Sport Studies essential to regional sport development

reviewThe University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine Campus recently hosted what is the institution’s inaugural Conference on Sports Studies and Higher Education – An Interdisciplinary Approach, during the period, 16 – 18 January 2014.
The Conference was a landmark occasion for the institution but more importantly for sport in the English-speaking Caribbean and reflects a significant turning point in the way we approach physical activity and sport in this region.
The main focus of the Conference was to highlight the importance of bringing academic research to bear on the wide and wonderful, often sordid, world of sport and physical activity.
Great Sports Myth (GSM)
Professor Coaxley delivered the Opening presentation at the Conference and addressed what he defined as The Great Sports Myth (GSM). Coaxley saw the GSM as the widely held view that sport facilitates what is good and noble in society; that it has a slew of positive values impacting participants; that it is a noble undertaking that enriches a society through the development of the whole person, hence it facilitates community and societal development.
Protagonists of the GSM often claim that sport promotes discipline, peace and social harmony.
The GSM is perhaps epitomised in the philosophy of Olympism as enunciated in the Olympic Charter of the International Olympic Committee (IOC):
Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
Coaxley suggest that while the forgoing is often well promoted the reality is something quite different. The foregoing assumptions have been challenged by academic research in different countries around the world.
Unfortunately, we in the Caribbean have been particularly tardy in venturing into this important area of human endeavour.
The seemingly endless cases of positive drug tests reveal the stark reality that many are committed to doing whatever it takes to attain success in sport to such an extent that an increasing n umber of people are clamouring for the removal of sanctions against the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the same way that marijuana is now being decriminalised in different parts of the world.
In essence therefore, Coaxley set the stage for the Sports Studies Conference by making it clear that there is nothing about sport that should compel us to refrain from placing under the rigours of scientific research as is done in other aspects of life and human activity.
We cannot and ought not take sport for granted and accept the traditionally held view that it is all about positive values and lofty ideals.
It is all too often the case that we read the researched work of academics on physical activity and sport from just about everywhere else in the world while failing to engage in similar research work in our own region.
There is an urgent need therefore for the Caribbean to commence extensive research into what obtains in physical activity and sport in the region and so inform, from an academic and scientific standpoint, the future of these twin disciplines.
Caribbean reality
Many sport enthusiasts boast of the period under Clive Lloyd and later, Vivian Richards, when the Caribbean dominated the international Cricket scene and lament the sad turn of events that has left us reeling at the near-bottom of the game today.
Many have been eager to offer explanations for the slump but all too few have opted for scientific research into the causal factors that catapulted the West Indies Cricket team to global dominance as well as those factors which have intervened to facilitate the extensive slump we have witnessed over the past two decades.
Since Jamaica’s Arthur Wint won gold at the Olympic Games of London, 1948, the Athletics world has watched the rise of this Caribbean country to international acclaim to the point where it can boast at times as many as three athletes in the 100m final for men and no less than two in the same event for women.
Since 2008 Jamaica has been the clear favourite to win the 4 x 100m relay at both World Championships and the quadrennial Olympics.
Here again, the academicians have steered clear of researching the rise of Jamaican athletes to global dominance of the sprints, both male and female.
That a small Caribbean island chain like the Bahamas can consistently produce world class athletes is cause for research.
That an even smaller, St Kitts and Nevis could produce Kim Collins, a world champion and a seemingly ageless competition in international athletics is cause for research.
We have not quite understood what are the causal factors that allowed for the emergence of a teenage Javelin Olympic champion from Trinidad and Tobago, a country noted for producing track stars.
There is much that has been happening in the world of sport in the Caribbean that we take for granted and our academics have, for the most part, found little interest in undertaking research in the field of sport.
Yet, without research we would forever remain operating on the basis of assumptions, allowing at best for a hit-or-miss strategy to determine our approach to the sport development process.
CLR James, the renowned Trinidad and Tobago as well as internationally acknowledged Caribbean scholar, was among the first man from our region to write on sport. His epic work, Beyond A Boundary, remains an outstanding piece that is an appropriate point of departure for anyone desirous of doing research in sport.
In Beyond A Boundary, James articulated the fact that at the time of his analysis, Cricket was much more than a game of bat and ball for those blacks in the Caribbean who had taken to the sport. He was certain that the sport had offered the black Caribbean man a mechanism to facilitate his declaration of coming of age.
James insisted that Cricket had become the embodiment of the aspirations of the Caribbean blacks emergent from centuries of conquest, slavery and colonialism. The game became a way of showing the world, especially the very world that had colonised them just how much they had withstood the challenges of that era to rise up in defiance and compete with them for supremacy.

In April 1995, Liberation Cricket: West Indies Cricket Culture (Sport, Society & Politics) was produced for public consumption, edited by Hilary McD. Beckles and Brian Stoddart, with a foreword by Viv Richards 27 Apr 1995

Three years later Hilary Beckles produced his book, The Development of West Indies Cricket: The Age of Nationalism Vol 1 (June 1998).

Beckles has since established a programme at UWI, Cave Hill Campus in Barbados where undergraduates and graduates alike can pursue courses in Cricket. He has also established a Caribbean Cricket Academy on the same Campus.
Beckles recognised the dearth of academia in Caribbean Cricket research and zeroed in on filling the breach. He, like James, understands the importance of Cricket in and to the Caribbean.
At least in the field of Cricket research we have academics who have revealed that this sport was a means of fighting against what Andre Gunder Frank described as The Development of Underdevelopment.
Looking ahead
The UWI Sports Science Conference therefore serves as an appropriate point of departure for research in physical activity and sport in the Caribbean.
It also emerged from the Conference that research in physical activity and sport in the Caribbean must engage a multidisciplinary approach.
The participants at the Conference were clear that the institutions of higher education in the Caribbean currently involved in providing programmes for students in physical activity and sport are currently operating in what many perceive to be insular, each seeking its own path.
There was a call for a meeting of minds, a harmonisation of effort and resources, human and material, to facilitate a cohesive developmental pathway and UWI would seek to play a major role in this regard.
There is an urgent need to engage in a more systematic approach to the development of Sport Studies programmes at institutions of higher education in the Caribbean and at the same time encourage extensive scientific research in all areas of the disciplines.
There is room to facilitate specialised programmes in Olympic Studies within the planning of this new approach.
The new approach must seek to promote a sustainable scientific, approach to sport development in the Caribbean under the ambit of the UWI, and develop strategies and mechanisms for the investigation, analysis and dissemination of information of physical education and sport in the Caribbean.
The research must be focused, rooted in the culture of the Caribbean, interdisciplinary, and reflect a genuine commitment to the harmonisation of effort and resources.
Consideration must also be  given to the forging of strong relationships and networks that strive to coordinate research efforts in developing countries, encourage interdependency of data and information and promote the engagement of practitioners.
Conference participants urged the need for advocacy for physical activity and sport education programmes within the Caribbean and the importance of governments officially recognising the graduates enough to open up positions in the establishment for emerging graduates and practitioners. The policies of governments of the region must be changed to facilitate this new dynamism education relative to the aforementioned dtwin-disciplines.
It is not sufficient to conduct research into physical activity and sport. The research must find their way in the public domain so that they are appropriately functional, positively impacting the Caribbean landscape and generating greater interest in these twin-disciplines as they lead to healthier lifestyles across the region.
Of course, one critical issue would be funding for research.
However, if there is appropriate advocacy and we are able to convince the governments and donor agencies of the importance of such research to the genuine development of the Caribbean through physical activity, sport and general wellness, funding should prove less of a problem than many envisage.
UWI has swung open the door. The time has come for our academics to now take up the challenge placed before them.