When Basil ‘Bung’ Cato declared, ‘Soccer – The Game of the People’, he never intended it to be in any way caught up in the politics of the day. Instead, Bung’s intention was to ensure that we all come to a recognition of the popularity of the sport.
Since Bung delivered his popular phrase we have come to see the unparalleled growth of football in St Vincent and the Grenadines. No other sport has come even close to the popularity of this particular game.
What we saw at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex on Saturday last was a most crude display of the state of Vincentian football – a classic case of political football. It must have been a bitter-sweet experience for those who were honoured from the 1979 team. They must have sat in dismay at what had become of the game they had taken to the very top of the regional level.
Bung Cato himself would surely have felt embarrassed to have had himself in any way associated.
The last elections of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation degenerated into naked politics of the most divisive nature. Prior to the hosting of the elections there were those involved in the sport that had a very clear understanding of what was happening with the nation’s most popular sport.
One coach made it abundantly clear in a radio programme that for the Football Federation to access the governmental support it needs to move forward there needed to be a pro-government Executive in charge of the organisation.
The elections apparently produced exactly what the coach had earlier articulated – a seemingly pro-government Executive.
Almost with immediate effect there was evidence that the new Executive was in the good books of the ruling political administration in this country and the rancour that existed when Leacock was the Federation’s president disappeared.
Accessing Arnos Vale
While the National Sports Council may well, at times, have good reason to express reservation in respect of the information flow between the Federation and itself under the Leacock administration of the sport it was clear that there were other issues impacting the organisation’s decision.
Of course the NSC may well deny that this was the case but the footballers and those involved in the Executive at the time seemed convinced that there was always more in the mortar.
From the very commencement of discussions with the NSC over accessing Arnos Vale there were problems for the Leacock-led Football administration. Arnos Vale was a veritable ‘white elephant’ which the footballers watched from a distance.
Many may recall the harrowing experiences when the Federation at the time sought to access Arnos Vale for regional and international competitions far less to even consider national competitions.
It was most interesting to hear one of the persons interviewed during the half-time break on Saturday saying that the vast majority of the players on the Vincentian team did not know the Arnos Vale surface and therefore it was all a new experience for them.
The foregoing statement was indeed a very sad indictment.
The Arnos Vale Sports Complex is easily the major playing arena in this country and the view that was long since held by the NSC that football would destroy the surface is unfounded and inconsistent with the policy of facilitating the national sports development process.
Proper use of Arnos Vale accompanied by meticulous care and scheduling would leave the facility in excellent condition.
In any event the ‘hallowed’ approach to the field following the hosting of the goat cook matches we hosted in 2007 did not help us raise our level in terms of standing amongst regional cricket grounds.
The field did not live up to expectations by the time the international games resumed here.
The presence of an Operations Manager at the NSC who has a foundation in the science necessary for proper maintenance should go a long way in ensuring that the field is well manicured, maintained and managed.
There is still reason enough to believe though that has Leacock still been the president of the Football Federation he would have continued to suffer the embarrassment of experiencing no end of difficulty accessing the prestigious Arnos Vale for national football competitions.
The situation would have been much worse as well had a Leacock-led administration of football request so many playing fields around the country at the same time and for such an extended period.
There may well be reason to suggest here that the political will now seems far more favourable to Football tan in the past eight years and so access to facilities around the country may well appear that much easier.
It was almost embarrassing to hear the boasts of the representative of the National Lotteries Authority at the Opening Ceremony on Saturday last. The organisation’s $100,000 input was touted as most significant and we should perhaps add, historic.
Some may recall the experiences of the Leacock-led administration when the country’s participation in the World Cup Preliminaries began. Some may even recall the outcome of the meeting with the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance.
Yet others may recall that when St Vincent and the Grenadines was playing its first Preliminary game against Nicaragua, the government leadership found it necessary to be in the East Kingstown Constituency. Some suggest that it may well have been only after St Vincent and the Grenadines opened the scoring and the vociferous cheers were heard that they chose to hasten across to the Arnos Vale Complex.
Rather sickeningly following the conclusion of the game the hapless Vincentian media hastened to interview the political directorate and latterly the leadership of the team itself and the administrators of the sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Accessing funds from the National Lotteries Authority was not easy for the Leacock-led administration of the sport. Even accessing the Victoria Park, once it was place under the NLA came with its own share of difficulties.
Now it all appears to be plain sailing for the Football Federation’s Executive.
It seems important to make the point here that these are trying political times.
The ruling ULP administration must be well aware of the importance of youth to the outcome of elections and particularly to the pending referendum on the proposed new constitution.
In the political campaign of 2000/1 the ULP boasted of producing its first Youth Manifesto. The result was a decidedly youth focus to capture the swing vote in the national elections of 2001. Following the elections we heard of four sports ambassadors being named: Pamenos Ballantyne, Skiddy Francis, Nixon MacLean and Cameronm Cuffy. To date the nation remains in the dark as to precisely what, besides the seeming political mileage, did the government get out of this. There never seemed to have been any clear indication of the role they were to play in the development of this country. They were certainly not involved in the development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Few knew when the aforementioned sports ambassadors were taken off the ‘support’ that many of them received.
Notably since the appointment of the first set of sports ambassadors many sports enthusiasts questioned the omission of the likes of Adonal Foyle and they are yet to receive an appropriate response. Now that Sancho Lyttle and Sophia Young have blazed a train in the WNBA and we have had outstanding achievements from Nickie Peters, Jean Cummings and Renson Haynes, in sport and academics, no new sports ambassadors have been added to the list.
The nation’s sports enthusiasts have little choice but to come to a recognition that in many respects the ruling regime appears to fidget around sports when it seems most politically opportune.
With declining political support around the nation the ruling ULP administration may well be seeing support for the Football Federation and for the sport in general at this particular juncture as an important strategy to boots its political fortunes.
Football is undoubtedly the nation’s most popular sport and from a political standpoint it may well be opportune to seek to align the party with the participants and supporters of this great sport. The logical view would be that this should garner more political support.
Unfortunately for the ULP, attendance at last Saturday’s friendly encounter between St Kitts and Nevis and Team SVG may well have been analysed as indicative of the waning political fortunes of the ruling ULP administration in governance.
For all the popularity of the sport in this country the fans simply did not show much by way of interest in Saturday’s game. This is strange given the fact that historically once the national team was on display fans did not find Arnos Vale too far to travel to attend and support.
One may well suggest therefore that should there be an consideration given to having football become a conduit to political support then the strategy has already shown itself a very string indictment of the way things are politically in this divided country.