Sport and the OECS
Some years ago the heads of government of the Eastern Caribbean came together and agreed the formation of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in what has become popularly known as the Treaty of Basseterre, the location of the historic meeting.
The main intention of the establishment of the OECS was to facilitate societal integration at the sub regional level in the face of the seemingly insurmountable problems encountered in facilitating broader Caribbean unity through CARIFTA and later, CARICOM.
The thinking appeared to be that as smaller islands with similar histories, peoples, cultures and socio economic issues it may be possible to forge integration at a much faster pace than in the case of CARICOM where the larger countries bicker among themselves for pride of place while thinking nothing of the potential of the smaller countries.
Indeed nothing captures the plight of the smaller countries in the broader Caribbean that a poster often referred to by Sir Dwight Venner. The poster, produced in a Jamaican newspaper in the heyday of the efforts at West Indian Federation, depicted a huge sow pig (Jamaica) with numerous sucklings (small islands of the Caribbean) and the caption, Sucking we dry. One is not at all certain that the intent of the poster is not still a popular stance in many aspects of Caribbean life today.
The members that came together in establishing the OECS thought that the smaller islands could readily understand their commonalities and the many things that unite than far quicker than their larger Caribbean counterparts.
While the road travelled since the Treaty of Basseterre has not been particularly smooth it has led to the creation of several important sub regional institutions, the centrepiece of which is the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, that have served us all very well and has been in many respects the envy of the larger Caribbean countries.
The OECS Sports Desk
Understandably, the heads of government of the Eastern Caribbean did not give due consideration to sport in the establishment of the OECS Secretariat. Who could blame them? They too were products of an era that saw sport as little more than frivolity even though they would have known of the fortunes of the West Indies cricket team and the successes of legendary Caribbean track and field athletes and cyclists.
The CARCOM heads of government, bothered in their conscience by the fact that Garfield Sobers had ended a remarkably brilliant cricketing career and had absolutely nothing to fall back on economically, created the CARICOM Sports Desk, with a list of job requirements that ensured that only Sobers could have been employed.
It was the Guyanese regional sports commentator, Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira, who approached the then Secretary General of the OECS Secretariat about the importance of establishing an OECS Sports Desk. Of course, since Sobers was not trained for the job he could not handle it and so once his tenure ended the leaders turned to Ishmael of St Lucia, after whose brief stay at the institution the position was officially closed. The CARICOM leaders have often suggested that sport has been collapsed into the COHSOD but that does not really fit the bill.
The fledgling OECS Secretariat then approved the establishment of the OECS Sports Desk with Perreira as its first OECS Sports Officer. In many respects it could be said that Perreira crafted his own job description since he was the one to suggest the parameters of what the Sports Desk should be doing.
Sportspeople across the Eastern Caribbean were enthused at the news of the establishment of an OECS Sports Desk and hoped for great things to emerge in the sub region.
It is a very unfortunate fact that for all the years that the Sports Desk was established it remained little more than that, a desk located in a shared office. The position carried little status, influence and budget to meet the original intent of its establishment.
Perreira, to give him his due, seized the opportunity afforded him by being an international cricket commentator to meet with and convince members of the region’s business community of the importance of supporting sub regional sports competitions. At the same time he met with different sporting organisations and convinced them to participate in sub regional competitions for which he would seek out sponsorship. At the time there were willing ears.
Perreira got the Eastern Caribbean Group of Companies (ECGC) in St Vincent and the Grenadines, to sponsor an annual OECS Under 23 netball tournament. The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) has since taken sponsorship of this event. The insurance company, NEMWIL, agreed sponsorship of the OECS Half Marathon. Nestle under its brand, MILO, sponsored a 10K road race while Sari sponsored a 5K road running event. TEXACO sponsored the OECS Track and Field Championships in the OECS and the annual Championships in Barbados, its Caribbean home base at the time.
Soon enough there was OECS Table Tennis, Tennis, Basketball and Volleyball annual competitions added to the list.
In support of the sub regional competitions a number of umbrella organisations emerged such as the OECS Athletics Congress (OAC), for example.
Perreira’s departure from the Sports Desk led to a decline in the institution’s operations and with it a decline in sponsorship and a concomitant decline in the number if OECS sport competitions on an annual basis. Indeed some ceased altogether.
David Peterkin of St Lucia, Michael Ollivierre of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Denis James of St Lucia, were employed as OECS Sports Coordinators over the period of existence of the Sports Desk.
When the Desk closed under James not many sporting organisations in the sub region were aware of it.
The OECS reality
The situation regarding sport in the OECS today is that of a mixed bag.
The annual OECS Under 23 Netball Tournament is the one event that has remained from the Perreira era intact. The ECCB has played a major role in this regard. There is not OECS netball organisation bit each year the participants at the tournament determine amongst themselves where the next one would be held the following year. The ECCB has helped to ensure that the parameters of it being a sub regional event as well as issues of transparency and accountability are maintained.
OECS Swimming has not been much different. There is however no regional sponsor and the parents in the different countries meet the financial obligations of participating annually.
The other OECS events have been sporadic at best.
The fact is that there has ceased to be anyone guiding the sport development process in the OECS for some time. Even when Perreira was at the Desk there were complaints of any real support being given for sport development at the OECS Secretariat level beyond perhaps the payment of his monthly salary. There did not seem to be any operational budget allocated to the Sports Desk and so it was impossible to go beyond the role of encouraging competitions to playing a role in the systematic development of physical education and sport in the sub region.
Even though there were sporadic meetings of the Sport Ministers of the OECS they never seemed to understand the sport development process and the role that a well-equipped and vibrant OECS Sports Desk could play in the broader development of the sub region. There was really no vision and hence no mission statement or clearly stated objectives. The outcome was an absence of commitment, spitting in the wind and a tinkering at the fringes. The value of sport was undermined.
Prior to 1993, only BVI, Grenada and St Vincent and the Grenadines of the OECS were members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Once Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis and St Lucia became members of the IOC it was possible to commence discussions on the formation of a sub regional body. St Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Committee (SVGOC) was at the forefront of this initiative. The NOCs of the larger Caribbean countries were very uncomfortable once the sub regional meetings began to take place and joint positions adopted in their own interest.
By 1995 it was clear that the NOCs of the sub region were committed to making a positive impact as a cohesive grouping at regional and international forums. So it was that the Association of National Olympic Committees of the OECS (ANOCES) was born. The organisation was officially formalised at a General Assembly in St Kitts and Nevis on Saturday 9 June 2012.
ANOCES adopted a stance that efforts should be made to play a part in the broader development of sport in the sub region beginning with those sports that already have competitions at this level. It was agreed that the first thrust would be the reintroduction of the OECS Track and Field Championships in St Kitts and Nevis effective 2014. The outcome would be duly evaluated and the process of movement to other sub regional sports would follow.
Importantly, ANOCES insisted that its work would be on development and not just competition. This would inevitably mean facilitating training. Indeed, since December 2012 Grenada has hosted an annual OECS Athletics Academy focusing on athletics.
A number of OECS sporting organisations have been invited to a meeting with ANOCES in Barbados on the afternoon of 13 October 2014 to discuss the way forward in respect of the sub regional sport development process. Where organisations do not yet exist attempts are being made to work along with the national bodies hosting sub regional events to engage them in discussions relative to the options available for forging greater collaborative mechanisms in the immediate future to ensure sustainability thereafter. There has been communication with the Secretary General of the OECS Secretariat on this matter given its importance to the broader development process in the sub region.
Governments may continue to pay lip service to the role of sport in national development but NOCs are committed to this. It is part of their mandate that they must work towards human development in pursuit of a more harmonious, peaceful and united world.
ANOCES is committed to changing the existing reality of the OECS through physical education and sport and the plethora of positive values attendant thereto.
The work is a challenge but each NOC is prepared to work diligently in pursuit of its mandate. History beckons.