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A THORNY ISSUE: Whither the sports policy?


ANDI THORNHILL, [email protected]

A THORNY ISSUE: Whither the sports policy?

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THE SAGA concerning getting the hockey turf out of the Bridgetown Port highlights the fact that there’s really a need for a national sports policy.

In a matter like this, there should be a written law which should exempt national sporting bodies from most of the regular duties and port charges that have to be forked out for things like goods and equipment.

One can also ask why registered charities seeking to assist sports also have to bear the brunt of excessive duties and VAT on equipment.

My research on the hockey issue reveals it is likely to cost about $68 000 to get the surface out of the port. Then again, the longer it stays there, the more handling costs will rise if the $600-plus daily fee is added for keeping it in the port.

Then you are taking into account that the item was purchased for $200 000 and this will have nothing to do with the cost of laying the surface once it is cleared and the green light is given for work to begin.

Experts

We are talking about bringing in two Argentine experts who will supervise the process which I have been told could take about two weeks. Not to mention that the new turf is a sand-based one so apparently you can’t put down just any sand and yes this means more cash. All things considered, we are looking at over an additional $100 000, speaking conservatively.

I recalled, too, president of the Barbados Olympic Association, Steve Stoute, saying that there could be the possibility of importing the sand if ours isn’t the right quality.The Argentines will make that evaluation when they arrive. In light of the long hold-up now, let’s hope they approve the sand we have because God knows when work on relaying the turf at Wildey will begin.

What is disturbing about this scenario is that mixed signals are being sent.Two weeks ago it was reported that the duties on the surface were waived by the Ministry Of Finance and that it would soon be out of the port, only for us to be told days ago that isn’t the case and it is still there.

Chief executive officer of the National Sports Council, Jerry Blenman, said the board has to meet to vote additional funds to get it released.

He said: “So we expect in another week and half we should have that cleared and we should be on our way to having the installation done.”

Even when that hurdle is finally cleared, there is still the question of where the rest of the money will come from to do the installation.

Money is tight and in light of the fact that sports is not usually seen as a priority by the powers at be, the project can take even longer than originally estimated. A year-end completion was the hope.

Response

Reading from the fiscal script presented to the country, we can’t expect Government to create blood out of stone so we have to live with the reality that not every call for help will get an urgent response. It is what it is.

Truth is that in the so-called times of plenty and even before, situations like the hockey one have been known to us. Actually, this is merely an encore and those who are charged with directing the choir seem satisfied with hearing the same refrain.

This isn’t about apportioning blame to one Government or the next; it is about neither having the will to bring a deliberate policy which will it make it much easier for sporting organisations to deliver the type of services their affiliates need to help improve their respective disciplines.

I remember under the Owen Arthur administration, West Indies cricketers were allowed to bring in their first vehicle duty-free. While noble in intent, only one sector from the sporting landscape benefited. The concessionary cake should and must have a wider spread on a long term basis to reassure that the playing field is level once there’s merit.

I also recall that money was voted from a special Government fund to give the national footballers when they were doing well in the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup. In essence, there have been rare exceptions to the rule. Sustainability must be a pillar when it is feasible to do so.

Policy

We have heard about a pending national sports policy since Adam was a lad, but nothing concrete has materialised. I understand that there’s currently a draft of such a policy with the sports ministry so we will have to wait to see how long this takes to go through the various stages before it can be legislated.

I am not saying Governments are reluctant on purpose to assist sporting organisations but when they do, it always seems to be a knee jerk reaction, following much wailing and gnashing of teeth and people appear to be begging for relief, coming cap in hand.

Why can’t they just put legislation in place that would negate the perception of one group having the power to appoint or disappoint and on the other side of the playing field, there’s another group appearing to be in servitude waiting for crumbs to drop from the table to satisfy their hunger?

The current set up is counterproductive to all we are striving to achieve in terms of sporting development. What makes matters worse and creates that veil of hypocrisy is that policymakers continue to talk about how beneficial sport is to the image of the country and how it can assist in healing some of the social wounds, especially at the community level.

Why am I then getting the feeling that these words are just wind?

Meantime, against many odds, individuals and national teams are continuing to give yeoman service and making the country proud with stellar performances.

As well as being ironic, it is also instructive that the women’s hockey team recently copped a silver medal in a major hemispheric tournament.

Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist.

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