The challenges for Vincentian sport in 2014
Discussing sport and its challenges in St Vincent and the Grenadine soften sounds like a broken record since it seems that very few are listening and even less appear interested.
It would probably be good if the policy makers take the time to either learn about sport or gather around them the appropriately qualified persons to assist them in determining what is the best way to approach the development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It remains an unfortunate reality that we continue, for the most part, to spin top in mud, as is often stated.
Given the sordid past of the sport development process in St Vincent and the Grenadines we can predict several major challenges for the current year.
While efforts are being made to implement the Schools Sports Policy the same cannot be said of the national sport policy. At times it seems that the latter is not worth the paper on which it is written since it is often the case that the government pays little or no attention to its contents and the implications that this has on sport.
We remain a nation in which there is plenty talk of a so-called wellness revolution, yet ashamedly we have left the cart well ahead of the horse, clearly stuck.
For the current year therefore the challenge in this regard would be for national sports associations to prevail on the government to place physical education on the front burner.
The continued introduction to physical education at the secondary school merely to afford the students who are deemed not particularly academic an extra subject at the CXC level is a non-starter. PE must be introduced in a formal way at the pre-school level with persons appropriately trained to teach the subject.
It is at the pre-school level that PE teachers are able to prevail on parents to understand and appreciate the nuances of movement and coordination – fundamental to Physical education and necessary for sporting involvement.
At the pre-school level the PE teachers are able to introduce the all-important balance between their play and study without being harangued by parents about loss of instructional time.
There is also the absence of PE teachers at the primary school level. While this is encouraged in the national schools sports policy it is not implemented.
The challenge therefore is to get the Ministry of Education to facilitate the training of pre-school teachers in the fundamentals of physical education and to employ PE teachers in the primary school system.
It has not apparently dawned on our policy makers that physical activity is critical to an individual’s overall well being and so must be encouraged at all stages in the education system and also at the broader national level.
The policy must be to facilitate physical activity for all.
Unless there are major changes to the perception by the policy makers that physical activity is sheer frivolity we can go nowhere as a nation.
Research has shown the relationship between physical activity, physical well being and productivity. Unfortunately here in St Vincent and the Grenadines there is little interest in this relationship at the policy-making level.
National sports associations must therefore come together to foster a broader national programme to lift physical activity to the level needed for the well being of this society.
The initiative of the National Olympic Committee in promoting Physical Activity for All is timely and should serve as a rallying point for national sports associations already under its ambit as well as those that are not.
Finance and sponsorship
Over the past several years national sports associations in St Vincent and the Grenadines have been plagued with an almost chronic shortage of funds. We are ever mindful that this country possesses a small, open and highly vulnerable economy.
The local private sector is particularly small and is constantly deluded with requests for sponsorship of one sort or another from all corners of Vincentian society. Sport constitutes a small segment of the requests made of the local private sector in any given year.
Government funding has also been a problem. The National Lotteries Authority (NLA) is itself in receipt of an incessant number of requests for assistance from different sources. Even though the NLA possesses a mandate to support sport and culture there is never any indication as to what proportion of its annual allocations go to sport.
The Ministry responsible for sport has very little resources and the same can be said of the National Sports Council (NSC). In both cases once the recurrent expenses for wages and salaries have been catered for there is little left to do what is usually associated with these institutions.
The recent disaster would obviously impact on the available finances of the government. Sport can therefore expect immense challenges in accessing funds from the government to facilitate much of their work. There would be a constant stream of disaster-related causes flowing in the direction of the government and this would leave much less available for sport.
The NLA would also be under tremendous pressure to meet is normal commitment to sport, to say nothing of those organisations desirous of seeking assistance from this institution for new projects.
Despite repeated requests for the Vincentian government to do more by way of seeking support for sport in varying forms from fraternal governments there has been no work in this regard.
National sports associations can therefore expect major challenges in respect of accessing funding from within St Vincent and the Grenadines to meet their regular commitments at home and abroad.
Fundraising efforts by national sports associations are likely to be threadbare this year. Already there are numerous individuals who have taken to making a living from weekly and even daily BBQ merely to survive.
National sports associations would have to consider working more closely together to ensure that fundraising efforts and the seeking and procurement of sponsorship, however little, can be used in a way to foster the broader national sport development process. This is a challenge in and of itself since it means rising above any tendency towards the crabs in a barrel syndrome.
The National Olympic Committee has proven itself the most consistent source of support to national associations that are themselves without much assistance from their regional and international bodies. Its resources are however not inexhaustible.
Infrastructure & Equipment
Another major challenge confronting sports in this country is the state of the vast majority of the available sport infrastructure.
While it is true that we have to contend with our limitations there is every reason to believe that if we take a community-based approach to the development of sport and ultimately the development of multisport clubs we could have the communities around St Vincent and the Grenadine stake ownership of the infrastructure with which they have to work.
If the communities take ownership of our sports infrastructure then there would be greater control and principled utilisation policies for each of the sport being practised.
We cannot and ought not to wait on the NSC to deliver what is required at the community level.
The decision to locate children’s playpens in different parts of the country is welcomed and should be encouraged. However, the decision has not been the result of consultation with relevant expertise.
There is an important need for the identification and placement of exercise facilities strategically in communities around the country to encourage involvement by the general population in physical activity.
We have to create walking and cycling paths for our citizens in every community to allow more people to engage in physical activity all of the time.
We have to become a physically active nation.
We have to return to skipping and rounders, the climbing of steps and the whole range of what constitutes an active lifestyle.
We as a people have the capacity to develop our facilities and work together to maintain them as viable institutions in the country.
There also has to be a relationship between sports associations and the Ministry of Education to facilitate greater access and usage of schools for sport development outside the school hours. This is important but requires a sound organisational and administrative structure between the community and the national sports association in each instance to guarantee the proper use of the school’s facilities.
We have to learn to optimise what we have and take appropriate care of these institutions to redound to the benefit of all.
A new relationship
Times today call for a new relationship between national associations as independent organisations. They must band together and forge a new relationship to emerge out of the current economic and attendant circumstances.
National sports associations must work with the Physical Education and Sports Teachers Association for an enhanced relationship among themselves as well as with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Sport, the NSC, the NLA and the communities around St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There has to be an alliance for Change in respect of physical activity in Vincentian society.
2014 provides us with yet another opportunity to get our act together and establish a sound programme for Physical Activity for All, the foundation stone for a successful national sports programme.
We have the talent enough for us to get ahead
We can make something of ourselves and the nation through sport.
We need to get started on the right foot.