Much has been said and written about the state of sporting facilities in St Vincent and the Grenadines and yet no one seems to be listening.
The government of the day did much to appeal to the young people of this country in the campaign for the 2001 general elections when the now ruling party seemed to have thought it important to win the youth vote. Several years on the government has been unable to convince the nation that it has any understanding of the role sport plays in the development of its citizens. The state of our sports facilities leaves much to be desired, as also is the case with sport more generally in the country.
There is little doubt that the successes of countries around us in the wide and wonderful world of sport is in some measure a reflection of the existence of quality facilities as well as of their optimal utilisation.
But the state of our facilities is but only a symptom of a greater problem – the insensitivity of the government to the role of sport in national development.
The national stadium
Our Caribbean neighbours have gone ahead of St Vincent and the Grenadines with the provision of national stadia for athletics and football. The British Virgin Islands has completed the construction of a new national stadium for its young people and afforded them an opportunity to level the playing field relative to its regional counterparts in both football and athletics.
Grenada constructed its national stadium in 1999-2000 after having successfully bid to host the Carifta Games. In 2003 that neighbouring nation hosted the Central American and Caribbean Senior Championships in Athletics, a competition in which the IAAF approved the relays as qualifying teams for the World Championships in Athletics later that year in Paris, France.
Little Turks and Caicos found the wherewithal to provide its young people with a national stadium for the aforementioned sports.
St Lucia convinced the Chinese that a national stadium was a priority for the youths of that country and eventually received a gift of the George Odlum facility at the southern end of the island.
The Denzil Douglas administration in St Kitts and Nevis found the resources from the Taiwanese to construct a national stadium specifically dedicated to the development of track and field athletics. This is the first nation in the Caribbean to so dedicate a sporting facility to athletics.
Rather interestingly, in each of the aforementioned cases the sport of athletics enjoyed significant growth in terms of participants at all levels – athletes, coaches and administrators. In each case new career opportunities were opened up to nationals in the ever-expanding sporting industry.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines one gets the impression that if the Libyans are not paying for our national stadium it may never become a reality under the current political administration.
It is an unfortunate fact that under the previous political administrations of Cato and Mitchell there was talk of a national stadium though not from the politicians but more so from the sporting disciplines that understand its importance to the enhancement of the athletes and others who are committed to them.
The politics of the ULP seems to suggest that the national stadium was once a priority in terms of winning the youth vote and little else. There is little evidence to the contrary. Where once it appeared difficult to garner support for an international airport from the current ruling regime the turnaround seems more motivated by a third victory at the polls more than anything else.
So it is that the national stadium has once more been relegated to the dungheap in political terms. Its political currency seems to have declined especially since it appears that the ruling regime may well be considering that its ‘Pan Against Crime’ initiative could probably have won the votes needed to win again at the polls.
One wonders whether the thousands involved in the playing of football and engage themselves in athletics would continue to allow themselves to be ‘fooled’ into believing that the government actually cares about sport.
It was foolhardy of anyone to have thought the monies spent on the refurbishing of the Arnos Vale Sports Complex for the ‘Goat Cook’ matches that were played here in the warm up for the Cricket World Cup of 2007 could have been an investment in our youth. There is no evidence of this to date. The ‘White Elephant’ of a facility stands as a fitting example of what not to do in terms of sporting development. The facility cannot at present pay for itself given its low-level usage for sporting activities.
The seemingly wasteful expenditures undertaken at Arnos Vale is but a genuine reflection of the paucity of ideas that exists amongst the current political regime.
Ministerial musical cheers
The current ULP administration appears to be playing ‘Musical Cheers’ with sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In the first case the regime opted to place the portfolio under Mike Browne. This was in addition to the portfolios of Youth and Education. After much inactivity the sporting bodies apparently came to an understanding that the Minister within his Ministry, Clayton Burgin, was the one with responsibility for sport.
The reality is that neither one of the two ministers appeared to have had the interest required and perhaps expected by sports enthusiasts across the country given the promises made from the political platforms during the 2000/2001 elections campaign and in the Youth Manifesto.
Given the slothfulness evidenced under the two ministers in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, the government in its wisdom, following its success at the polls in December 2005, opted to locate the portflios of Youth and Sport to the Ministry of Tourism, under the youthful, Glen Beache.
It did not take long for the portfolio to be removed from Beache and returned to Mike Browne under a rather nebulous-sounding Ministry of National Mobilisation. No explanation was given to what was clearly perceived by many involved in sport as a retrograde step and a blight to the portfolio. Many remain to this day uncertain as to whether Beache was informed of the removal of the portfolio from under his Ministry before it was actually undertaken.
The reality is that sport has not been given any genuine attention by the ruling regime since taking office. Instead it has been the subject of crassly constructed political innuendoes.
The current political administration has shown a complete lack of understanding of sport and of its impact on the broader national development process. The government ministers in charge of sport have given the youths of this nation nothing to convince them of any such interest.
The facilities that we now hear about are more for the pending elections of 2010 than anything that has emerged from consultation with the national sports fraternity.
Indeed we can speak instead of the significant disconnect between the current government and sport.
Following its success in the 2001 general elections the ruling regime sought to continue to win the interest of the youth by the appointment of some sport ambassadors – Nixon MacLean, Cameron Cuffy, Skiddy Francis-Crick and Pamenos Ballantyne. At the time of the appointment only this Column stood up to challenge the decision.
To this day the government has been unable to explain the appointments in a reasonable manner. There has not been any real explanation for the selection of the aforementioned and the non-inclusion of others. The pioneering achievements of Adonal Foyle in the NBA in the USA seem to have fallen into the political abyss. Some thought that it was a case of pure, unadulterated insular national politics in so far as the Grenadines constituencies remained in the hands of the NDP.
This Column also challenged the decision in so far as there was never any clear indication of the requirements of the sport ambassadors. Instead we were treated to the trite comment in respect of while Brian Lara would be standing in line at Immigration and Customs, our two cricketers on the West Indies team would have already cleared both and would be waiting on the other side for their colleagues. To this day one remains uncertain as to whether the appointed sport ambassadors were ever allocated any definitive documentation of their roles; any clear indication of what was expected of them as ambassadors.
We were treated to the sums of money provided to some of the ambassadors, not from the local Treasury, but from other sources.
No one but the sport ambassadors involved and the government and the ‘sponsors’ knew when the funding dried up. To date it seems that only Pamenos Ballantyne is prepared to expose the harsh reality that he does not have a job under the very government that held him aloft – seemingly when it once suited the interest of the party. Little wonder he so often questions the value of the ambassadorial status.
Since the initial appointments the ULP administration has never ventured down that road again. It appears that the idea has fallen off the political radar.
Happily Adonal Fotyle opted to remain humble, to establish his own Foundation and to annually return to his homeland – St Vincent and the Grenadines and not Canouan – to offer his services to the children, introducing them to the sport that transformed his life. Happily, Foyle has steered clear of the politics that threatens to cripple Vincentian society.
The achievements of Sophia Young and Sancho Lyttle at the College level and now in the WNBA has not impacted the ruling government nor has it roused them from their pitiful slumber in respect of understanding the role of sport in nation building. They have not been appointed sport ambassadors but in reality they are among our best ambassadors in the international arena. Today they both do more to promote the name of St Vincent and the Grenadines than any politician, living or dead, has ever done for the country.
Governments come and go. Despite the profound desire of some politicians to stay in office forever, they do eventually get old and die or are cast out of office by the ballot. Sport will always be with us.
The failure of any political administration to understand the importance of sport to national development gives the lie to any genuine interest in people.
St Vincent and the Grenadines, despite the preponderance of political musings from the leadership, has not been transformed into the much-vaunted consultative democracy. Instead we have been treated to the same old, hackneyed and retrogressive politics of the past delicately warmed over by charismatic erudition tinged with arrogance of the lingering colonial legacy from which we had once thought we distanced ourselves.
The changing nature of our youths will continue to impact the society and crime will feature more prominently.
Empty political phrasemongering has apparently been elevated to an art by our political leaders who seem too caught up in garnering a third term to understand and appreciate the needs of the nation’s youths.
We should not be surprised by the eagerness with which the youths in our society today take to the streets, carving out their own niche in this space we call home.