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From dream to draft and reality

Barbadian athletes would no doubt have welcomed the news yesterday from Minister of Sport Stephen Lashley that a draft policy on the financing of sports should be a reality early next year.

We are quite aware of the numerous promises over the years for draft policies in various areas; some of which have been realised; many of which are still in the dream phase.

We not only expect this promise by Mr. Lashley to become a reality, but we also anticipate that it will go beyond the draft stage and become something tangible which can assist our athletes in their domestic, regional and international pursuits.

The Minister indicated that the draft policy would be the precursor to the Sports Development Act which would be geared towards shaping a viable sports industry in the island. These are all quite lofty promises and conducive to a “feel-good” effect. What will give our sporting fraternity greater comfort is the implementation – a phase with which we are not always particularly enamoured.

It is perhaps symptomatic of how sports has been traditionally viewed in Barbados that such a policy and legislation are only now being touted. Sports, like entertainment, is a very lucrative area of endeavour with the capacity to earn Barbados significant exposure and financial benefits. Yet, if our sportsmen and women, and their governing associations are to be believed, successive governments have not done all that was humanly possible to advance their cause.

We recall the lamentations two years ago of Sydney 2000 Olympics bronze medallist Obadele Thompson. Then, he highlighted the difficulties which he and other athletes faced in having the ideal financial and training environment at home to enable them to give of their best on the international stage.

There have been other recent criticisms from members of the volleyball and hockey fraternity over what they deemed the indifference of the Ministry of Sports to their specific discipline. This week president of the Barbados Hockey Federation David Rouse took Minister Lashley to task for what he saw as the state’s dithering related to his sport. Needless to say, Mr. Lashley was forthright in defence of his ministry.

But this issue is not one simply of attack or defence. Facilitating sporting excellence should always be focused on taking action and implementation; not talk. Of course, there is always the important factor of finance as Minister Lashley pointed out.

“All that is needed is for the money to come through the doors, and I think that we are going to have to look seriously in the not-too-distant future on a complete review of the financial support system for athletes in Barbados,” he said.

Whether this statement bears any relevance to Mr. Lashley’s stated intention of having a draft policy on sports financing by early 2015, is perhaps best known by the minister. Maybe, it was just his rhetoric for the moment.

In the prevailing economic circumstances we are not quite sure how Mr. Lashley will access the financing for a possible new National Stadium; replacement of the AstroTurf and upgrade of the Wildey, St. Michael facility; provide a home for hockey; one for boxing; one for road tennis; assist with upgrade of the National Tennis Centre; and install an Olympic-size swimming pool; among the several other promises that have been coming from his ministry.

We believe that for a viable sports industry to become a reality Government cannot do it alone. Not only must there be significant private sector investment at the initial stages, but there must also be major private sector involvement in terms of maintenance and safeguard of sporting plants. Government’s record in this area is abysmal.

So we await early 2015 and the future. And so too do our nation’s sports people.

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