Sports Policy Review Necessary Part II
In the previous edition of this Column we started looking at ways in which we could review the National Sports Policy.This is an important consideration because we have an interest in selling sport as a means of genuine national development of our country.
We are uncertain as to why it is that given all that is happening around the world and with the unparalleled growth in new media, the government of St Vincent and the Grenadines continues to bury its head in the sand in respect of the importance of sport to national development.
Since taking office the government has failed to engage in any sort of serious analysis of the state of sport and has been making a mess.
There is no studied approach to sport in the country at the governmental and it remains unfortunate that the politicians keep spouting the same platitudes of their support for sport and their concern for the youths of the nation when the reality tells a very different story.
In the previous Column we pointed to the government’s sudden and unilateral change of policy in respect of the importation of uniforms. It would not have taken much to broker a discussion with national sports associations on the issue.
If the government is having trouble with its management of the Vincentian economy it is not in its best interest to saddle sports people with the negative consequences of their withdrawal of one of the important pillars of the sport policy.
Private sector involvement
The National Sports Policy states…The Private sector shall be encouraged to contribute financially and otherwise to the development of Physical Education, Sports and Recreation in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Contributors shall be eligible for tax concessions deemed appropriate by Government and encompassed in laws.
National sporting organisations once used barbecues as a means of raising funds for their operational expenses. In today’s Vincentian society there has been an exponential increase in the number of individuals who have taken to doing barbecues as a means of making a living for themselves and their families. There is little chance of national sporting organisations being able to raise much-needed funds when entering into direct competition with those who live by barbecues.
The Vincentian private sector is small. The state of the Vincentian economy for the past several years has not been particularly good.
The few private sector organisations that seek to contribute to sporting organisations find themselves swamped with applications for such assistance.
There are also some private sector institutions that assist sporting organisations and demand of them that they do not publicise this fact. They do not wish to find themselves overrun by applications from sporting organisations all seeking further assistance.
The policy indicates that private sector organisations that contribute generously to the sport development process will be rewarded with tax concessions. The numbers that would have benefitted from this have never really been made known in Vincentian society. This may well be one of the reasons that hardly any of them bother.
There is also the case where some private sector organisations pledge assistance and demand title rights. When they are told that the title rights are worth significantly more than that which they have are willing to contribute they threaten to withdraw their offer altogether. Fearful of losing whatever is being offered the sporting organisations often capitulate, selling their product well short of what it is really worth.
There is a major disconnect between the government and the private sector in respect of the sport development process.
The private sector may well have come to the recognition that the government does little more than pay lip service to the sport development process and so make whatever contributions they deem affordable.
It is also the case, unfortunately, that many of the sporting organisations seeking assistance from the private sector lack the professionalism required to produce the quality and standard of documentation that would enthuse the private sector. In many cases the private sector rejects the application for assistance because of the poor quality of the documentation submitted and the obvious lack of attention paid to creating a good and particularly professional approach to the administration of the sport.
The National Sports Policy also states, Selection to represent Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in a competition, meeting or seminar constitutes an honour and must be treated as such.
There was a time when selection to a national team was treated with the kind of distinction it deserves. Not any more.
In today’s St Vincent and the Grenadines there is just talk about how good it is to represent one’s country but little else. The athletes do not really get a sense that the people and government really care that they have indeed gained something.
The media do not make much of national representation and there are too few persons sufficiently interested to keep records of athletes to highlight their achievements as national ambassadors.
Most national sports associations ignore the importance of the honour of attaining national representation status. It is perhaps for this reason that today’s athlete here at home thinks nothing of the national uniform. There is no recognition given and none taken. They readily wear their hard-earned national uniforms just about everywhere as though they are short on clothing.
The Policy further states, Any person selected to represent Saint Vincent and the Grenadines as administrator, official and athlete in local, regional and international sporting competitions, meetings or seminars shall be deemed to be performing national duty. This shall be regarded as contributing to the promotion of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Such a person shall receive leave of absence from his/her employer to participate, without loss of income.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a very small country. The politics of the day often has a debilitating impact on the sport development process.
While we recognise that employers do need the services of their employees we must also understand the concept of national duty and the contribution that sportspeople often play in the promotion of the country.
Perhaps if the governmental authorities understood this they would have been eager to engage all stakeholders in sport to fashion an approach to national recognition that makes sense.
Governmental authorities at home seem to give greatest consideration to what they can get from their actions in sport that has sufficient political currency re the next general elections.
The sense of athletes, coaches, technical officials and administrators of sport being recognised as consistently contributing to national development remains a largely alien concept to the government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines to a very large extent.
It is the reason that we paid so little attention to the achievements of Adonal Foyle, Sancho Lyttle and Sophia Young, all of whom earned more recognition abroad than they get at home.
Ezra Hendrickson, while playing in Major League Soccer in the US always wore his 100% Vincy t-shirt under his team jersey and proudly exposed it each time he scored a goal or all the television viewers to see.
Gideon Labban became the first Vincentian coach to attain the level of international coaching instructor for an international sporting organisation, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) but received no recognition at home.
Administrators in sport have attained much at the regional and international levels but we seem to take it all for granted.
The National Sports Policy notes, Where such a person is unemployed his/her involvement in sport shall receive consideration in recruitment for jobs, admissions to institutions of higher learning and accessing scholarships provided they satisfy the minimum requirements.
Where such a person does not possess qualifications every effort shall be made by the private and public sector and National Sports Associations to find appropriate training and subsequent job opportunities.
The award of Sport Ambassador status and with it the dispensation of diplomatic passports, the provision of employment and accessing training opportunities have all been undermined by the divisive politics of the day.
Not long after having won the general elections of 2001 the new government appointed a number of sports ambassadors, among the first were Skiddy Francis-Crick, Pamenos Ballantyne, Cameron Cuffy and Nixon McLean.
The obvious omission was the nation’s highest profiled athlete of all time, our first NBA athlete, Adonal Foyle of Canouan.
Even in the identification of sports ambassadors the new administration seemed unable to ignore its own prejudices relative to the Grenadines whose electorate almost never votes labour.
When confronted on the omission of Adonal Foyle, the leadership indicated that more ambassadors would be appointed later on. In other words, Foyle must wait his turn, despite his tremendous achievement.
Fortuitously, Foyle’s career path and sporting status allowed him to give significantly back to the people, the sportspeople of this country, and all of this country, without political prejudice.
Rather interestingly, Pamenos Ballantyne had to take to the national media to let them know that he was running on empty, an attempt to highlight the fact that he had no job and no consistent means of support from the political administration that he assisted with his platform declarations against the former government. Fearful of Ballantyne’s penchant for speaking out in the media everywhere and any time, the ULP hastened to place him under the ambit of the National Sports Council.
We have examined some aspects of the National Sports Policy and shown how the reality differs in major ways.
It is unfortunate that governments do as they please and often display their lack of understanding of sport and sportspeople that bodes no good.
The role of physical activity and sport in the development of St Vincent and the Grenadines must be studied.
The time has come for a meeting of stakeholders, without the prejudices of politics, to engage in meaningful dialogue on what should, appropriately speaking, find its way in a National Sports Policy.
Most importantly however, what is in the Policy should be applied. Changes should only occur after further consultation with stakeholders.
Government’s unilateral determination to dismiss this or that component of the National Sports Policy is a gross disservice to the thousands involved in sport and whose contribution to the overall development process is all too often significantly undervalued.