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After a 33-month break, the National Sports Commission (NSC) was reconvened and former Commissioner of Police, Laurie Lewis, (LL) was appointed chairman. Today Stabroek Sports (SS) features an exclusive interview with the chairman detailing his thoughts on sports in Guyana generally and his plans for the future.
SS: After a somewhat successful career (Guyana Police Force and Guyana National Service) you have decided to take up this job, why?
LL: I did not take it up, I was offered.
SS: Why did you accept it, why didnít you stay at home and look after your farm?
LL: I accepted it because I think I still have some work (to do).
I believe in youth, young people and I believe I can make a contribution based on my experience in managing issues, managing organisations and my experience in dealing with people. I felt like, look, let me give more of my years to the service of Guyana, through the service to young people.
SS: What are some of your short and long-term plans for the NSC?
LL: Well short-term plan is simple, to put it in order. There was no NSC for two-and-a-half years so we had some ripples initially, but now it is slowly coming under management. We had an advertisement in the newspapers for a Deputy Director of Sports/ finance, finance clerks and a secretary/typist. I understand we have received a whole host of applications and at the last meeting of the Board, we appointed sub-committees to deal with different issues so that will be going to them shortly.
Short-term then, is to put your house in order, because you cannot go to other peopleís houses and you donít have a structure and a format of your own. Long-term has always been for me, and Iím going to transfer it onto the Sports Commission to look for an Olympic gold medalist. We have been existing too long without getting one. I thought I had one in Gary St. Clair, I thought I had one in Dianne Ferreira-James, I thought we had one in (Marian) Burnette, it may still be possible, I thought we had one in (Aliann) Pompey, it may still be possible, so thatís long-term.
Somewhere in that long-term also, is ensuring we focus on bringing young people to the fore by giving them exposure to the various games. And, having exposed them to the various games, the organisations/federations will take them from there with whatever assistance we could render. But we are hamstrung by a financial thing. So one of the areas I want to look at next year, is getting organisations to donate subventions to the Sports Commission. Thereís provision for the Sports Commission being autonomous, but only when Iím satisfied that we have the required staff to maintain that type of operation, would I go with that. At a meeting with the national associations, we gave out a draft copy of the National Sports Policy, and that draft copy is now being studied by the organisations and they are to report back in October. When that comes back we will have some discussions, then we do a collated draft and then go back to the organisations. Now that is going to be a fundamental document because all the interested parties..... the Ministries, the Office of the President, will be asked to make an input.
SS: But donít you think the media should be involved in drafting this National Sports Policy?
LL: Well, I think the media will be involved in the Sports Policy because the media has an important voice in sports in any country. The first area we will look at is the area of sports organisations then we are going to get a collated document from them along with whatever side comments they might have to offer, then we go to the media, the ministries, the Office of the President and other interested persons. I am not worrying up or hurrying up with the draft sports policy or the sports policy because I think it is important that document be given a wide circulation and that it be given fundamental and considered comments, before you decide on it because it is something that will last for a long time.
SS: At the annual sports awards ceremony, Minister responsible for sports, Gail Teixeira, outlined that several associations have been recalcitrant with their annual reports, financial statements etc. what do you, as chairman of the NSC plan to do to get them to comply?
LL: Well, it is amazing, we still have organisations and federations that are still not up to date with their accounts, up to date with their elections and these things, and what is going to happen is that they will just be left by the wayside. They are not going to have assistance from us or anything else. As you know, we have appointed two peace commissioners in Mr. (Lennie) Shuffler and Mr. S.K. Singh, and on Wednesday, I had discussion with them and they are going to have discussion with the Guyana Football Federation in the first instance.
I had discussions with the football federation executives, Mr. (Colin) Klass, Mr. (George) Rutherford and Mr. (Aubrey) Major last week and I told them why I had established the Peace Commission, so that they (Commission) can talk to organisations and make sure we put it smoothly so that we can get all these things organised.
When we had the meeting at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall, I was amazed to find that there were so many organisations that were out of line with what ought to be happening, and that is a long term process, because really and truly, up to now, we are getting letters about the various organisations for them to meet with the minister and it is really chunky, I mean, these organisations, some of them have done some business, made some money, the money canít be found, some of them, are on the executive for the last X years. X could vary between two and maybe ten, so all of that has to be put in order, so like I said, having not been established, for the past two-and-a-half years, you have to be careful how you are dealing. Put your own house in order before you go jumping in other peopleís houses.
SS: Do you care to name these associations?
LL: No I donít care to. I think they should tell you who they are.
SS: Do you have jurisdiction to remove any of the elected members of associations that have not been up to date with their associationís financial records?
LL: Not that I know of.
SS: What do you propose to do to get them to comply?
LL: Well the first thing we have to do is to get the constitutions of all the organisations, but some of them donít have. When we get the constitutions, we will point out to them where the difficulty lies in the constitution, and then we will get legal advice as to what are our powers in respect to the constitution. But we have to get behind it, because a lot of people are putting their money into these associations and then (pause) up-scale.
I had one (association) the other day that had a function and they lost money on a bar. When I asked how they lost money, they claimed they lost money on transportation and ice.
SS: What is your opinion generally about sports in Guyana?
LL: It could use some brushing up, I would like to see more emphasis being placed on sports in Guyana. For instance, if we had more sports we would have less crime. The people would have something to do. If they donít have something to do during the day, they will find something to do at nights. The trouble is, there are lots of talented people out there, but they need a structure to get involved in, now my view is sports is perhaps the best platform for getting them involved, and when you set the platform and you get them involved then you can deal with education and training and move it up.
Look at rugby, all you need is a ball, a ground and two posts, but you can play rugby on any ground, just run less, until you get to the bigger system where you get a proper rugby field, and I feel that is the way. Squash, what I would call an elite game, I told the squash people, I want you to carry squash out into the interior. Football, I was told, is being run in Lethem. Archery, if we get organised in archery, it is a sport that could attract a lot of people. I want to see the place (country) whizzing with sports, particularly for young people. I told the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall administrators, I want to see it utilised all the time, just sort it out and everything else. People pay for the lights and the usage of the place, but I want to see it utilised all the time. We have two sports centres, the Sports Hall and the Gymnasium. We have to put them in order and ensure they are used.
SS: The sports ministry is short of staff (coaches) to conduct programmes, what do you plan to do about that?
LL: I admire the work that Hassan Mohammed has been doing, but Hassan has to sperm out. When I say sperm out, I mean biologically. Having spermed out, he would be able to produce people who will take over from him. We have two sports organisers, but we need to look and see what other sports areas we can get organisers or coaches and get it going. Iím amazed, the public is not aware of the tremendous work the NSC is doing. It has been dormant in terms of keeping information going outside.
SS: The president recently announced plans for a stadium, do you think we need a stadium right now?
LL: Well, if we donít have World Cup cricket in Guyana, it will be one of the most backward steps for this country. It will put a damper on sports and everything else. My understanding is that the President is fully involved and totally behind it and I am prepared to lend whatever support I could towards that venture. But to answer you specifically, do I see the need for a stadium? Yes I see the need for a stadium. But I also see the need for proper utilisation of the stadium.
If we are not careful, that stadium could be built and then put down as a white elephant and you would have to find things to do with the stadium. So what I feel we should be doing and what I understand is being done, is that you are looking at the possible erection of a multi-facility stadium, so that whatever other games can be accommodated, are indeed accommodated.
Whichever area you put it in, I would tend to believe you can have a football field, hockey field etc. But what I do know, is that you cannot allow World Cup cricket to pass and you donít get a match here. You know how many people would be totally against whoever the authorities are, if they donít get World Cup cricket, even if itís an ordinary down-the-line match, you will get trouble if we donít host it.
The other one is, and this is no offence, there are territories that are not as large as Guyana is, who may well be attracting World Cup cricket and they could kill us if we donít have. So I wish the authorities all the best, because one has to be taken up in the planning and it has tremendous spill-off benefits for the country. Everybody would get a chance to do something or the other, from taxi drivers, immigration officers, tour guides, handicraft shops, hotels, etc. so, do I see the need for a stadium, yes we should have had a stadium a long time ago.
SS: Is the NSC involved at the moment in any discussion or plans which focuses on providing or selling Guyana as a venue for World Cup 2007?
LL: Well, four members of the Commission sit on the World Cup committee - Chetram Singh, myself, Neil Kumar and Keith Booker.
All four are sitting on the World Cup committee and the committee has just put up a document for the President based on his request for a document to send to India, so in that sense they are.
SS: Do you think Guyana has the capacity to host a World Cup match in four years.
LL: Yes, but remember you are dealing with a supreme optimist. I believe you can get a stadium indeed.
SS: Do you have any plans to build new infrastructure or expand the ones you have?
LL: Yes, I want to examine the possibility of either putting at the Gymnasium or the Sports Hall an open facility that will allow for squash. Squash at that level does not need a whole set of facilities. You need walls and a wood floor, and I want to add that there so that the people in that area and south of that area can come in and play. I want to commit the Guyana Squash Association to having coaches that are available and then we invite the people in the area to come.
SS: Is the NSC benefitting from the Lotto funds?
LL: Not that I know of, but I will follow it up.
SS: Are you satisfied with the budget you have to work with?
LL: No, that is why I have to go to the business community to get them to donate money to the NSC to run programmes.
SS: Some associations get financial assistance readily from the ministry while others donít, why is this so?
LL: Well those associations that have attracted it are the ones that had linkages with the ministry, but now they have to go through a process.
SS: You were a vice-chairman of the last commission and knew how that one worked, do you plan on following the same path or do you plan on going a different route?
LL: Well, two-and-a-half years is a long time, but generally, I think we are moving in the same direction.
SS: How often does the commission meet?
LL: When we were first formulated, we met fortnightly, but now we are meeting monthly. But what I have done at the last meeting, is to have committees drawn up and those committees will be dealing with the work which comes up on the side, the disciplinary committee, a finance committee, sports and games committee, so that is what has been happening.