Sport in the OECS – Challenges

There are many who believe that the countries that make up the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) are imbued with people possessive of an abundance of sporting talent. The evidence of this is found in several sports whose athletes have attained international acclaim.
Even the most cursory perusal of the sub region’s performances in sport would permit the observer an insight into the immense potential that exists for success in an area of endeavour that brings the member nations into international focus and recognition.
For some reason, however, the leadership in the OECS appear unwilling, for the most part, to appreciate the significant contributions of physical literacy, physical activity and sport to the overall well-being of the populace. This is not surprising once one understands the lop-sided approaches being undertaken in respect of what passes for leadership in the sub region and the seeming inability to transition their respective countries to consultative democracies that genuine promote peoples’ participation in the decision-making processes.
The Treaty of Basseterre, signed on 18 June 1981, by the leaders of the respective governments of the sub region, signaled the official establishment of the OECS. The declared objectives were:
To promote co-operation among the Member States and at the regional and international levels having due regard to the Treaty establishing the Caribbean Community and the Charter of the United Nations;
To promote unity and solidarity among the Member States and to defend their sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence;
To assist the Member States in the realisation of their obligations and responsibilities to the international community with due regard to the role of international law as a standard of conduct in their relationship;
To seek to achieve the fullest possible harmonisation of foreign policy among the Member States; to seek to adopt, as far as possible, common positions on international issues and to establish and maintain wherever possible, arrangements for joint overseas representation and/or common services.
To promote economic integration among the Member States through the provisions of the Agreement Establishing the East Caribbean Common Market; and
To pursue the said purposes through its respective institutions by the discussion of questions of common concern and by agreement.
The signatories were Hon. Lester Bird (Antigua and Barbuda), Hon. Eugenia Charles (Dominica), Hon. Maurice Bishop (Grenada), Hon. Franklyn Margetson (Montserrat), Hon. Kennedy Simmons (St Kitts and Nevis), Hon. Winston Cenac (St Lucia), and Hon. Hudson Tannis (St Vincent and the Grenadines).
At the time of the formation of the organization the emphasis was on economic cooperation because of their recognition of the fact that they were all small, open and highly vulnerable islands. This was cemented 19 years later when they signed the Revised Treaty of Basseterre establishing a formal economic union, with the understanding that they would operationalize the union the following year, 2011.
OECS Sports Desk
In the 1980s, Joseph ‘Reds’ Pereira, originally from Guyana, proposed to the OECS Secretariat, the establishment of a department that would focus attention on sport. Prior to this there did not appear to be any interest shown in this aspect of development by the leadership at the individual governmental level or the OECS Secretariat itself.
Having posed the proposal Pereira found himself with the awesome responsibility of making it work when he was given authorization to do so. What emerged was literally a desk. Pereira found himself with a desk that was located in someone’s else’s office. He did not have the pleasure of an individual office, such was the interest shown.
It remains an unfortunate reality that at the time of creating the Sport Desk that Pereira did not have a foundation in understanding the importance of building a base on physical literacy and physical education. His focus was on what he knew, sport.
Because of his involvement with cricket, Pereira used his contacts and the fact that he was moving around the region to solicit support for what he considered important sporting events.
He thus garnered the support of TEXACO (largely headquartered in Barbados) for the OECS Track and Field Championships which were first held in Grenada in 1987. He also procured sponsorship from Sari and Nestle MILO, for the OECS 5K and 10K road races respectively. TEXACO was so enthused with its involvement in athletics at the time that the company agreed to sponsor an TEXACO Games in Barbados at which they also sponsored the OECS team drawn from performances at the OECS Championships.
The East Caribbean Group of Companies (ECGC), headquartered in St Vincent and the Grenadines, took on sponsorship of the OECS Under 23 Netball Championships.
Pereira sought to obtain sponsorships for several different sporting championships on an annual basis.
However, despite the relative success in securing sponsors and the production of an annual OECS Sports Calendar, the absence of appropriate accompanying structures always posed a serious threat to their sustainability.
When Pereira left the job, we has David Peterkin of St Lucia, Michael Ollivierre from St Vincent and the Grenadines and St Lucia’s Denis James, served as respective OECS Sport Coordinators.
Interestingly the Desk died a natural death under James who found himself without a Desk at the Secretariat.
It is interesting to note that in May 2014, a news portal dubbed, Da Vibes, announced…”The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is finalizing a growth and development strategy to outline the plans and programs for the further development of sports in its member states.
“Following a meeting in Dominica recently by OECS Sports Ministers and Directors, the OECS held a video conference on “Sports and Development in the OECS Region” on Monday 13th May, for Directors of Sports in region, to obtain proposals on the way forward.”
OECS Ambassador, Felix Gregoire was quoted as saying that several proposals were discussed,
“A lot of them had to do with the harmonization of sports policies, greater use of sporting facilities, and procurement of sports equipment. There were also discussions on a uniform calendar of events for the OECS and training of coaches as a mutual area and physical education in secondary schools.”
It is most interesting that four years later we have heard precious little about the discussions held in 2013.
The OECS Secretariat has done little more than pay lip service to sport and physical education, highlighting the institution’s failure to understand their importance to the broader issue of genuine development.
The latest foray from the OECS Secretariat speaks to its role in supporting member countries in achieving the sustainable development goals as per the United Nations declaration. To tjis end the Secretariat notes…The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) undergird and are integrated with the Organisation’s Strategic Goals.  The OECS recognises that ending poverty and creating a brighter future for all must go hand-in-hand with strategies that build economic growth and which address a range of social needs including education, health, social protection, and job opportunities, while tackling climate change and environmental protection. The Organisation works to achieve these outcomes through close consultation and collaboration with our development partners and a diverse cross-section of regional and global stakeholders under a unified development framework.”
Somehow we are being left to assume that within the mandate of the OECS Secretariat and its drive to achieve the sustainable development goals, physical literacy and sport are included. We may be totally wrong if we make such an assumption and this may well be borne out by the realities of some of the member countries.
There is no cohesive policy framework for physical literacy and sport in the OECS. In this regard the OECS Secretariat and the heads have failed the sub region abominably. They each seem to take turns at mouthing support for sport but this is, more often than not, limited to acknowledging and showing praises on this or that successful athlete. It matters not that at times the athlete is provided with a scholarship or a piece of land or cash. There is no established policy framework or policy.
Grenada, St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda perhaps lead the way where governments have provided support to sport by developing sport infrastructure. But there is no real policy that guides this. The respective governments encourage the hosting of sporting events that some mistakenly label as sport tourism initiatives.
The sub region participated to some extent in the region’s hosting of the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007. To this day no ne can really detail the benefits derived and precisely what legacies continue to be a source of revenue or pride in our respective countries. There has been more ole talk than anything else in this regard.
Many of the OECS member states had gone about doing things very differently. Some have established physical education as compulsory in the education system while others have not. In this vein some have physical education teachers in each of their educational institutions while some do not.
Some have national sports policies while others do no.
Not one of the OECS member countries has a sport tourism policy in place despite having their leaders speak glowingly about this topic once they host a successful sporting event.
Where is the OECS Secretariat in all of this?
The reality is that the OECS Secretariat, rather unceremoniously, closed down the OECS Sports Desk without due notice to all but its staff. Many sporting organisations across the sub region were shocked to learn of this after the fact.
It would appear that the OECS Secretariat continues operate much like the leaders of its member States. What is important is really the sheer economic fortunes of their respective countries and the physical and therefore general well-being of the populace is the least of their concerns.
The cries about the relatively high incidence of NCDs and CNCDs appear to be in sync with contemporary trends and an appeal to international donor agencies sympathetic to such information to access funding. It really has nothing to do with genuine development.
The OECS remains a sub region where the people are not the prime reason for being. The importance of the quality of life of the peoples of the sub region does not appear to hold sway in the minds and actions of those who lead the respective member countries and hence, those who lead the Secretariat.