R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
August 2, 2019
Sports against crime…and much more

There are few among us who would not welcome the initiation of the Sports Against Crime programme which was launched at the Chatoyer National Park yesterday, to mark Emancipation Day. The programme follows in the wake of the Pan Against Crime initiative, the benefits of which will only be recognized in the long run.

There were many sceptics at its initiation but if nothing else the steelband movement in SVG, and by extension in the Caribbean as a whole has benefitted tremendously from this programme. This is evident in the revival of pan in our society, the quality of the bands and the number of youths involved. The pity is that the society has still not found a way to maintain this interest, to develop the skills and to reward those who engage in it. Pan can be a career too.

No doubt the organisers of the Sports Against Crime programme will be hoping for similar success from their efforts. As we wish them every success, it is important not only to emphasize how important sports can be as a social weapon in combating crime, indeed with far greater potential than pan. For in today’s world sport has become a pathway to not just individual achievement but in pursuing fulfilling and lucrative careers.

The world of sport has become so humongous that giant sporting organisations have emerged worth billions of dollars, huge conglomerates rivalling the titans of the business world. Most of these are US corporations in basketball, American football and baseball but the football (Soccer) world has its own behemoths as well. England’s Manchester United is the second richest club in the world and both Real Madrid and Barcelona of Spain rival any massive Spanish business enterprise.

Around these have sprung up a range of needs spawning a multiplicity of careers. There are the players themselves, managers, coaches, trainers, sports medicine and medical staff, promoters, media personnel, but also spaces for caterers, stadium management and a myriad of other functions. In today’s world each of these is a speciality out of which a career can be built.

Quite naturally the primary focus is on the athletes themselves and today’s top-rankers rival, and even surpass, the traditional Hollywood and entertainment superstars in popularity, and earnings. Granted, only the very best make it to this level but in today’s professional sport, many athletes earn far more than they would have been paid in ordinary jobs and can make a comfortable level in life. Those at the very top have staggering returns from their efforts and are richly rewarded on and off the field.

For Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, his top-ranked 2018 earnings of US$127 million include not only his $94 million salary, but endorsements (advertisements, jerseys, shoes etc) worth $35 million. These endorsements can be even more valuable than on-the-field earnings. Thus tennis icon Roger Federer earns only US$7 million from tennis but a whopping $86 million from endorsements. Similarly Serena Williams got only US$62,000 from her on-court appearances last year, but raked in $18 million in endorsements.

At the same time the point must be made that all the sporting fields are far from paved with gold. Hundreds of thousands suffer the same fate as workers in a capitalist economy and face exploitation and sexploitation. In the case of black athletes, coaches and managers, there is the battle against racism to be fought. The same Europe that our football fans drool after their leagues takes advantage of thousands of young African footballers, tossing them by the wayside when they have no further use for them. Then there is the risk of serious injury.

But overall sport provides an avenue for personal advancement, almost unparalleled in today’s world. Unfortunately because it is still underdeveloped and part-time inour society, many parents tend to discourage their young ones, often denying them opportunities because they have to “study dey book”. Too many of us are still in the old world where only academic achievement counts, not realising that it can go hand in hand with sporting accomplishment. The situation is slowly changing but the message must be reinforced in programmes such as the Sports Against Crime initiative.

There are many other benefits besides the financial ones too. The inculcation of discipline in sport is unrivalled; there are the obvious health and fitness benefits, social interaction and the broadening of horizons through travel and exposure. Above all there is perhaps no better channel to infuse nationalism and build patriotism than through sport, and it can build regionalism too as witnessed by West Indies cricket.

All these must be part of the educational process of the Sports initiative. In addition, it cannot be a big blast-off and then left under-funded. Attention must be paid to investing in facilities, in training and in personal development if it is to be successful. That would be a most fitting contribution to our emancipation as a people.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.