Sport and the season of electoral politics

St Vincent and the Grenadines is currently in elections mode. While some may wish to deny this reality the evidence stares everyone in the face almost unashamedly.
Sport is part of the socio-cultural fabric of society. It has been defined as Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.
It has also been defined as An activity involving physical exertion and skill that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often undertaken competitively. And again, as An active pastime; recreation.
Another definition states that sport is any activity or experience that gives enjoyment or recreation; pastime; diversion. Some define sport simply as fun or play.
Electoral politics on the other hand relates to the process by which the people of a country are involved in voting for representatives of political parties in a competition for the right to govern a country. This process involves an extremely wide variety of activities some of which may not always be deemed socially or morally uplifting.
In the general scheme of things in Vincentian society sport has not always been able to escape the vagaries of electoral politics.
In the current elections mode that we are in sport has become a major feature.
It is really only in the recent past that we have had the specter of sport becoming so embroiled in politics that we could have had one of the nation’s leading athletes facilitated on a political platform, not only endorsing one of the contesting political parties and vociferously decrying the other.
In 2000/1 during the political campaign of the then Opposition Unity Labour Party (ULP) a disgruntled Pamenos Ballantyne climbed on to the political platform of the organization. This Columnist condemned the move at the time on the grounds that the athletes belong to the entire country and should not be seen to align themselves in a society where the private sector is already aligned. The decision to engage in platform politicking therefore has implications for the athlete’s ability to accessing global support from the local business community.
Importantly, the athlete may well have been open to seeing his support as somehow leading to specific rewards should the party win the general elections.
In the case of Pamenos Ballantyne, he was declared a Sports Ambassador and handed a diplomatic passport as well as an arrangement where a company here was paying him monthly. The problem was that he did not seem fully aware of the length of the arrangement with the company. It seemed almost an afterthought that he was assigned to the National Sports Council but his precise mandate was not at all clearly defined.
In essence therefore, Pamenos Ballantyne does not, even at this stage, know what would have been responsible for the curtailing of the financial arrangements with the company. One thing is certain. He knew when the payment stopped. Years later he is still in the dark and unemployed.
At the time that Ballantyne was made a sport ambassador Skiddy Francis, Nixon MacLean and Cameron Cuffy were also given the same status. In all cases the Vincentian public remained ignorant of precisely what was expected of them under their new-found status. Francis was the only one employed at the time. The two cricketers were each assigned to a company that facilitated payments when they were home rather than on duty with the West Indies Cricket team.
This Columnist repeatedly asked for an elucidation of the criteria used at the time to determine the recipients of the sport ambassador designation. The question was raised in respect of the failure to include this country’s lone NBA athlete, Adonal Foyle, of Canouan, among the selectees. No response was ever given.
Then there was the matter of the political football general meeting. The months, weeks and days leading up to the elections for a new executive of the Football Federation witnessed some of the strongest and most naked partisan politics ever displayed ion the sporting arena in this country. The seeming protagonists for change made it abundantly clear on the nation’s media that the Federation would only move forward when the leadership was evidently in full support of the ruling ULP government. There was no squeamishness on the part of several individuals in this regard.
What was really being said was that from their vantage point football was being stymied under the existing leadership if only because the President at the time, St Clair Leacock, was an Opposition Senator. The view seemed to be that the ULP government would not have been favourably disposed to facilitating progress in the sport under a member of the Opposition.
The general meeting served to solidify the view that it was all about partisan politics. To many of those involved in football therefore the ruling party had won the elections for a new executive and this would presumably clear the way for full governmental support for the Federation.
Football is the nation’s most popular sport and the one where a significant proportion of the youth votes reside. This is important for any political party desirous of garnering the votes of the youths in general elections.
Dropping the ball
In many respects we can say that there is a sense in which the youths of the nation have been duped. They were treated to a youth manifesto that held out so much hope for those involved in sport.
The stadium was quickly promised and not long thereafter the government essentially behaved in a manner that seemed to suggest that once there was no external funding from the Libyans the project faded into oblivion. This seemed the only explanation for the deafening silence of the government on the stadium project over the past several years.
The youths of this nation involved in football in particular have watched in despair as one project after another suddenly assumed greater importance in the developmental agenda of the government of the day.
The budgets that have been delivered since 2001 have been an indictment on the current political administration in respect of their approach to sport. They can be said to be playing sport with sport.
No serious government could consistently offer a mere one or two paragraphs to sport if they considered it important to the well being of the people of the society they govern or to the national economy.
Much has been made about the millions expended on the refurbishing of Arnos Vale but no one really wants to enter into any detailed analysis of those expenditures just as they do not wish to analyse the change of the colour scheme of the chairs in the double-decker pavilion.
The National Sports Council continues to experience great difficulty meeting its own recurrent expenditures. Resources required to ensure the establishment of an adequate and comprehensive maintenance programme are in short supply.
There is none of the promised legacy programmes emanating from the Cricket World Cup of 2007. From all vantage points those promises were tantamount to one gigantic hoax in the world of sport for St Vincent and the Grenadines. The pathetic part of all of this is that the promises came from Vincentians sitting on the Local Organising Committee (LOC). We are perhaps expected to believe that the reason the legacy programmes do not exist may be somehow related to the dismantling of the LOC.
Since the ULP took office in 2001 we have heard boasts of the beneficial relations with Cuba; never mind we had established relations with this country several years earlier. The idea was to convey the impression that the relationship had grown much closer under the new government. Yet, for all of this closeness, there has not been one single Cuban coach brought to this country to assist with developments in this all-important aspect of Vincentian life.
In so many respects we have seen the ball literally dropped from the hands of the government in respect of its commitment or lack thereof in respect of the development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The new generation of promises
We are in elections season. It is time therefore for us to hear more promises made in respect of the developments aimed at taking sport to new heights.
Some years ago this Columnist found it necessary to ask one politician to desist from talking so much about sport and simply begin to do the work. We are at that stage again.
This is not a time for more promises. Instead, the politicians may do well to simply go about the business of doing what is necessary. The people, especially the sport people, have already understood the game. It is they who will know how to discern between what is genuine from what is fake.
We have every reason to believe that our sportspeople desire to make their contributions to the development of St Vincent and the Grenadines, if given the opportunity and support.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is blessed with talented youths. In the field of sport they can do well once the politicians stop promising and simply deliver the goods.