Will we ever get serious about sport?

criticismIn the previous edition of this Column carried in The News newspaper dated Friday 18 October 2013 we focused attention on the matter of the relationship between government and national sports associations. This week we ask the all-important question, will we ever get serious about sport?
The way in which we have seen sport practised and administered in St Vincent and the Grenadines compels us to address the question posed in this week’s Column. The evidence available to us suggests that we are certainly not serious about sport, its development and its role in the broader area of national development.
Some time ago this Columnist was asked, are you still writing about sport and development? The answer to the questioned posed was simple, sport is development. Sport.
Sport is about people. Development is about people.
Sport seeks after the well being of the individual member of society and that is what development is all about.
A country can boast of significant Annual revenues and yet not facilitate its development. We have seen this all around the world. Increased revenues must be at the service of the general well being of the population of a country for development to take place.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, while we boast of a so-called education revolution, we fail to engage in any form of objective analysis of the realities that surround us. We take it for granted that when the government speaks of a revolution that it actually takes place and that it equates development. This is certainly not the case.
Several years ago the then administration sought to out some sort of structure in place to administer sport in this country. Houston Payne was at the time the government official charged with the responsibility of heading the Department of Sport.
The initiative to put some structure in place led to the establishment of the National Sports Council (NSC) with Payne as ex-oficio member serving also as Secretary to the Board that governed the organisation.
The NSC had a mandate that limited it in many respects to the establishment, management and maintenance of sports facilities across St Vincent and the Grenadines with the exception of the Victoria Park, which fell under the Kingstown Town Board.
The NSC was to be run by a Board appointed by the government with no representation from any of the national sports association.
The National Sports Council Act made provisions for the establishment of an advisory body called, the National Sports Assembly (NSA), comprising all of the national sports associations. From the very beginning the NSA proved a problematic. This was largely because the associations saw it as a mechanism for keeping them away from the real decision-making process under the guise of trying to avoid the plague of conflict of interest.
National sports associations never took to the concept of being part of an advisory body where effective decisions may or may not be taken seriously when sent forward to the NSC. The NSA therefore never really functioned and the NSC proved incapable of making it operational despite several efforts to get the process moving.
In hindsight therefore the NSC was never really given a mandate to develop sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines and so it did not. The development was left largely in the hands of each national sport association and, in the absence of a culture of sport these served as independent and disparate organisations responding more to the dictates of their respective international sports federations than the local situation and its requirements.
There was no attempt at systematically developing a national sport structure for St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It should be noted that even as the NSC was established and operational with its focus on sports facilities, a Ministry of Sport continued to exist, first attached to the Ministry of Education and later to the Ministry of Youth and Community Development and later still to Tourism and Culture. There has never been a Ministry of Sport in its own right in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This speaks volumes about the weight given to sport by successive governments in this country. Sport has always been an adjunct to some other seemingly more important portfolio(s).
Occasional meetings of the NSC with national sports associations never realty focused on the creation of a national sport development plan. This is understandable given the absence of any structure at the national level. That remains the case today.
Ministers of Sport have, from time to time, raised interest but have done nothing.
When Mike Browne was responsible for the Ministry of Education and Sport and had Clayton Burgin as the Minister of State in the Ministry, a Tripartite Committee for Sport was established. On reflection though, it appears that this was a paper organisation. There was no vision, no established goal and objectives, no real mandate established, and consequently no structure to effect anything.
The Tripartite Committee therefore met more to discuss the Minutes of the previous meeting than to advance the sport development process.
In the recent past we have heard once more about this so-called Tripartite Committee, which is yet to establish any of the aforementioned features – vision, goal, objectives etc.
The reality is that at the national level there is no governmental direction in respect of sport. It is the reason that meetings called by the Minister of Sport with national sports associations are poorly attended and end with no positive decisions to impact what is happening in sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is the reason why we expended millions of dollars on the Cricket World Cup goat cook matches and have nothing to show for it by way of legacy beyond the pavilions.
Financing is always a critical component of a successful undertaking just as much as the planning process.
From as far back as one can remember sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines has always suffered from lack of funds. One has only to look at even the most recent national budgets to recognise that the government has spent little more than one or two paragraphs on sport in our country. Such is its importance to the leadership. Perhaps the paltry attention given to sport in our annual budgets are a logical consequence of the failure to engage in any form of planning for this important human development activity.
No one seems to know the rationale for what constitutes the annual budgetary allocation to sport in this country.
The annual allocation to the NSC, for example, defies logic. Whatever is provided can hardly allow for the on going maintenance that the Arnos Vale Sports Complex requires. This is the reason that the same government has to expend huge sums on rehabilitation of the Complex’s facilities when it comes to the realisation that they are in such a state of disrepair that it is an embarrassment to the entire country when hosting international cricket or netball.
Interestingly and rather embarrassingly there is never any allocation to national sports associations in any of the annual budgets. The reason is simple. The argument seems to be that the National Lotteries Authority (NLA) will provide the funding required. This is however not the case.
The NLA, like the government to which it is answerable, does not make an annual allocation for national sports associations in its budget. If it does none of the associations is aware of it.
What obtains is that the NSC has been allowed to take on an additional but confusing role. The system suggests that if an association wishes to receive funding for any project from the government it has to submit its proposal to the NSC. The latter organisation then reviews it and if approved, makes a recommendation to the NLA on what should be provided to the requesting body.
The NLA therefore never deals with the individual association making the request. At least it is not supposed to neither should the association be trying to persuade the NLA to see things in its favour.
What happens in reality is that the NSC gets back to the association making the initial request simply to advise that the application was considered and either approved and forwarded to the NLA or not. After that the NSC appears no longer involved in the matter. The Association waits and after some time has passed would call the NSC for an update. The response is usually to go ahead and check with the NLA. The association then has official permission to check the NLA, which simply says what is being granted.
The problem with the foregoing approach is evident. There really is no system in place that even remotely seems efficient or suggests that there is the kind of interest and commitment to a sport development process that may be the figment of one’s imagination.
National associations may then take to going directly to the Prime Minister who boasts of having an open door policy. But how reasonable and professional is that?
Why should a national association have to be seen to be short-circuiting the process to get the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to use his position to get the NLA to approve funds for the project that has been submitted?
The problem is that this approach gives the Prime Minister a greater sense of power than he already possesses but more importantly, it subverts any attempt at establishing a system to rectify the situation in the first place.
The same occurs in respect of an association seeking funds for the procurement of equipment.
That associations get by at all in this country is an amazing achievement since by and large they are kept at a level akin to beggar-maid status.
Sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines has been developing in this country in spite of the government.
The national sports associations work with their regional and international federations to eke out an annual programme that makes sense. They scrunt around the country for the most part trying to get competitions going and access funds to meet their commitments.
Some associations benefit from grants of funds and equipment from their international and international bodies and when they seem to be attaining some measure of success the government ministers are eager to show their faces to talk politics at every forum possible when the reality reveals what has been described above.
Sport can change a society.
Sport can build a society.
Sport is development.
Perhaps one of these days we may find a government with enough courage to begin to take sport seriously in St Vincent and the Grenadines.