Sport as a nation-builder

This is not the first time that we have engaged our readers on ‘school sports.’ It is a repetitive rendition of the mediocrity that passes for sports at the school level, its absurdity growing more prominent in direct proportion to the advances in school-level sports that obtain in other CARICOM countries, Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago being among the primary examples.

The problem is that sports in our school system has become a directionless routine, a distraction from the classroom and an opportunity to churn out hard-earned but pointless performances in track and field, delivered in significantly sub-standard if not wholly inadequate playfields that mostly facilitate grazing cattle which, during the rainy seasons leave behind cavities on the lands they occupy that can inflict terrible injuries on the athletes.

Sports Minister George Norton

There are those who contend – and we are hardly in a position to contradict them – that ‘school sports’ in Guyana have been reduced to an imitation of what others do elsewhere…….so that children as much as parents differ radically in the perception of just what good these pursuits serve.. If the vast majority of our children either welcome the break from classes, embrace the party atmosphere of the event or genuinely want to compete, it has come to be accepted as a fait accompli that except you have exceptional talent, participation in school sports will take you nowhere in the world of track and field since we are lacking in both the facilities to produce effective event delivery or the material to deliver the level of coaching necessary to produce schoolboy and schoolgirl prodigies. Those are realities which, over the years, our governments have simply not sought to change.

On the track at the National Athletics Championships

It really is a matter of how we see sport. Or, is it? That question can be answered by examining the place which the portfolio has always had in the pecking order……..as an appendage to one or more other portfolios, underfunded and lacking in structure and direction. . Such disciplines and events that pass for sport in Guyana are invariably supported chiefly by private interests, with government invariably bringing up the rear. These days, the authorities have become far more adept in sharing in the celebratory limelight that attends our infrequent successes on the international stage than in making material contributions to travel and the various other appendages that attach themselves to participation in international sport. A great has been written about the cap-in-hand syndrome where athletes wishing to participate in events outside of Guyana must reduce themselves to soliciting financing, private sector door to private sector door. Not infrequently, the private sporting bodies are themselves riddled with controversy of one kind or another but mostly associated with internal power struggles, so that they are, themselves, muddled in conflict.

To return to the school system,  we have long left behind the practice of assigning Games Masters and Mistresses to schools. Schools in some Caribbean countries have sports coaches as a matter of course. Ours is more or less a matter of pressing the younger teachers into service to oversee the loosening the young muscles perhaps a week or two before the sports day. Afterwards, there is the customary return to the classroom routine.

The indifference to sport in the school system is either an indicator that we are unmindful or else, that, up until now, we still – despite quite a few models that exist right here in the region – fail to grasp the significance of sport as a nation-builder, as a marketing tool for our country and as a tool for marketing Guyana to the world as more than just a post-colonial underdeveloped society. There are examples right here in the Caribbean from which we can learn……………examples like Jamaica which, possessing no more resources than ourselves, have built a sports infrastructure within its school system than has not only proven to be eminently sustainable but that has been able, with remarkable consistency, to produce athletes who benefit from the system and grow into world beaters.

The problem is that we are yet to learn that positive change will not come when we stubbornly persist in awkwardly sandwiching Sport between other portfolios so that it trends to get catered for in a far less than meaningful kind of way in the national budget  and year-in, year-out, nothing in the way of developing a strong sports infrastructure across the various regions of the country is accomplished………….and ‘school sports’ really has nothing to do with sports in schools. It is really a matter of going through a ritual that leads nowhere.

Mind you, there is nothing miraculous about the accomplishments of countries like Jamaica. is. It is a matter of making investments in young talent in much the same way that you make investments in other resources that show potential to yield returns. We in Guyana are playing catchup and up until now we are making up sorry little ground.

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