By Edison Jefford
Sports and education can be an inspiring grassroots union to initiate holistic development of both phenomena once polices are processed and implemented, and an enabling environment created to give both the necessary attention that they need to succeed.
There has been much debate following the placement of ‘sport’ within the Ministry of Education, after the May 11 Regional and General Elections that brought into Government the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change Coalition Administration.
Formerly, there was the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport. Culture has been placed within the Ministry of Social Cohesion; Youth and Sport in the Ministry of Education, thereby dissolving the tripartite functions of the former Main Street Ministry.
Many have argued on social media, and in various sections of both the print and electronic media that this new placement of the discipline of sport ‘under’ the Ministry of Education reduces sports in terms of its national prominence and priority in Government.
There was my careful use of sport being ‘within’ the Ministry of Education rather than ‘under’ the Ministry, not only for semantic reasons, but to also highlight the fact that sport and education share one of the enduring partnerships as a model for success in developed countries.
The perception therefore should not be that sport will be ‘under’ the ministry, which suggests that sports will be tucked into a cob-webbed room on Brickdam – the location of the Ministry of Education’s three buildings. It is too early to make such a pronouncement.
What is known now, after just about three weeks of a new Government, is that sport was securely placed where, in my view, it belongs. As was said before, developed countries have used the sport and education model to produce successes at varying levels.
The ongoing National Basketball Association Playoffs in the United States is a perfect example of how sport works in an education system; all or most of the NBA players started their sport careers at High School or College before being drafted in the professional League.
It is an established pre-requisite that players must go through the schools’ system to be eligible to play within the NBA. There have been exceptions to the rule, in the case of extraordinary talent in the sport from the ‘streets’ or international role players.
But the conventional norm is that athletes must go through the schools’ system where sport is part of their curriculum to be eligible for the next level. To facilitate this working relationship between sport and education, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) was founded way back in 1906 to act as a conduit for school and professional sport.
The advances of the Americans, for example, in sport medicine, sport marketing, competition and other facets of modern sport did not occur overnight. It was as a result of an enduring history that ensured sport as part of schools’ curriculum from time immemorial.
In Guyana, we are still struggling to develop our curriculum to facilitate sport, which is one of the primary reasons that our country has not taken off in sport in ways that it should have, contrary to what one commentator opined last week in another section of the print media.
It was the opinion of that commentator that the placement of sport in the Ministry of Education is not the best move right now, since Guyana’s sport product was ready to take off, thereby fuelling sports tourism in the country. That view was far from reality.
Apart from Guyana’s Golden Jaguars, Amazon Warriors, Rugby team and perhaps the GMR&SC annual Motor Racing spectacle in November, Guyana’s sport product needs much work to raise it to the level of a serious contender in brochures for tourism.
Notwithstanding the success of the above mentioned teams, all of them have struggled for funding and other basic necessities to make them ultra competitive. In addition, the successes we have had in sport at those regional levels are not a direct consequence of what obtains domestically within a schools’ framework.
Schools’ cricket has dissipated in recent years while Digicel has salvaged schools’ football with a refreshing annual tournament. Troy Yhip tries with Rugby in schools, but that is yet to take off to national levels. The National Schools’ Championships needs evolution.
The point is that while there may be regional successes for Guyana’s sport teams, the foundation remains in shambles owed to the absence of a deliberate attempt to have sport as part of curricula for schools. This is where the development of sport must begin.
To emphasise this point, apart from the model that is used in the United States that was referenced earlier, Jamaica’s Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) is worth mention. ISSA has a long history of governing schools’ sports in Jamaica.
The association was, and remains, an enduring facilitator of Jamaican athletes from schools to the national arena. ISSA is the schools sport system that produced most of the great Jamaican athletes through the decades. It is the system that produced Usain Bolt.
ISSA Boys and Girls School’s Athletics Championships, known in the region as Champs, is now a global product that attracts international sponsors and television rights. The success of sports in Jamaica is appropriately connected to ISSA’s work and policy.
The two allusions to the stimulating culture of sports within education in both the United States and Jamaica were deliberately used to juxtapose the international and regional contexts, which are very familiar to sport aficionados and administrators alike.
To read one local sport administrator stating that the new placement of sport within the Ministry of Education can be a “recipe for disaster” leaves much to be desired. Interestingly enough, that administrator would not similarly admit that his manning two national sport associations is also a recipe for disaster in an age where one association demands maximum attention.
Some of the main arguments against the education and sports union are frighteningly inauspicious especially given the corridors from which they descend. The real fear of many is that sport may be neglected in the amalgamation as was said earlier, but three weeks into a new dispensation is not enough time to pronounce on an outcome of those fears.
Sports within the education system present the best opportunity for holistic development of sports in Guyana. Given the right structure and policies, sport can thrive at all levels. The impending national reorganisation of sport management will be no secret, following which there will be clear answers to where sport falls as a priority for this new administration.
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