Sport tourism and the future of our country

This is not the first time that this Column seeks to address the matter of the vast potential that this country has in respect of the sports tourism nor will it be the last.
There has been much talk in this country about a shift in focus from what has been the norm for many years to sports tourism. The fact is that it has remained just that – talk.
For several years we have watched the crowds move around the country during the Easter weekend. On each occasion it seems to rekindle an interest in sports tourism only to wane in the traditional ‘nine days’ marvel of so many other things that attract our attention in this country.
Across the international community sport tourism has become one of the fastest growing industries, bringing significant revenue to the respective national economies. Unfortunately we here in St Vincent and the Grenadines continue to pay lip service to immense opportunities afforded by this industry. This fact gives the lie to any genuine commitment to national development.
Several years ago we were told that scores of investors were lining up just waiting on a change of government. These investors are yet to materialise.
We have the potential even now to realise the vast resources we have available to make good a venture into the world of sports tourism. Good examples abound and we could begin now to right the historical wrong in this particular aspect of our development.
Vera-Ann Brereton
During the tenure of Vera-Ann Brereton there was some discussion on sports tourism. She knew enough about the potential of this important sector to the economy of a country and readily cited examples of where this had taken place. She sought to bring attention to this aspect of the growth potential in many a country.
In her planning Ms Brereton placed on record her determination to establish a Sports Tourism Department and employ a Sports Tourism Officer in the Ministry of Tourism.
Unfortunately there was a change of government in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Vera-Ann Brereton’s contract was not renewed and with her departure the prospect of a Sports Tourism Department and Officer receded in rapid-fire time.
Rene Baptiste et al
After assuming office in 2001 the new administration first appointed Mike Browne as the Minister of Sport. Later we were told that while Mike Browne had Clayton Burgin as his colleague in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, it was the latter that had responsibility for sport.
For their tenure as ministers responsible for sport neither really made any major pronouncements on the potential that out country has where sports tourism is concerned.
Enter Rene Baptiste and initially sports tourism was not on the cards. She was responsible for tourism but recognised that her travels brought her into contact with countries in which sports tourism had long since been playing a major role in their overall development thrust.
After a few years we then heard mention being made once more about our interest in the potential resident in sport tourism. There was a seminar convened at the Peace Memorial Hall under Baptiste’s auspices and involving a leading Barbadian sports personality.
At the end of the day however nothing was done in respect of the promotion of sports tourism.
Then came Glen Beache, the first sport tourism minister under the new government to have had some sort of background in competitive sport though not at the international level. Once more we heard that sports tourism would be in focus.
Despite the talk nothing really happened during Glen Beache’s tenure as the minister with responsibility for tourism and sport that in any way advanced the cause of sports tourism.
For a brief period prior to the elections in 2010 we had Ces Mc Kie installed as a senator in government with responsibility for sport. His mantra was, With Sports We Can. This was clearly piggybacking on the Obama success story with Yes We Can.
Mc Kie’s background in sport would certainly have exposed him to sport’s immense potential and so it was easy for him to begin speaking proudly of what can be done with sport in terms of developing the nation.
Unfortunately and perhaps shocking even to himself once the elections of 2010 were concluded McKie was placed in the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment. This was another setback for sports tourism in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
For the brief period that Stephenson was assigned to sport we had mention made said about sports tourism on occasion but noting was ever put in place to advance this important area of national development.
Recently we have had the re-entry of Ces Mc Kie in the Ministry of Sport and one can only hope that there will be a revitalisation of the interest in the potential of sports tourism for this country.
Whither the future
Sports Tourism Department
St Vincent and the Grenadines has recently created a Tourism Authority. The suggestion we wish to make here is that there is every reason for us to establish a Sports Tourism Department under the Tourism Authority.
The Sports Tourism Department would have to be appropriately staffed with competent and not politically biased personnel. Meritocracy must be the order of the day however difficult that may be to achieve.
No effort must be spared to ensure the establishment of a Sports Tourism Department that avoids political interference.
The Department must focus on what we have in terms of sports being practised, the stability of the respective national organisations for these sports. The staff must assess the sports tourism potential of each of the sports practised here and determine whether we need to construct facilities in order to meet international standards.
St Vincent and the Grenadines must position itself to become a major centre for sports tourism development in the Caribbean.
The new international airport would be a significant pillar in the development of a sports tourism thrust in our country.
Bequia and other Regattas
One must be very hopeful that in addressing the matter of sports tourism the new minister understands that our regattas are an important component.
Sailing is an expensive sport and attracts the wealthy around the world. The experience of many of our Caribbean neighbours in the field of sailing must be evaluated and serve as important examples of what is possible in economic terms.
While we are yet to get a firm grip on the vast potential for revenue from our regattas we can certainly engage in strategic planning to facilitate significant improvement in what is offered to the international sailing fraternity.
Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada have all proven that smallness does not hinder accessing the benefits to be derived from successful sailing events.
Tobago has shown that well-planned on-shore activities are as lucrative as the actual sailing.
This year’s regatta on Bequia saw a resurgence in some of the long-lost traditions in the on-shore activities. Bequians and visitors alike endorsed the return of these traditions and expressed the hope that the future would see greater emphasis being placed on this revival. It is important for Bequia even more than it is for the visitors. It is the revitalisation of the island’s culture.
One has only to review any copy of the Compass and get a brief appreciation for the expansive nature of the sailing industry. Such an exposure would readily encourage our authorities to take the time to review our approach to the annual regattas that we host in our beautiful country.
Over the past several months the Parliamentary Representative for the Northern Grenadines, Godwin Friday, has repeatedly lamented the challenges facing the yachting industry in Bequia. He has been highlighting the significant increases in acts of theft on yachts visiting that Grenadines island.
Despite his several reports in respect of the problems facing the sailing industry the response from the authorities has not been particularly encouraging. This poses a direct threat to the development of the industry and the annual Bequia Regatta.
It is an unfortunate reality that we tinker at the edges placing all too much effort in talking nonsense about an aspect of development that we neither understand, appreciate nor to which we commit adequate resources.
Football etc
While Ces Mc Kie has been quick to point to Jamaica’s success in athletics and the way in which that country has used Reggae and track and field athletics to gain international standing he must nonetheless recognise that football is far more popular than any other sport practised here.
It would be worth the while for the new Minister of Sport to spend time reviewing the sports practised in this country and begin the process of ranking them in some sort of priority order in respect of their contributions to development of the Vincentian economy.
Football has immense growth potential in an economic sense.
While it is true that sailing brings together the wealthy by a long way over the other sports practised here football brings people out more consistently as far as we are concerned.
The minister would do well to galvanise resources to assist football in gaining their own home and facilitate the mechanisms to become a major host of football teams from around the world.
We may even consider establishing an international schools football competition akin to what the Garfield Sobers schools cricket competition is about in neighbouring Barbados. We could even begin by hosting an annual Secondary and Primary Schools Football Champions competitions for the Windward Islands in December following the conclusion of the respective competitions in each of the islands. This can then be expanded to an OECS competition before going international.
The foregoing can be an investment in the long-term future of sport tourism.
Tennis has already shown that it is possible to host major events and with a sports tourism thrust that is properly planned we can do much more in this area.
Many countries have hosted Carifta Games and several other regional athletics championships once they acquired a stadium. If we were serious about sports tourism we would have already secured this facility especially since it could at once serve football and athletics.
The point being made here is that we have the sports and once we get the support by way of a sports tourism focus that is serious and not encumbered with partisan political baggage we could join the international community using sport as a vehicle for community and national development.