Vincy Heat’s Varied Challenges

Today Vincy Heat, this country’s senior national football team takes on the might of Guatemala, a team that defeated them in the first round in the Central American country, 4 – 1. While we have not had the best of the exchanges with Central American teams except perhaps Nicaragua, the expectation is that we should give good account of ourselves before the home crowd.
Even before the first whistle is blown to start the game however the national team would have already defied the expectations of some who did not believe that we could have defeated Grenada here a few weeks ago. With the victory in the friendly the week before against the little-fancied Dominica, the team rose to the occasion and handed a strengthened Grenada team a 2 – 1 victory at Arnos Vale.
It is important nonetheless to acknowledge some of the challenges facing Vincy Heat and more generally, football, in the current dispensation.
The St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation (SVGFF) has just completed elections and there is a complete change of leadership. The new President is Venold Coombs, a former president of the SVGFF who was at the helm when the organisation gained full FIFA membership and the authority to host FIFA-approved international and regional games. Prior to this there was some discomfort on the part of FIFA with the recognition of our two main football fields, Arnos Vale # 1 and Victoria Park.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines when there are changes of leadership it usually takes some time for the new governance structure to be established and its modus operandi made clear.
In the case of the SVGFF there would certainly some aspects of the previous leadership’s approach to governance that may be found viable and be taken on board to facilitate the on-going development of the sport.
This is not the time for acrimony nor should it be a time to hanker back on the past. What’s past is often best left alone unless it has a direct bearing on the way forward. All too often we spend time seeking to so get at what transpired in the past that too little attention is paid to planning the future.
It is true that the elections were hotly contested and there are winners and losers. One would hope that the new administration ignores the various comments made by competing individuals and groups and shows a level of maturity and magnanimity in forging a new style of leadership for the nation’s most popular sport.
Governance of football requires a fair amount of heroism. The sport appears to be better placed today because of the annual grant of $250,000 USD but this is miniscule when placed alongside the numerous competitions in which the organisation is expected to be involved at the regional and international level.
It is important therefore that time is not wasted at this juncture but that all hands get on deck for the carving out of the structure deemed best suited to the advancement of the sport.
Over the past several months the previous executive recruited the organisation’s first full-time General Secretary in the person of Ian Hypolite. During his brief tenure at the organisation much time has been spent seeking to establish sound structures that would facilitate a sound footing for the game.
The mere receipt of annual grants from FIFA does not automatically translate into effective management of an organisation such as the local governing body for the sport and there are many who seem to think that sport management is literally ‘a piece of cake’. Hypolite has been able to positively impact the local football governing body enough to facilitate an enhancement of the organisation’s relations with organisations and institutions around the country.
Grassroots development
It is heartening that the new President immediately pointed to grassroots development work in the sport. Already he and his executive would hit the ground running. The former executive did a very good job in establishing an aggressive yet workable grassroots talent identification programme across St Vincent and the Grenadines. Everywhere coaches could be found involved in getting youngsters involved in the sport by learning the fundamentals.
Many children have been exposed to football and there is much hope for them in the future once the governing body continues to participate in the many competitions available to them.
It is interesting to note that parents are not always given to being there with their children involved in the grassroots programme regardless of the sport with the exception of Tennis, Swimming and Squash. With football being a popular sport that attracts a significant number of athletes from the lower classes amongst whom are numerous single-parent families the chances of getting parental involvement with their children in the grassroots programme are relatively slim. This has been the experience with the football grassroots programme thus far and every effort must be made to effect change in this regard giving due consideration to the challenges of single parenting in this country.
It is true that children learn fastest in their early formative years and if parents take an interest in exposing their children to physical education and sport even before they start schooling and certainly during their first five years of life they would be more likely to play sport and understand the important role of physical exercise in their overall well-being.
In November 2010 the SVGFF brought several young teams to a most exciting competition involving only teams from their grassroots programme to the National Olympic Committee (NOC) Sport for All Commission’s Festival of Games held at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex. The activity generated great interest and enthusiasm.
The nation is excited at the fact that the current senior national team has an average age of 21 years, an indication of the SVGFF’s emphasis on youth.
The successful extension and expansion of the grassroots programme by the new administration would certainly facilitate an important continuum for the future of football in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The new executive would have to continue facing the challenges associated with establishing the club as its affiliate rather than teams. This is a FIFA mandate that would require much attention in the coming period. It is not that we are any different from our neighbours but that we must recognise the importance of a sound club structure to the overall development of the game. Teams have no real reason to sustain themselves. By definition clubs ought to be sustainable.
At the local level competitions remain as important as the training of youngsters around the country through the grassroots programme.
There has to be a comprehensive review of the existing competitions structure in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The Federation must determine which competitions it would undertake responsibility for what would be left for communities and/or different organisations.
Community football remains an integral part of the sport of football at the local level. Not all players would be of a standard that would see them making the national representative teams but their love for the game and their keen interest in participating in it must be facilitated if the sport is to survive and thrive in the country.
While there may well be merit in seeking to organise competitions for players at a younger age the school system ought to be maintained. Sport is an integral part of the education development of the child and his/her involvement must be such that room is left for a healthy blend between sport and study time.
In the child’s early development care must be taken to ensure involvement in a wide range of sports rather than specialisation. Specialisation at too early an age does not yield the best in any given sport all of the time. Of course there are exceptionally talented persons for whom this may not be the case.
At the regional and international levels the FIFA, CONCACAF and the CFU all have complementary calendars that ensure a full schedule of competitions virtually all year. This is a costly exercise for the SVGFF. It is clear that the $250,000USD per annum would not be adequate to guarantee participation in all of the competitions or pay the penalties for failing to do so. There must be an aggressive marking strategy that brings additional sources of funding to bear on the coffers of the organisation.
Despite the recent comments of the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in respect of a national stadium the reality is that there are challenges for footballers in this country. The comments seem more to reflect the gross disconnect between the country’s political leadership and the custodians, players and patrons of our most popular sport.
While admittedly there are several playing areas around the country they do not all meet the requirements of playing fields and there has to be more undertaken by way of an agreed approach by cricket and football re the use of existing playing areas. If the sport is to be taken to the highest level where we can compete favourably against other footballing  nations clearly we would require an appropriate facility and more.
The monies spent on Arnos Vale for the ‘goat cook’ matches back in 2005 and beyond should have been enough to more than construct the national stadium. The government of the day could not really justify the expenditure undertaken back then for events that were never going to impact us. The legacy of what matches we get for international cricket since then tells a tale of sorrow and misguided focus.
We could easily have constructed our national stadium and better position ourselves for the future.
Indeed where there is no vision a people perish.
Many may wish to turn up their noses at what is being discussed here but the reality compels us to raise it. In the elections for the previous president of the SVGFF it was no secret that the divisive national politics played a significant role. Some individuals who influenced the voting insisted that for football to progress here it was necessary that there be a leader who was politically favourable to the ruling ULP regime.
When the dust had settled after the very acrimonious elections it was implicitly acknowledged that the president as acceptable to the ruling ULP.
In the immediate aftermath of the most recent elections in the SVGFF comments began circulating as to whether the newly elected president would find favour with the ruling regime. In some quarters the divisiveness of the national politics seemed to compel them to argue whether the ULP supporters who have been elected onto the new executive have not crossed over to ‘the other side’.
We have always insisted that the politics of sport is often nastier than national politics. Where the two intertwine then one can expect immense challenges. The new executive has an excellent opportunity to display a mature approach to leadership of a popular sport that has the capacity to bring the nation together as no national politician can.
Place St Vincent and the Grenadines first and the support of an entire nation would be guaranteed the SVGFF in all its ventures.
Today we take on Guatemala at Arnos Vale. We are at home and the crowd would be on our side. Today is not one for decrying our players. Instead it is a day on which we should move forward with pride, anxious to show the world that this small nation stands ready to take its rightful place along the best in the world despite our challenges.
Today, let us all give our support to Vincy Heat.