By Edison Jefford
The invisibility of a definitive presence in the administration, organisation and nurturing of sports in Guyana continues to undermine real growth and development, notwithstanding an abundance of talented athletes, who simply
yearn for the commitment of our leaders.
The concept of the State in this article is denotatively used as the institution of Government and its related arms, and will be connotatively converted at times to suggest an adverse attitude in the system of governance and leadership toward development of a distinct Guyanese sports culture.
This issue became exigent last weekend when the Athletics Association of Guyana (AAG) hosted the South American Junior Championships at the National Track and Field Centre, which is located at Leonora, West Coast Demerara.
This article is intended to highlight how the absence of the influence of the State adversely affected the national thrust of the occasion, despite the shortcomings of the AAG and its direct responsibility for the management of the international event.
It must be noted that except for Director of Sport, Christopher Jones, the visibility of the State in ensuring the event was a national success was disappointing to say the least. It is becoming clearer by the day that Jones is not enjoying the support of the State, despite his success in the transformation of several important functions of the National Sports Commission (NSC).
For instance, before Jones assumed the post, sport associations, community groups and even individuals had never benefitted financially from the Commission. In two years, Jones has been able to surpass his predecessor in this particular function.
In addition, his activism in sport across Guyana is to be admired. However, this commentary is not about the performance of Jones, which will be assessed in a separate essay. It is rather about the State’s attitude or put another way, its adverse reaction to sports, using a just-concluded international event as an example that forces sports-nationalists to conclude that sports is not a priority for Government.
For some shallow sport administrators, what they just read here is what they believe they must avoid – Government’s intervention in their administration of their respective associations that have international affiliation and responsibility for the development of their disciplines.
An understanding of the role of the State and that of associations is the first step in furthering unity in and growth of sports culture in this land. Unfortunately, such an understanding is sadly missing amid those two key stakeholders, creating an environment where there are continuous shortcomings on both levels of administration.
It seems as though associations want to be the only beneficiaries from the State; they would relish funding, but do not want the State enquiring about their performance in administering sport. Developing a successful culture relies on the elimination of this selfishness and the emergence of a partnership that ensures the national interest is foremost.
Lack of an understanding of the influence of the State stultified all the efforts of the AAG in hosting a major regional competition. Even AAG President, Aubrey Hutson inadvertently recognised this to be true, and admitted that he underestimated the magnitude of the occasion.
While the AAG may have done its best, there were aspects of the State apparatus that if activated for the event, Guyana could have made significant strides. A perfect example of the fictional correlation is Jones having to rescue the local athletes from an unwholesome encampment situation at the National Gymnasium after a photograph circulated on social media with them sleeping on the bleachers.
An overwhelming presence of the State from the beginning would have prevented this occurrence. It is generally believed that those aspects like a national Marketing and Public Relations plan to galvanise mass support for the nation’s top 50 athletes were simply beyond the human resource capacity of the athletics association.
In terms of marketing, a national plan would have dealt with branding the venue etc., so that an image of an international stadium reflects on the live stream and other media outputs as the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall when the transformation took place for the Caribbean Under-16 Basketball Championships last year.
These ideas needed to be sold to corporate Guyana. The AAG allowed the facility to appear too bland for an international meet. The criticism of the association cannot be too harsh because this is its first attempt at hosting what should have been a mega meet.
More people decided to stay home and follow the live feed on social media as opposed to going to the venue. The association needed to convince more people to leave their homes to support the Guyanese athletes, who needed it the most against the South Americans.
Maybe the association was more concerned about its administration of the meet or the athletes in its care, which is normal. Guyana performed exceptionally well, using the advantage as the hosts to significantly increase its medal numbers at the meet.
However, what compounds the problems of Guyana hosting the meet is what Hutson stated in an interview afterward. He informed that the Championships cost in excess of GUY $30 million and the AAG is indebted as a result with service providers still to be paid.
This further highlights the deep chasm that exists between the State and organisers, and its absence in policy and person. Government’s absence in policy was clear because an international event of that magnitude ought to be one that gets the requisite funding to ensure its success. However, one of the excuses here could be that the event was not on the State’s budget owed to late notice.
Guyana was not originally scheduled to host the meet. Guyana secured the rights belatedly after Bolivia pulled out as hosts. Notwithstanding, this is where the influence of the State becomes necessary in orchestrating a successful path for the event.
Director of Sport, Christopher Jones has been at the forefront of the development of sports, but Jones does not have the resources necessary for macro investments at his disposal. Yet, with whatever little he has, he has been able to impact positively on most disciplines, which was never done before.
Jones was the most senior official from the State to show consistent interest in Guyana hosting the South American Junior Championships. Jones among other advisers from the Ministry of Education was the only high-profiled officers at the Leonora track on the final day of the meet last Sunday.
It tells a story of how low a priority sport is to the State that more officials could not see it fit to go out and support Guyanese athletes at an international meet in Guyana. The absence of the State continues to undermine the development of sport. Their attitude determines how the nation responds to its athletes, who continue to await a transformation in Government’s posture toward them.
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