The politicizing of Vincentian sport and its consequences
Astute analysts of Vincentian sport are few and far between. This is largely as a result of the way in which sport has not escaped the broader process of political socialization that has been taking place in St Vincent and the Grenadines over the past several years.
Nothing in this country today has escaped the political myopia systematically sown amongst the populace and so sport too has become a victim.
The consequences of the politicization of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines will inevitably have much the same effect as the politicization of education and employment opportunities, colour of clothing worn and even what one ought to say when speaking in the public domain or freely expressing one’s opinion on issues impacting the country.
Perhaps the most painful and debilitating aspect of what has happened and continues to happen to St Vincent and the Grenadines is the seeming readiness of those who hold the reins of power to garner more adherents to their political ethos through the careful distribution of whatever economic and political largesse exists and the growing tendency for increased numbers of people to play the game in order to gain access.
In many respects therefore, the ultimate problem facing Vincentian society today is the gradual erosion of the fundamental principles of democracy and the growing acceptance of a type of political patronage that borders on mendicancy.
CLR James joined forces with the likes of Learie Constantine in the heart of the British colonial regime and crafted the foundations upon which what Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd have appropriately labelled, ‘Liberation Cricket’. They used the sport then as a mechanism to show the peoples of the Caribbean that discrimination ought not to tolerated in any form and that genuine democracy must inevitable leave a people freedom to express themselves and forge a pathways of their own making.
Today, of course, the cricketing buffs that lead the sport in he Caribbean have found little time to understand the genesis of what they have inherited and so, have grown as myopic as the politicians that lead the same region today.
Most people seem to think that the old days of sport being seen as an activity that transcends all sorts of boundaries still exist everywhere. Closer analysis would however reveal that here at home, sport has become an important vehicle for sowing the seeds of political divisiveness. This has to do with the recognition, by many now steeped in the new system perpetrated by the emerging political culture that sport engages children and youths at an age where they are easy to socialise into acceptance of what is offered as largesse.
The thinking is that the earlier the seeds of support for the existing political order can be instilled in the children and youths of the day the easier it is to engage in their political manipulation later in life.
Indeed, while politics is everywhere, it is partisan politics that is the most destructive influence on life.
We as a people in St Vincent and the Grenadines today significantly underestimate the long-term planning that exists regarding the maintenance of the existing political status quo.
Exposing the reality
Some years ago one of the individuals desirous of getting an opportunity to be part of the change he thought football needed in St Vincent and the Grenadines to go forward, declared in a public discussion, that it was time to recognise that the sport needed a leadership that was committed to endorsing the politics practised by the ruling ULP regime.
The statement came as no surprise. Indeed, not many at the time recognised that the comment emerged from a very serious analysis of the order of the day in Vincentian society at the time.
The truth is that while many were ready to apportion blame for the seeming lack of progress in the sport at the national level to the elected leadership of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation (SVGFF) at the time, the former national player was pointing to another factor. He saw and articulated the stance that as long as the government of the day did not see the leadership as endorsing it the sport would be made to suffer.
In many respects the stance suggested seemed correct. If the politics of the day demanded complete loyalty from all sectors of Vincentian society including sport then the key to receiving maximum support from the government would be to provide evidence of the loyalty required.
The problem however is whether such an approach would favourably redound to the overall development of the sport.
Importantly, the vision and mission of each sporting organisation should be directed by the fundamentals of sport – to provide an opportunity for an individual to engage in physical activity to the fullness of his/her potential and where that potential leads to elite status, to grasp and maximise the opportunities available. Such a stance does not allow for the existence of and influence of the narrowness of partisan politics.
Application of National Sport Policy
If we were to examine the state of the national sport policy in this country we would understand how it too has become politicised.
Fundamental to the development of sport in any country is the establishment of a national sport policy.
In 1992 the National Olympic Committee engaged the services of then head of the Caribbean Sport Development Programme (funded by the Canadian Commonwealth Games Association), Colin Higgs, based in Barbados, to help with the establishment of this country’s first national sport policy.
The NOC invited representatives of all stakeholders that included institutions outside of the immediate sporting sector, to contribute to the process.
The national sport policy was crafted by the stakeholders over a period of several months and eventually presented to the then government. It took several years before the document went to and received cabinet approval and official enactment.
Following the elections of 2001 there has been two revisions of the national sport policy that have been largely cosmetic.
However, there have been several aspects of the policy that has not received much attention and a few that have been changed without official discussion with any of the stakeholders.
It does now appear that duties are being charged on the importation of uniforms for national representative teams. No one can identify when this decision as taken but all now know that it is in effect.
Duties are also being placed on medals and trophies. Here again there has been no discussion with national sports associations.
The matter of recognising selection to national representative teams as national duty is also under threat. It now appears that approval for leave for athletes and officials are a matter of individual institutions rather than a matter of policy across the nation.
One would have imagined that should there be a desire to change the national sport policy or any of its constituent parts there would be an insistence upon consultation with the stakeholders both individually and collectively. This however does not now appear to be the case.
For the average Vincentian that has a keen interest in genuine sport development therefore the daily challenge is pondering the sad irony of the existence of a national sport policy that looks good on paper while its implementation remains a problematic.
The matter of the designation of sport ambassadors in and of itself is admirable and the government deserve to be commended for having introduced both the concept and the practice in St Vincent and the Grenadines, adopting what has worked in several countries around the world.
The decision to designate someone an ambassador, whether in sport or otherwise is a very serious matter, never to be trivialised. It means that the individual so appointed is deemed worthy of being given the highest level of respect as some who is the embodiment of the lofty ideas of the nation.
The designation as an ambassador allows all countries to which the individual travels is being asked to recognise and treat him/her as if her/she represents all that the nation stands for in all circumstances.
The individual appointed an ambassador must always be seen as a reflection of the country and must so conduct him/herself at all times. Failure to do so becomes a blemish on the international image of our country.
One is therefore uncertain as to whether the individuals that has thus far been designated sport ambassadors of St Vincent and the Grenadines have been accorded the kind of briefing required to ensure appropriate understanding of and compliance with the titles.
At issue in St Vincent and the Grenadines however is the apparent politicisation of these appointments.
There has never been any publicly declared set of criteria for the identification and vetting of the individuals who have the far been designated sport ambassadors of this country.
The Vincentian public are left to ponder on what criteria could possibly have been used at any given point to determine why one person should receive the designation of sport ambassador over another. There has also not been any indication of what is expected of these persons in terms of their general responsibilities (if any) and code of conduct.
Apart from having received the designation, attendant accolades and diplomatic passport, there is nothing that anyone in the society knows about regarding the appointments of sport ambassadors.
It seems doubtful whether any of the designated sport ambassadors of our country is aware of what exactly constitutes the role and responsibilities of being so appointed.