More government support for sport needed Sportscope
Stabroek News
November 29, 2006

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The recent success of the national football team is heartening indeed.

The nation's cricketers have often brought glory to Guyana most recently the Stanford Twenty20 win, but the footballers have lagged in bringing home the silverware.

Since Colin Klass took over the Guyana Football Federation, (GFF) the fortunes of the country's footballers have ebbed and flowed. There have been some gains but mostly the country's rankings have dipped considerably.

All that has changed in recent times with the country racking up a 15-game win-streak after yesterday's match against The Dominican Republic and moving up FIFA's ranking list by 14 places in the October rankings to be 106th out of 207 countries.

There are several factors responsible for this. One is that the nucleus of the team consists of players who are engaged in semi-professional or professional football in Trinidad.

Two, the GFF, has followed the trend established by other countries and that is seeking out far and wide players who have Guyanese roots and utilsing their services.

Three, the GFF has acquired a Technical Director in Trinidadian Jamal Shabazz and he, along with his coaching staff, seems to be making a difference.

Now that the country has reached the finals of the Digicel Caribbean Cup, a most admirable feat for a team once ranked number 18 in the Caribbean, it seems the time is ideal for The government to adopt a more sustained approach to the development of football.

And, one is not talking about giving a first prize to the Kashif and Shanghai football tournament or putting up a couple of millions of dollars for the Georgetown Football League to run their leagues or handing out money or footballs to clubs.

No, one is talking about developing the football infrastructure so necessary for international success- venues, equipment, exchange programmes and such like.

But the number one priority is a football stadium where international teams can play tournaments here.

Now that cricket, thanks to the Indian government, the firm Shapooiji-Pallonji, the Guyana Cricket Board (GCB) and the government, will have its own stadium for the 2007 World Cup, and, noting too that the stadium will be used almost exclusively for cricket, the time is ripe for football to have its own stadium. One recalls in 2001 the International Football Federation (FIFA) president Sepp Blatter and a team of officials, including FIFA vice-president Austin `Jack' Warner visited Guyana for a sod-turning exercise signalling the commencement of construction for a stadium aback of the University of Guyana at Turkeyen.

Warner, had, on September 19, 1999 during a visit to Guyana stated that this country was one of five countries to benefit from US$100m for the establishment of stadia. The other countries were listed as Belize, Nicaragua, St Lucia and The Bahamas.

Though he did not say specifically how much each country would receive Warner had said: "It will surely be more than one million (US) dollars."

He had added: "It is a pilot project for capital development for countries that need assistance. It is the first time that FIFA is giving money for stadia as normally we do not give money for capital development and it is distinct and apart from the annual grant FIFA is giving to countries."

Land at the University of Guyana at Turkeyen, was identified and all were ready for the big day and then the bombshell was dropped.

In an embarrassing turn of events the sod was not turned and Blatter and company left Guyana with the stadium in limbo - a position it apparently still is in today.

But before his departure Blatter had clearly spelt out the fact that his organization does not build stadia, which he stated was the responsibility of governments.

He had explained at the time that Guyana was in line to receive US$400,000 from FIFA's Goal Project to build training centres and not a stadium as had been promised by Warner.

Now, however, all that is water under the bridge but the situation is that Guyana is no nearer getting a stadium or even a training centre for football despite the progress made by the nation's footballers.

But it is not only football that needs input from government.

The Guyana Rugby Football Union (GRFU) at a press conference on Monday called on government to provide some financial support to the GRFU. The GRFU pointed out that they have so far spent G$8m for the year but are yet to receive any form of finance from government.

The GRFU is basking in the glow of the national Sevens rugby team's tremendous achievement in winning the recent Caribbean Sevens Rugby tournament held in Barbados. Additionally, six players have been selected to a regional squad preparing for an international tournament.

Thankfully that call did not fall on deaf ears and yesterday, the GRFU disclosed that government, through Minister responsible for Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony, had agreed to give the GRFU $150,000 to help offset expenses for Guyana to participate in a Rugby Club tournament in Trinidad this week-end.

Apart from cricket, many of the country's national sports teams are unable to attend regional and other championships because of financial constraints which hinders development.

And while the associations themselves should not expect the government to fund their every trip abroad, perhaps there should be some policy with regard to national teams leaving these shores for Caribbean and other international engagements.

Individuals too, are clamouring for financial assistance/ support from governments when they bring recognition to the country because of their exploits on the international scene.

Recently, Gairy St Clair added his name to the small list of local boxers who have won World Titles.

So far there has been no announcement from government whether St Clair like others before him will be rewarded for his achievement. St Clair is back home and recently paid a courtesy call on Minister responsible for Sport Dr. Frank Anthony.

Another Guyanese athlete, squash player Nicollete Fernandes is wreaking havoc on the world squash scene by toppling a number of the world's top female squash players- no mean feat. The Guyana Teacher's Union schools athletic and cycling championships began yesterday with the organizers announcing a shortfall of $1.3m, which sum was needed to purchase prizes for future track and field stars.

How one expects these budding stars to turn into Olympic stars and world beaters tomorrow when there is no proper track for them to run on and when athletic events are threatened by rainy weather, is anyone's guess.

But Guyana continues to send teams to international meets such as the Pan Am, the Commonwealth Games, the Central American and Caribbean games, the World Athletics championships and the Olympics. In Trinidad, female boxer Ria Ramnarine, earlier this month announced her decision to quit the sport because of what she termed a lack of respect shown to her by the government, particularly the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, and local boxing officials.

The former kick-boxer, who won the world mini-flyweight championship in 2005, announced her retirement from the sport after relinquishing her Women's International Boxing Association (WIBA) mini-flyweight (105 pound) belt.

"After one year and many promises, I'm still awaiting a mere $12,000 that was promised to us" (herself and her manager Bharath Ramoutar), she painfully revealed. "It is amazing to see promoters promote fights, long after my fights, getting 20 times more, while I still wait," Ramnarine was quoted as saying in the Trinidad Newsday newspaper.

"I'm pretty sure I'm the right gender," Ramnarine continued. "However, I may not have the correct cultural background to qualify for any assistance. "As a world champion, I did not ask for much from the government," she added.

"I didn't ask for a house, a piece of land or a car as most people do. I simply asked for a stipend to assist with my training expenses," she said holding back the tears.

There is no denying that Guyanese sportsmen and women bring glory and honour to themselves and their country by their exploits on the world stage that is international sport.

The government needs to understand the role it has to play in providing facilities as well as financial assistance to the sport industry in Guyana at all times and not selectively, such as when a major international event such as next year's World Cup competition comes around. Or else athletes and sport administrators might be tempted to leave the sports scene in frustration.