The London Olympics of 2012
By this time all of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Vincentians at home and in the Diaspora, would have seen and heard of the performances of the team to the London Olympics.
The athletes did not do as well as anticipated.
Tolga faltered badly in the pool. Kineke felt something pull and instead of perhaps doing like so many others and complete the event even if hobbling, chose instead to stop, then walk back to the athletes area near the finish line. Courtney tried to get by and finished third in his Preliminary Heat, not good enough to move further in the competition.
Unfortunately we have been unsuccessful and this must mean that we have to redouble our efforts at planning and ensuring that there is a long-term strategic development approach to the process in the future.
Another four years have passed us by and the results of our athletes at the Olympics have not yet regained the level attained in Atlanta in 1996 when Eswort Coombs reached the semi finals of the 400m.
Is it a matter of talent?
Is it a matter of commitment?
Is it a matter of preparation?
Is it all about resources?
While we examine the answers to these questions over the next weeks and months there must be concern from everyone as to what it is that prevents us from reaching the ultimate goal of having a Vincentian athlete mount the Olympic podium in victory.
There is reason enough to believe that we have to engage in an extensive Strategic Planning exercise at the earliest to begin the process.
Of course the relatively weak performances of our athletes at the regional and international levels remains a bother to all of us and leaves us wondering about the approach that should be undertaken in the future to get our athletes appropriately prepared. This applies to the Windward Islands Secondary Schools Games through to the Penn Relays and ultimately the Olympics and involves all sports.
Unfortunately the leadership of many of our associations does not engage in proper planning for the development of their respective sports. Few have ever engaged themselves in strategic planning and at best hope for successes on a year-by-year basis. Fewer still can offer a four-year programme, which takes them from one major Games to another.
Without planning the various associations cannot expect great results.
While some may hasten to respond that they do not have access to their own resources inclusive of a home, this is no excuse for failure to plan.
In preparation for the Olympic Games not many local associations planned for their athletes’ involvement in the respective qualifying competitions. In every instance there was heavy reliance on the Olympic Committee and little else.
There must now be an insistence on ensuring that all national sports associations engage in proper SWOT Analyses from which they can move on to the establishment of appropriate strategic plans.
Finance and sponsorship
Nothing can happen in sport development without money. Money is needed for financing infrastructure, providing athletes with the necessary equipment, facilitating their training and getting them to competitions.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines coaches are appealing to national sports associations to help pay for athletes to attend coaching sessions. There seems a presumption that money is just out there available for this purpose and also for getting their athletes to competitions everywhere.
Coaches often do not ask where the money must come from.
Whereas in swimming and tennis people actually pay to be coached in the other sports it appears that the accepted stance is that the participants would not come to train if they are not provided with everything they need including passage.
Many of the athletes involved in mass sport today claim not to have access to the most basic resources yet at times one gets the impression that some attempt to hold the respective national sports associations to ransom – give me everything or else.
In athletics, professional coaches require $40,000 – $50,000 per year to cover the training of athletes and they still have to be taken to competitions and receive 15% of the athlete’s earnings.
For team sports it is significantly more expensive. Football, if it is to fit the bill in respect of the preparation required for its various teams in FIFA-authorised competitions would find the annual subvention from the international governing body for the sport well short of what is needed. Many focus more on the fact that the local body gets $250,000.00 USD/year without engaging in any sort of analysis of the training and competition financial requirements.
Interestingly, during the current Olympic Games in London, the point continues to be made by the English media is the important role played by the Lottery in reshaping the sport development process in their country.
The media boast that it was the decision of the British government to use the Lottery to provide funding for the British Sports Council and the various national sports associations that have transformed the way in which things have changed.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, while the mandate of the National Lotteries Authority is to support sport and culture we are really not privy to what proportion of the annual revenue is committed to sport. That seems a State secret.
While the intention in this article is to appeal for a comprehensive review of the way national associations go about planning and delivering the plan for the development of their respective sports, it is necessary to also appeal for a comprehensive review of the National Lotteries Authority’s role in the broader national sports development process.
Inevitably it is also very important that a comprehensive review be undertaken of the National Sports Council’s mandate and its modus operandi.
This may sound like a broken record but the truth must be repeatedly stated – we woefully lack adequate sport infrastructure for our major and most popular sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Cricket can perhaps best boast of having the idyllic Arnos Vale #1 even though the governing body cries foul when at times the facilities have to be shared with others. The reality nonetheless is that cricket can also boast that it has more facilities available to the sport throughout St Vincent and the Grenadines than any other sport.
Critical analysis of the performance of our cricketers reveal that they have not been able to command their places at the regional level, and so seem almost to have resigned themselves to being Windward Island champions and little else.
So, here it is that we have a sport with major infrastructure yet unable to prove itself in terms of performance of its athletes to command places on the West Indies cricket team. The sport of cricket, like other sports practiced in this country, is still woefully short of resources mentioned before.
Tennis and Squash have homes and continue to struggle to produce athletes capable of reaping success beyond the Caribbean.
Our athletes have to be very talented and highly committed to be able to raise their performance standards relying solely on the existing sport infrastructure available to them in St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is an almost impossibility. Unfortunately, the public does not always seem anxious to understand and appreciate the problems posed to our athletes by inadequate sports infrastructure.
Boxing cannot convince the government that it really needs a home. The sport therefore languishes despite its immense potential to take many of our aggressive youths off the streets.
The appeal for a synthetic surface for athletics remains out there. Even the field event athletes are at a grave disadvantage without appropriate facilities being made available to them. In spite of this the nation expects its best results from our track and field athletes without apologies. Who can blame them?
Generally though, the sporting infrastructure in our country requires the immediate and urgent attention of the authorities.
Not much is being said about the proposed facility for our indoor sports. National associations have not been involved in design talks and so one is uncertain about the future of this project.
This has been the Games for which the IOC – through its development arm, Olympic Solidarity – has made most resources available to the National Olympic Committees around the world.
Here at home the NOC therefore made it possible for every association that was eligible to participate in the Olympics was facilitated with training at home and/or abroad, getting to competitions and especially to participate in qualification tournaments for their respective sports.
The resources expended, while seeming much, is nothing compared to what has to be expended to ensure adequate preparation at a professional level.
The NOC does not have infinite financial resources. National sports associations do not get enough assistance from their respective international federations – except perhaps football – or from government and the local private sector.
They also do not receive enough assistance from the National Lotteries Authority.
The NOC therefore has become the focus of attention from national sports associations for funding for many of their activities. Unfortunately this is not the primary purpose of the NOC and it is difficult to get many to understand and appreciate this reality.
The NOC does not yet have any local sponsors and this may well need to undergo some review. However the NOC has to avoid being seen in competition with national sports associations, clubs and community sports groups in pursuing funds from the local private sector.
The NOC must take the lead and facilitate strategic planning amongst its membership and work even more assiduously to get sport taken seriously at all levels in Vincentian society. Without this there is little hope for change since governmental lip service can take us nowehere.