The case for club structures in SVG II

THrows ClinicIn the previous edition of this weekly Column we addressed some aspects of the state of national associations in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
We noted that teams rather than clubs dominate this country and also that teams are transient, lacking sustainable structures.
In almost every sport practised in this country teams dominate. Some sports have neither teams nor clubs. This raises the question of legitimacy of these national sports associations.
Can an organisation comprising only individuals really be considered a national association?
Ought we to consider a national association if its membership consists of only teams rather than clubs?
Why do international federations (IF) grant membership to national associations that do not have clubs?
The foregoing questions require answers but these re not forthcoming in the near future since they may well create immense tensions at the very highest level of sport internationally and no one really wants to tamper with that for now.
Clubs in SVG
How many legitimate sport clubs exist in St Vincent and the Grenadines today?
The answer to this question may well reveal a number that can be counted on one hand.
The reality is really that none of the national sports associations can honestly claim that their membership consists of clubs as opposed to teams and/or individuals.
The nation’s most popular sport, football, has been cajoled by its IF, FIFA, to ensure the establishment of a strong club structure but has as yet been unable to meet this requirement. The same can be said of several other sports practised in this country.
Despite the demands of the different IFs the national associations here have been unable to stem the tide of emergent teams and of individuals swelling their ranks.
Some IFs have gone to great lengths linking financial and other forms of developmental assistance to the creation of dynamic club structures that are sustainable. Unfortunately some national associations have lost that battle and remain without much needed resources.
Some national associations are too ashamed to inform the nation of their sad plight while others manage to stem the tide while requesting more time from their respective IFs.
The real issue is that in many cases the national associations lack the resources to commit to the development of clubs. They are too busy trying to show that they can host competitions and represent the country in different events at the regional and international levels. Being hung up on performance distracts them from the fundamental long-term developmental issues that are necessary to guarantee sustainability.
If one were to examine national associations one would discover that they spurn the allocation of resources for genuine development of their respective organisations.
How many national associations employ professional staff?
The vast majority are dominated by volunteers who, for the most part, have as their primary credentials, the fact that they once played the sport and attended coaching courses.
Some associations are dominated by parents who got involved only because their children wanted to practise sport and showed some proficiency in them.
How many national associations found significant interest shown, including in leadership positions, once their children were practising the sport but left after those same children withdrew from the sport? The answer to this question does not require training in rocket science.
The cost of some sports has literally prohibited the extent of their reach both in terms of practitioners as well as technical officials and administrators. The same can be said of those who are most likely to contribute financially in terms of sponsorship of competitions and teams in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The foregoing is an important discourse that many have been unwilling to undertake given its sensitive nature. However, we must address our reality and we are here speaking of our social, psychological, economic and political realities albeit as evidenced in sport.
At the end of the day the fundamental issue is what constitutes the membership of a national sport association – individual, team or club.
We can have a plethora of constitutions written to support and justify the existing reality. Importantly, is this what is really required? Is it right?
The quandary of IFs
IFs find themselves in a very serious quandary. They want to show the international community, especially the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its continental organisations that they have sufficient numbers to organise competitions that can justify their retention on the different sport programmes of the Olympic and continental games.
To maintain this stance with the IOC in particular the IFs ensure that they approve for membership national associations in countries around the world, whether or not they have teams and/or individuals, instead of clubs.
At the same time, these IFs organise seminars aimed at encouraging national associations to make the all-important shift from individual membership and teams to sustainable clubs. Unfortunately these IFs have not met with much success, especially in small countries such as St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In the recent past we have had some new national sport associations springing up in the Caribbean like wildfire. What has led to this?
Some time ago one IF approached several NOCs in the Caribbean offering a financial grant as well as funding to attend Congresses in far away places as an incentive to establish national sports associations in this or that sport.
The St Vincent and the Grenadines NOC maintained that it was not interested in such an approach and that it already had a significant number of national associations given its small size and the state of the Vincentian economy relative to sustaining such organisations.
There has to be a serious approach to the development of new sports in a country like ours with limited resources and a small population.
IFs have their own agendas and often they conflict with the reality in some of our countries. The problem is whether we have people with the understanding of what is required to develop sport to stand firm on principle and resist the overtures of over-exuberant IFs anxious to boast to the international sporting community of significantly enhanced global membership.
The case for multisport clubs
St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a long history of involvement in sport at different levels and our talents have been shown to the world.
Older Vincentian folk attest to the fact that in years past sport was a community activity. Clubs were formed out of communities. Parents were as enthusiastic about sporting activities as were their children.
The communities organised their own sporting activities and everyone came out to either compete, officiate or lend support. Clubs were formed within these communities to allow the best athletes to compete at the national level and hopefully represent S t Vincent and the Grenadines.
Some of the clubs were not only community-based. Many were also multi-sport in nature.
There was at the time no anxiety to specialise in a particular sport and so, several individuals practised numerous sports and excelled in all.
The case of St Clair Rabbit Warner, Gloria Ballantyne’s father, is a case in point. In a series of articles penned for The Vincentian newspaper in 1978, John Horne, extolled the multi-talented achievements of Warner especially in cricket and football, distinguishing himself in both at the highest level.
Mention must be made of the Trimmingham, Cambridge, Ballantyne and Millington families that produced multi-talented athletes all playing for community-based clubs.
There has been no research into the sudden demise of community-based clubs in St Vincent and the Grenadines. One thing is certain. The country became the poorer for their demise.
In the recent past Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG) has sought to spearhead a new initiative to reintroduce the concept of community-based multisport clubs around the country.
The organisation hopes to partner with the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and some national associations to realise the goal.
Initial communities targeted include but not limited to Layou, Bequia, Georgetown, Fancy and Union Island.
The idea is to combine the Olympic Values Education Programme (OVEP) with Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) strategies in several sports, five in the first instance.
At the level of the school the intention is to sow the seed of community-based multisport clubs by establishing Junior Olympians Clubs that serve as the feed into the club once students are out of school. This mirrors the strategy of English sport clubs that engage in early talent identification, selects athletes and grooms them through to the elite level having facilitated the requisite resources to engender growth, development and sustainable performance in the sport.
The primary objectives of the programme include:

  1. To promote knowledge and understanding of physical literacy and its role in human development
  2. To bolster participation in physical activity and sport
  3. To engender increased membership of community-based multisport clubs
  4. To develop the skills/abilities and knowledge of athletes that will enhance their competitiveness at the regional and international levels
  5. To promote sport as means of promoting community cohesion, harmony and crime reduction
  6. To create awareness of and engender interest in the increasing number of career options available in physical activity and sport

Community-based multisport clubs are the most viable options for countries that are small and possessive of open, highly vulnerable economies such as ours in St Vincent and the Grenadines.