that takes tourism to another level and without the kind of investment usually associated with such an outcome.
Whereas only cricketing nations understood the magic of Sobers and were attracted to his native Barbados as a destination of choice thereafter, Bolt’s reach is phenomenal and extremely impacting on Jamaica. Evidence shows that when the Jamaican runners are competing abroad there is a noticeable decline in violence at home; an important phenomenon not lost on the nation’s security forces.
In the recent past the sheer epidemic incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCD) and chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCD) in the Caribbean has compelled the political leaders to pay attention. The response has been to speak glibly of a Wellness Revolution that is yet to make any significant impact, if only because the marketing/promotion of the concept and programme is lacking adequate resources and ambassadors of significance/stature.
Of particular interest to us in the Caribbean must be the following critical aspects of the Action Plan mentioned earlier in respect of the European Union’s approach:

  • the promotion of the use of sport as a tool in European development policy;
  • the creation of statistics to quantify the economic impact of sport;
  • better structuring of dialogue on sport at Community level, in particular through the organisation of an annual forum on sport;
  • intensification of intergovernmental cooperation in the field of sport;
  • promoting the creation of European social dialogue committees in the sport sector, and support for employers and employees.

Should our Caribbean leaders take note? Of course they should.
It is imperative that our leaders get real in respect of what sport can do for the Caribbean region, merely by starting to examine what it has already done.
Quite apart from facilitating the annual addition of several new millionaires in the region sport has proven to be a source of immense pride for Caribbean peoples everywhere, a reflection of what we are capable of achieving.
We can make sport a critical pillar of Caribbean life and lifestyle.
We can and must re-think possible.
Our parents, educators and leaders at all levels must resist the temptation to see sport as unworthy of our children and youth. They must understand that sport aids in our very sustenance as individuals and enriches our society.
Above all, we must allow sport to imbue us as a Caribbean people with all of the positive values that have been captured in the concept of Olympism, a way of life that adds value to life itself.