Some years ago, at an awards ceremony in Port-of-Spain, former West Indies cricket great, Wes Hall, told an audience of administrators, parents and coaches that they were responsible for “moulding young children not only for cricket, but for life in general”.
Some weeks after, a well-known Laventille community activist, Muhammad Shabazz, in a comment on the rising tide of gang violence in his community, remarked that “a lot of the youth living in these hot spots are talented in sports and if they get opportunities to develop, you may see a reduction in crime”.
The concept of using sport as a mechanism for human and social development and numerous studies has shown that sport can play a major role in instilling positive values and building self-esteem among the youth.
A report by the Australian Sports Commission on the impact of sport in the community noted that: “Participatory activities, such as sport, give people a sense of community identity and purpose, and help prevent them from engaging in anti-social activities. Sport may provide a means of encouraging a sense of community identity and thereby help reduce antisocial behaviour.”
One of the key principles adopted by the national agency for sport in Scotland (Sportscotland)) is that “participating in sport can improve the quality of life of individuals and communities, promote social inclusion, improve health, counter anti-social behaviour and raise individual self-esteem and confidence”.
Here in the Caribbean, there have been numerous examples of sport impacting positively on the lives of citizens. Having lived in Jamaica for several years, I can attest to the tremendous inspiration that sport has given to the young Jamaican, especially track and field. In Trinidad and Tobago it is no different and personalities like national cricket captain Daren Ganga continue to inspire hundreds of youngsters across the country.
Over fifty years, the great CLR James highlighted the important role that sport played in his own personal development in his classic Beyond the Boundary. He used cricket to analyse the social stratification of Trinidad and Tobago at the time and wrote about the relationship between cricket and social development.
There is a particular excerpt that is very relevant to the theme of this workshop. James wrote: “As soon as we stepped on to the cricket field all was changed. Rapidly we learned to obey the decision of the umpire without question. We learned to play with the team, which meant subordinating your personal interest to the good of the whole. I acquired discipline for which the only name is Puritan. I never cheated. I never jeered at defeated opponents. My defeats and disappointments I took as stoically as I could. This code became the moral framework of my existence. It has never left me.”
It was on the sports field that James learnt that cheating is not acceptable. It was there that he also came to value teamwork and to subordinate his personal interest to the good of the whole. These values stayed with him throughout his lifetime.
In the past few years, I have spent a lot of time visiting communities throughout the South meeting various groups and representatives. It has been a very rewarding experience and it has given me considerable hope for the future. For sure there are significant problems and many of these communities lack basic amenities and infrastructure, but my confidence lies in the people themselves, especially those who dedicate themselves selflessly to the development of their communities.
There are many of them around but their efforts are often ignored, mainly because of who they are or where they do their work. Such persons and the ‘grassroot’ community organisations they represent, whether in sport, culture or otherwise, provide a solid foundation for meaningful community development.
Unfortunately several communities in south Trinidad are plagued by drug abuse, high unemployment and juvenile delinquency. Yet, many youths in the area are blessed with natural sporting ability and the challenge therefore is to capture this talent within the community and guide it to its full potential. To do this successfully, however, requires a different approach.
The mandate must be sustainability and the long-term viability of community-based organisations including those involved in sport. We need to focus on some key objectives ie capacity building, institutional strengthening, monitoring and evaluation and sponsorship. Capacity building will ensure that the persons involved, especially at the leadership level, will acquire the skills necessary for doing their jobs. In the case of sport, it would mean, for instance, that coaches are competent not only in terms of technical knowledge but also in terms of interpersonal skills. Institutional strengthening would seek to establish an organisational structure that fully utilises all available knowledge and skill. This is important because many community-based organisations fail as a result of the “one-man-show” syndrome. This tendency can be minimised with a proper organisational structure and clear guidelines about duties and responsibilities. Monitoring and evaluation is critical because it is important to review the operations of the organisation and make adjustments as circumstances dictate.
There also has to be a new approach to funding and sponsorship, since I am convinced that the problem is not that funds are unavailable but how the funds are spent.
The popular approach by sponsors is to provide funding for a single event and very little is allocated to medium or long-term development. Sponsors tend to look for high-profile branding opportunities, so that those activities in remote communities with limited photo-opportunities are likely to be ignored. Funding needs to go beyond tokenism and facilitate a more sustainable approach to sport at the community level. I note that the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs has recently announced that it will pay closer attention to sport at the “grassroot” community level and this is a step in the right direction. Sponsorship from the business sector, both public and private, must progress from corporate social responsibility to corporate social entrepreneurship. This would maximise the relationship between company and community and ensure sustainable development in all aspects, including sport.