Time for us to play catch-up

Today we live in a country and region where talk is cheap, especially from our political leaders. The latter have grown extremely proficient at ‘playing to the gallery’. They say what they believe the people want to hear from them, knowing that very few would ever take the time to engage in serious research on any of the topics being addressed enough to challenge them.
Over the past several years the Caribbean has produced a significant number of outstanding athletes in a variety of sports. Despite these achievements the region has consistently failed to collectively engage in the cultivation of a systematic sport development policy and strategic plan.
In sport as in governance, each Caribbean country seeks to forge its own way, independent of the other, while still lauding the importance of regionalism.
Indeed, the student of the Caribbean reality must, by this time, be more than a little confused by what passes for political leadership in our region.
One thing is certain, however. Many persons in sport are now convinced that to gain any sort of success in sport one has to play the political game – butter up to the political leadership, attend all political meetings fully decked in the party colours and seize every opportunity to sing their praises – and all would be well.
Not surprisingly, therefore, many Caribbean islands remain satisfied with the successes achieved by their athletes from time to time, climb on their backs to achieve public accolades for providing some minimal perks to the winners, but lacking in any long term vision, planning and programming. In this regard we have become victims of our own short-sightedness.
To those who are avid students of physical literacy, physical education and sport, however, the global reality must inevitably impact the development process in the Caribbean if we are to be relevant in today’s fast-paced world.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Since the United Nations has proposed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in its 2030 Agenda, there has been much talk by leaders in the Caribbean in support. But one is often left wondering whether time has really been taken to understand the content of the documents that comprise the declared SDGs, enough for us, the peoples of the respective Caribbean countries, to feel confident that we would witness a passionate commitment to their realisation.
As so often happens, we may well appreciate the fact that our leaders go to the United Nations to seize their moment to shine, as it were, on a global stage. For many it is the only time the rest of the world leaders know of their existence, apart of course from when we come a-begging at their doorsteps.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), on behalf of the global sport community, has been, for decades, consistently pursuing the inculcation of a very strong relationship with the United Nations and has finally been accorded the place it deserves among the leaders of the world. Agreements have been reached with UN agencies to see and use physical literacy, physical activity and sport as critical components of the development of the human condition across the world. The IOC’s work with refugees over the past several years eventually led to the formation of a representative team drawn from amongst the refugees across the world who made the qualifying standards in their respective sports, competing under the IOC’s flag at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last year. Those athletes were literally without a home country and would have lost the opportunity to engage their talents amongst the world’s best, had it not been for the IOC’s initiative.
The work engaged in by the IOC and the several UN agencies has been an excellent display of the fundamental principles of Olympism, inherent in the ideals of the founding fathers of the modern international Olympic Movement.
There is not a single Caribbean government leader that has as yet been sufficiently knowledgeable of the role of physical literacy, physical activity and sport in human development enough to embolden him to appreciate the work of the IOC and its affiliates in their respective countries as a genuine contribution to national development. Instead, most either see sport as a necessary humbug, a good means of attracting youths away from unsavoury delinquent/criminal activities or seize the opportunity to exploit its potential for generating tourism revenues. This therefore allows us to state here without fear of contradiction that those who dare to stand on one platform after another to boast of their commitment to sport in their respective countries are merely pandering to an unsuspecting electorate to garner votes in national elections.
It is also the reason why none of them has as yet been able to make mention of the fact that the UN has been collaborating more with international organisations committed to developing physical literacy, physical activity and sport. This has therefore finally led to the UN including sport as an important enabler of sustainable development and peace in the preamble to its 2030 Agenda, an historic recognition of their immense and perhaps immeasurable value.
For the past several months, organisers have immersed themselves in preparations for the sixth meeting of Ministers and Senior Officials responsible for Physical Education and Sport (MINEPS VI), which will be held in Kazan in July 2017.
As far as we are aware St Vincent and the Grenadines has never participated in any of the previous MINEPS and so has been literally out of the loop in respect of developments taking place in this regard.
Globally, experts have come to recognize that the Declaration of Berlin (2013) adopted by MINEPS V and the International Charter of Physical Education, Physical Activity and Sport, adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO at its 38th session (2015), together constitute a comprehensive set of principles, recommendations and commitments for sport policy development in countries around the world. The idea now is that these must allow us all to establish firm courses of action that would facilitate the change that is needed today and in the future.
There is an Intergovernmental Committee for Physical Education and Sport (CIGEPS) that continues to work on the development of the strategies that should flow from MINEPS V. The results of their consultations have yielded the main themes for MINEPS VI.
MINEPS VI has three themes:

  1. Developing a comprehensive vision of inclusive access by all to sport, physical education and physical activity;
  2. Maximizing the contribution of sport to sustainable development and peace;
  3. Protecting the integrity of sport;

One would hope that somehow St Vincent and the Grenadines would take an interest in what is happening in the wider global community.
In essence, therefore, MINEPS VI will be a call on the global community to take action in respect of locating physical literacy, physical education and activity and sport in the mainstream of national development across the world.
The Vincentian reality
Would St Vincent and the Grenadines participate in MINEPS VI? Hardly likely.
We have not been given to expending resources to physical literacy, physical education, physical activity and sport from a developmental perspective.
There is no national discourse.
For the most part the left hand really does not know what the right hand is doing.
The national sport policy speaks to the relationship that should exist between physical literacy, physical education, physical activity and sport and national development but not much attention is paid to its implementation.
One wonders whether some of our leaders have ever taken the time to read and understand the policy. Had they done so they would have insisted by now on a comprehensive revision in light of global trends.
What we do from time to time is tinker at the fringes.
The Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, for example, sets about doing its own thing regarding how physical activity and sport is supposed to benefit the well-being of Vincentians. Occasionally the ministry officials may remember that they are not the only ones critical to engagement of the populace in physical activity and sport.
The Ministry of Tourism, Sport and Culture, goes about engaging its staff in delivering programmes in physical activity and sport in different parts of the country at different times of any given year. There is little collaboration with the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment in this regard.
The Ministry of Education, National Reconciliation and Ecclesiastical Affairs employs physical education teachers in the nation’s secondary schools. Many are still without degrees in the subject. The PE teachers work with a syllabus provided by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) and find little time to engage in academic studies regarding the development of the subject in the country and how it relates to the broader national development process.
There is no coming together of the personnel from the three aforementioned ministries in St Vincent and the Grenadines to discuss what is happening globally and how our country, small as it is, can play a leading role in the Caribbean in respect of engagement in the work of UNESCO and the several international agencies addressing physical literacy, physical education, physical activity and sport to make the world a better place and our country more of a wholesome society.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we play games, deluding ourselves and an unsuspecting public that we are somehow committed to genuine development and that we understand physical literacy, physical education, physical activity and sport to be a part of it.
How are these to be integrated? We have not really given that much thought.
We have made cut and paste into a fine art.
We have a piecemeal approach blaming lack of financial resources for our failure to be part of the global community in several areas, especially in the field of physical literacy, physical education, physical activity and sport.
If international agencies offer financial assistance for a particular project we rush headlong to grab at what is in the offing. We hardly commit to sustainability since we do not consider applying our own resources to such projects. Once the international funding dies up so too does the project, regardless of its relevance and national importance.
Unfortunately, we continue, as a nation, to endorse and encourage mediocrity. Academia is frowned upon beyond the occasional public acknowledgement of an achievement here or there.
Small wonder then that we continue to miss the boat of innovation in so many different aspects of national development.