The Sport Tourism Debate totally ignored

more-russians-in-greeceWe have just had another Easter weekend with thousands of people moving across the Caribbean.
There is little doubt that the Easter weekend is the period that witnesses the largest movement of Caribbean peoples between our beautiful islands yet there is no concerted effort made to bring some sense of systematisation to this reality.
There is no real understanding of the immense potential that exists for our Caribbean nations in sport tourism or, if there is, we are certainly not showing it by our action or lack thereof.
Some years ago the region’s CARICOM opted to convene a conference on sport tourism in the region. It was held in Barbados.
Many of the persons present at the conference were of the view that this was the start of something that would significantly impact the future of the Caribbean. Little did they know then that like so much of what CARICOM does, it was a mere talk shop. Indeed, the report on the conference took almost a year to be produced and circulated.
A CARICOM think tank on sport tourism was then identified and at least two teleconferences held. That was as far as the CARIVCOM project on sport tourism has gotten. So much for the interest that the organisation and the leaders of the region have on an aspect of development that numerous countries across the world have placed high on their respective agendas.
Caribbean politicians love to talk. They enjoy in particular meeting successful athletes and teams at airports when returning from events. They seize the opportunity of a captive audience at sporting activities hosted in their respective countries top inform the world via the media present of their commitment to sport and the importance of this to their overall development strategy.
Of course, in both occasions, the politicians are very much aware that the media would not take the time to investigate their pronouncements and instead simply, in their profound laziness, regurgitate their speeches.
Global status
At the global level sport remains one of the fastest growing industries.
While we still have the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cups topping the list of mega sports events that translate into a tremendous amount of revenue, we must recognise that there is no apparent end to the list of sports that are emerging and which are attracting new enthusiasts.
Extreme sports have created a veritable niche for themselves in the global sporting industry and the media and sponsors are rushing to join the party.
The recent introduction of drone racing has already begun to make a huge impact that would probably take the world by storm in the next few months.
The more traditional sports are busying themselves trying to keep pace with the latest adrenalin-driven sporting activities to maintain market share while also attracting new entrants to the marketplace.
No sport today dares to stay with the age-old traditions and expect to survive. Every sport is seeking innovation merely to survive. Individual events within sports are rapidly being modified to guarantee greater appeal.
In an age where so many are committed to letting their thumbs do the work on their smart phones every sport has to find new ways to get the attention of the millennials.
Sport is everywhere big business and should any international federation fail to effect change in keeping with contemporary and future trends it is likely to find itself off the global scene in rapid-fire time.
There has been much talk of the cost of hosting international and regional sporting events. This reality has hit home and many of the traditional sports have found it necessary to revisit how they structure their events to make them more cost effective while increasing attractiveness and appeal.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), in its Olympic Agenda 2020 has been leading the way. The new approach calls for a partnership rather than a franchise approach with host countries. Indeed, the IOC has found it necessary to change the way it manages the bidding process, offering assistance instead of leaving the bidding cities to expend valuable resources on the bid and then find immense difficulty in realising the lofty promises made.
Governments, in recognising the value of hosting sport activities and of ensuring successful participation by their national representative teams at these events are of immeasurable value to the broader national development process.
Dwyer at al, in a study undertaken in 2000, revealed some of the benefits to be derived from sport tourism. They highlighted the social benefits to include, community development, civic pride and event production extension.
The economic benefits included long term promotional benefits, induced development and construction expenditure, additional trade and business development and increased property values.
Our Caribbean reality
The inaugural Caribbean Games scheduled for Trinidad and Tobago in 2009 were unceremoniously cancelled by the government of the twin-island Republic a mere few days prior to its scheduled start.
A review of the Caribbean Games experience would reveal that there is no record of the Prime Minister of the country every one making an official pronouncement in support of a mega sport event like the Caribbean Games being held in his own country.
It did not seem to matter to the government of Trinidad and Tobago at the time that the National Olympic Committees and Commonwealth Games Associations, the full membership of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) had already expended hundreds of thousands of dollars in preparing national teams and procuring airline tickets to attend the Games. Not a government in the region uttered a comment when the Games were cancelled.
The Caribbean experience in respect of sport tourism is mere ole talk. Indeed, we can safely say that it is every man for himself.
The government of the Cayman Islands, several years ago, commissioned a team of experts in sports and sports tourism to undertake the development of the country’s first national sports and sports tourism strategy. The government recognised that high quality sport, physical actrivity and events could contribute to wider policy issues. The project included a national symposium with all key stakeholders and culminated in the presentation of a report with detailed recommendations on implementation
In Barbados, the government in 2011 opted to engage Elms Partnership to undertake the development of a sports tourism strategy for Barbados. Following a detailed assessment of the current status of the sports tourism product and the global competitive environment, the report made a series of recommendations on areas such as vision, facilities, education and training, organizational structure, research and evaluation. The project also included a series of international good practice examples.
Jamaica has also been doing some work in promotions port tourism though not in a systematic a way that this Column is suggesting is necessary for guaranteed and sustainable success.
The Caribbean has a history of every nation going its own way despite the immense benefits that would accrue from joint undertaking. The blight of the Caribbean’s notorious crabs in a barrel syndrome is everywhere evident. Sport is just another excellent example of our refusal to work together. We do well at extolling the virtues of regionalism because it sounds good. It somehow seems the correct thing to say in public. Privately, we are only too eager to label fellow Caribbean people as foreigners in a region where we are nothing but little dots when identified on a world map.
The Vincentian reality
Initially many thought that the linking of sport to the tourism and culture portfolio would have made a difference. Instead we are rapidly declining on all three frontiers.
Having had the distinction of trying to re-label Rhythm and Blues (R & B) to Blues and Rhythm (B & R) – making ourselves the laughing stock of the world, we sought to trick the world by unceremoniously creating a 100th anniversary of Nine Mornings – to the amazement of our elders in culture.
We have the annual Easter weekend festivities that involve numerous sporting activities yet we have consistently failed to bring some sense of organisation to them. It is every man for himself, once more.
Why was there no national coordination between the Union Island festivities, the Bequia Regatta and attendant activities, the Caribbean Customs activities and everything else that took place over the Easter weekend here in St Vincent and the Grenadines?
The answer is simple, there is no one steering the ship. The captain has long since abandoned the vessel, leaving it on autopilot. Yet we hear one politician after another touting the fact that we had so many activities over the same Easter weekend.
To what end is the boast?
It is time enough for the politicians to wake up and understand that chest-thumping does not get anything done.
None of the politicians can attest to the economic, social, political and cultural benefits of what transpired over the Easter weekend. Here again the reason is quite simple. It is all about their abominable ignorance of the value of sport, to say nothing of the value of sport tourism.