Government's sports priorities need restructuring

Eye On Sports
Stabroek News
July 15, 2001

To suggest that times are difficult for sport in Guyana would be making one of the biggest understatements of the year.

Many disciplines are on the verge of extinction because of the unavailability of money to keep them alive.

Finance to stage competitions, to develop facilities, for training programmes and competition overseas is as hard to find as an oasis in the Sahara desert.

These days you hardly hear of tennis, hockey, basketball, volleyball teams going overseas to represent the nation while others like badminton and chess seem dead and long buried.

This state of affairs is rooted primarily in two key factors.

The country's economy steady depreciation has hurt the ability of many businesses to give through sponsorship, but more significantly, the negative mentality of Guyanese towards sport makes it doubly difficult. The situation need not be this bad as there are a few big businesses out there who can do more, but sport is not considered an undertaking important enough, so few bother to get involved.

Just this week the head administrators of the Guyana Table Tennis Association and the Guyana Lawn Tennis Association were forced to lament the woeful support the two sports receive from the business community and more importantly, Government.

Were it not for the generosity of individuals associated with the GTTA, who are owed seven million dollars, Guyana's participation in overseas competitions would have dried up in similar manner to the tennis which has not had participation in any senior team competition, friendly or otherwise in decades.

In the vast majority of developing countries around the globe, the government is the chief financier for sport undertakings. In the year when Jamaica's Reggae Boyz qualified for the World Cup, we were told the Government allocated US$70M odd to sports.

Unfortunately Guyana seems to be one of the very few exceptions to the rule.

Only a few weeks ago, the Director of Sports in the National Sports Commission, Neil Kumar disclosed that 69 million dollars have been allocated for sports in this year's budget. In any country serious about sport this sum will amount to nothing more than a mere pittance, even if that country's population is only 750,000.

Of the amount, 60 million will be allocated for salaries of employees and activities run by the NSC, with the remainder for maintenance of facilities.

Nothing much was mentioned of money set aside to help sports team's compete overseas, which at this time in our development should be the priority for disbursement of government funding, in light of its increasing unavailability from the private sector.

Taking into consideration government's stated inability to provide basic modern facilities for disciplines such as athletics, football, cycling, swimming and hockey, one would have thought that Government's next best policy would be to try its utmost to give our sportspeople the necessary exposure, which at this time could only be had outside of Guyana, as the lack of resources cannot permit associations to bring the competition here.

It is unfortunate that the Commission has still not thought of allocating more funding for teams and individuals for overseas competition because it has every reason to be encouraged, given the wave of outstanding accomplishments of Guyanese sportspersons in recent times.

Guyanese presently are basking in the glory of having our first ever world champion, thanks to Andrew `Sixhead' Lewis' boxing feats while two others are on the threshold of giving this country additional world title belts.

Recently six Guyanese were selected on the West Indies cricket team for its tour of Zimbabwe, our amateur boxing is continuing its dominance at the Caricom Championships, young Nicolette Fernandes is building a big name for herself in squash and is currently one of the best women players in the entire Caribbean, having defeated a French top 10 senior player to win the recent St Lucia Open. We also have a promising 18-year-old athlete in Tai Payne who beat capable seniors in the region to win the Grenada Whitsuntide Games 800 metres gold, while another teenager Elwin Chase created a rugby first for Guyana by winning selection on a senior West Indies team.

Most of these accomplishments were all achieved despite inadequate funding from government. And one does not need a crystal ball to know there are many more sportspersons out there who could just as well with more exposure.

Thus Government would do well to restructure its priorities and give more to associations to better expose their athletes.

It would be an investment well worth the money.