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Sports in focus Part 2

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Last week I began looking at our deep sporting roots in the Caribbean but how fickle we become once we do not achieve the glory of victory. The column concluded by recalling past ‘glory days’ of national sporting teams, noting the contrast with those of today and ended up by observing how Grenada’s national stadium has served to boost both interest in and performances in that country.{{more}}

So we can resume on the stadium theme, only this time, the yet-to-be-built one in St Vincent. This has been long a dream of our athletes and administrators alike, a dream that appeared would be realized early this century. Lands were earmarked for it and discussion and debate raged left, right and centre around it.

We are now in 2016, and, as the old people would say, “Yo’ promise to put a foot, but yo’ ain’t show a feet”. Not only has the promised stadium not appeared, but for all intents and purposes it seems to have dropped off the radar completely. With no inkling when the project is to be revived, many local athletes have been left with a bitter taste in the mouth and a big question mark about the sporting future.

Lack of finance must certainly be one reason though it is not openly said. Perhaps we were all too ambitious at the outset and reality caught up with us but there are other factors as well, for we sought to build a stadium, undertake a herculean task of constructing an international airport, and to boot, fulfil the dream of the late Ebeneezer Joshua to cut a cross-country road.

Something was bound to suffer and it appears that it is the stadium which was the main casualty. The cross-country road took a hit too as the demands on the national treasury exceeded supply funding. In retrospect though, we can ask, was the cross-country road a priority? Did the stadium suffer because of it? Should the resources spent on the cross-country road have been utilised elsewhere?

As I said last week, it is all too easy to give projects like the national stadium second ranking in the national priority stakes. After all, much as we say we like sports, (incidentally local sports administrator and commentator Woodrow ‘Killy’ Williams, is adamant that “Vincentians don’t like sports”), it depends on how high it is in our esteem.

Is it a pastime, a side-passion, for us to cheer and jeer, be momentarily proud of this or that achievement of our offspring, while we urge them to “don’t waste all your time on dat”? For, to all too many of us, it is becoming the traditional “doctor” or Lawyer” which ranks far higher in our perception than being an athlete, cricketer, footballer or other sporting achiever.

We are yet to grasp that sport is a career of its own, a very big one, if one reaches the top in today’s world. If a youngster has exceptional sporting talent, then she/he ought to be encouraged to go all the way, not at the expense of academics, for if one succeeds without the basics there is a fine chance that “a fool and his money would soon part”.

Take a look around the global sporting kingdom. Not all the “beating books” in history would have given Usain Bolt the rewards that honing his exceptional talents have done. Would the world be worshipping a cricket-less Brian Lara? Or a Serena Williams who had neglected her priceless tennis abilities to become another academician, perhaps? The same can be said for the outstanding female cricketer Staphanie Taylor. And what of the line of top-flight African footballers, succeeding on the world stage at a level that has made their continent proud?

Sport is today a career of its own, on par with any other. Not only as an athlete, cricketer, footballer or what have you. In our modern world there are also rewards for administrators, in sports medicine, coaching, becoming arbiters (referees, umpires, judges etc). It must be recognized as such, and that recognition must start with the overall value systems of the society, stretching all the way through the education system and to the family root.

The challenge is to get our priorities right. Sporting facilities are not just there for play. They perform a powerful social role as well and can also be an important economic lever if properly prioritized and integrated into our approach to development.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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