Sport politics at work in SVG
The general elections is expected to be coming soon here in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the politicians are already lining up with their promises. The various national sports associations have not yet sufficiently understood what the political season means and hence have not prepared themselves to garner the most out of the situation as it unfolds.
In several countries around the world national sporting bodies understand the politics of the day and prepare extensive documents which they place before the politicians knowing that especially the incumbent will do all in its power to meet their demands in the season of political campaigning.
In 2000 the then Opposition Unity Labour Party (ULP) made a series of promises to the sporting community in the country. The organisation produced a youth manifesto, which, while addressing several other issues, sought nonetheless to focus much attention on sport, given the interest that this aspect of life holds for this critical segment of the voting population.
The centrepiece of the ULP’s appeal to the nation’s sporting community in the campaign of 2000/1 was the construction of a national stadium that would serve both football and athletics. Of course, with football being by far the most popular sport practised in the country one could readily understand the impact such a promise would have had on the young people, perhaps even encouraging some to ensure that they voted for the very first time.
Athletics has given this country its first world title in Eswort Coombs; gold medal performance at the World University Student Games in Fukuoka, Japan, 1995, and a Pan American Games bronze medal in the same year. Pamenos Ballantyne was at the time still the leading distance runner in the Caribbean and his presence on the ULP platform on several occasions essentially repeating the clarion call of the organisation for the defeat of the ruling New Democratic Party (NDP) at the polls resonated with many of the nation’s disgruntled youths and sportspeople enough to contribute significantly to the success of the ULP in the elections of March 2001.
Many of the nation’s youths thought that the stadium was necessary. It had been one of their many dreams for several years.
The national stadium
The early establishment of a Stadium Committee gave the impression that the newly elected ULP government was serious about fulfilling its promises. The Prime Minister, speaking in Parliament, raised the Committee’s membership in glowing terms. At the time he boasted of his insistence on the presence on the Committee of the then presidents of the athletics and football governing bodies – Keith Joseph and St Clair Leacock. What was apparently not stated at the time was that the two might well have been expected to tow a line more generally outside of the Committee if they were to be allowed to stay on board.
Joseph communicated with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the North American, Central American and Caribbean Area Association (NACAC), one of the world’s leading track manufacturers, MONDO, and one of the leaders in the manufacture of track and field equipment, UCS, inviting them to come to St Vincent and the Grenadines and make presentations to the Stadium Committee. The IAAF responded by committing its Vice President and President of NACAC, Amadeo Francis. MONDO committed its Marketing Manager for the Americas, Nicolo Bagni while UCS committed its Marketing and Sales Manager, Benn Fields. Following their respective responses Joseph suggested that their visit could be twinned with an activity at the site of the national stadium.
The activity was held while the three personalities were in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Glen Jackson chaired the proceedings and the Prime Minister delivered an address following a major presentation by Amadeo Francis. All three visitors had earlier met with the Stadium Committee and indicated their commitment to working with the organisation for the realisation of the undertaking.
The squatters were removed from the stadium site and work was done on clearing the area for the commencement of construction while TVA was engaged to produce the designs. Monies for the project was expected from Libya and the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance indicated receipt of the first part of the funding, approximately $4m from the Libyans. For all intents and purposes the national stadium was on its way.
In a previous edition of this Column the columnist responded to the statements made in Parliament by way of explaining why Joseph was unceremoniously removed from the Committee. Few doubted that that the action was taken because of the hard-hitting, highly controversial radio programme, Just Another Look and not the flimsy reason proffered, that he was a stumbling block to the advancement of the work of the Committee.
St Clair Leacock used the same Parliament to indicate to the Prime Minister and the nation that he was aware that Dr Gonsalves had the capacity to appoint and disappoint and that he would not give him the opportunity to disappoint him. He therefore resigned from the Committee with immediate effect in support of Joseph.
Chairman of the Stadium Committee, Garth Saunders, remained silent seemingly afraid to respond to the Prime Minister on the explanation offered and that remains the state of things to this day.
Today, there does not appear to be a Stadium Committee. TVA was replaced by ARUP in respect of the organisation responsible for the design of the stadium. The funding from Libya for the stadium never exceeded the initial payment and the local government did not appear to have actively pursued any other source, even as it utilised several millions from its own resources to upgrade Arnos Vale I and II, Sion Hill and Stubbs in time for the hosting of some warm up matches prior to the competition in the Cricket World Cup 2007.
We have recently been told that the stadium will have to wait until after the completion of the Argyle International Airport, the date for which is yet to be realistically determined; so much for the football and athletics enthusiasts, the children of the nation, coaches and administrators.
National Tennis Centre
Not long after taking office the Tennis Association sought to and acquired the right to host an Americas Zone Group 4 Davis Cup Tournament. This however required additional courts and this was provided, with support from the Taiwanese.
The monies expended on Arnos Vale I and II, Sion Hill and Stubbs may not have been well utilised. Stubbs remained a dust bowl for a very long time and Sion Hill actually deteriorated while Arnos Vale had been in such a state of disrepair following its use for overlay during the warm up matches that the monies expended were really wasted.
The Arnos Vale I required extensive work to bring it to where it is today. Here again, much of the monies were wasted.
The initial work undertaken on the river behind the newly constructed stands at Arnos Vale fell apart when serious rain came and the gabion boxes fell into the river – money gone to waste. The work had to re-done by another contractor.
Rather interestingly, it is only now that Lauren Baptiste has been employed as Operations Manager at the National Sports Council that the aforementioned fields have been brought to some measure of respectability, three years after the conclusion of the World Cup.
Essentially the aforementioned fields were prepared for cricket, a point that is today vehemently made by the Cricket Association.
Cecil Cyrus Squash Complex
The government then acquired the Cecil Cyrus Squash Complex in Paul’s Avenue. Before it is taken that this is really a favour to the sport it is much less the case than one would have expected. The property is first and foremost the headquarters of the National Lotteries Authority (NLA). One would have expected that the government would have seen the importance of the facility to the development of the sport in the nation and ensured that it was expanded to ensure full compliance with international regulations and made room for a full fledged gymnasium. That has not happened.
The Victoria Park has been placed under the ambit of the NLA. However, here again it is only since the NSC’s Operations manager had been called in to assist that the facility has begun to show a capacity to cope with the wear and tear such a field is expected to experience. This facility is nonetheless till the nation’s main cultural centre and hence sport often has to play second fiddle to the various cultural activities, many of which are not planned in such a way that an annual calendar could be readily produced at the beginning of each year.
Other sports facilities
The approach of the authorities towards the establishment of sport facilities has been essentially political. In some instances it would appear that the decision to work on a particular facility has been driven by the politics of the day. Where there is need for support the facilities have either been established or upgraded. In a number of instances national sports associations have not been consulted in the decision making process. The government does essentially what it seems to consider politically viable and that often translates into a perception of votes at election time.
Politicians generally do not take sports seriously. The current administration has done more by way of talking about sports rather than engage in any serious analysis of the state of sport in the nation and the development of a strategic plan for the future.
Now that elections are around the corner we are beginning to hear rumblings of a strategy for sport – ten years too late.
Vincentian sportspeople must engage in their own strategic planning in the future and the government of the day must be made to respond favourably to such plans. The sportspeople must insist on their involvement in the decision-making process and offer appropriate expertise to aid on guiding the process whenever necessary.
This is the 21st century and sportspeople in this nation must take ownership of their respective sports and their destinies.