R. Rose - Eye of the Needle
July 9, 2021
Sports in focus

Two weeks ago this column chose to focus on the area of sports and sports development. This is the final part of that article, unfortunately delayed by one week.

Just before embarking on that commitment however, it would be remiss of me if I do not extend my condolences to the family of the late Dr. Kenneth John, an erstwhile political colleague of mine, on his passing. I will add my tribute in a later column.

My congratulations to the government and people of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on 210th anniversary of their independence, an independence they have to fight hard to maintain in the face of US aggression.

We can make it if we try

We in St Vincent and the Grenadines must never lose sight of the fact that we built an international airport on our own volition and initiative and must always use that as an inspiration in attempting tasks of similar magnitude, including achieving sporting success at the international level. When we embarked on that Herculean effort nearly two decades ago, many of our own people doubted whether we could accomplish such a lofty goal. Today we are reaping the rewards of vision, foresightedness, dedication, commitment and international solidarity.

If we take the same attitudes in our approach to sports, who knows what can be achieved? Unfortunately, clouded vision and a lack of clear focus often result in our sports planners, administrators, players and fans being bogged down in parochial issues, including petty power struggles and losing sight of the wider objectives. It makes our sporting associations very vulnerable to the personal aspirations of many personally-ambitious “free riders”, an ideal recipe for dashed hopes, frustrated dreams and unfulfilled ambitions. Even our media gets trapped in this scenario.

We need go no further than our most popular sports in the Caribbean, football and cricket, the fortunes of which have ebbed and flowed over the years, plagued by infighting among administrators, players, politicians, fans and the media. Whenever there is any snippet of success, particularly at the national, and in the case of cricket, regional level, we quickly build up all kinds of unrealistic ambitions and goals, only to turn on each other any time there is failure.

Very rarely, if at all, do we sit back and try to analyse soberly, reflecting whether our goals were realistic and achievable, whether the necessary support measures were put in place and so on. Rather the emphasis is on who to blame and recrimination and the roots of the problems, the scope of the challenges escape us in our quest for scapegoats.

How many times have we not witnessed this at the level of West Indies cricket and its national affiliates? Or in the constant tussles of the various Football Federations and their aspirations, not only at CONCACAF level, but also in the high hopes for participation in World Cup finals, which so far has only been achieved by Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

In the process we tend to romanticize past glories, often ignoring the circumstances which gave rise to those successes, the sacrifices made and the dedication and sacrifice involved. Two outstanding examples will suffice – that of the all-conquering West Indies cricket team of the mid-seventies to mid-nineties and, for Vincentian football fans, the harping back to the outstanding teams of the 1979 and 1981 CFU jaunts. In both cases we are talking of four decades ago, so how realistic are comparisons with today?

Sport has changed tremendously in those forty years, including the influence of money and professionalism. These demand very different approaches to management and administration, serious attention to structures and mass participation, focus on goals and long-term planning. While it places onus on the various sporting bodies, national governments have an important role as well.

Sport is not just about success on the field of play and at national and international level, it is critically also about mass participation beginning at school, youth and community level. There are significant social benefits to be derived from investment in sport by both the state and the private sector, and to ensure that such investments are secured by prudent management and administration.

In addition to the provision of necessary facilities, there is also the matter of incentives for youth, providing goals to which they can aspire and seek to achieve. The compilation and publication of statistical achievements can play a role in incentivisation. How many young cricketers know for instance who holds the national record for most runs scored, highest innings or most wickets taken for the national team? Are there many footballers who are aware of which footballers played the most games for the national team so they can aspire to break such a record? And what about records in netball, basketball or athletics?

Then there are other incentives, besides the tangible ones of course. The sporting associations have embarked on the annual Sportspersons of the Year awards. These can be complemented by instituting Halls of Fame, recalling the outstanding contributions of athletes and administrators alike. We have a long road to travel but each little bit will help.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.