The 2010 Primary Schools Football League competition draws to a close on Saturday, 5 February. It should be a good match and the public should go out and see and support the talent on display.
This year, as in years past, the competition has showcased a number of extremely talented athletes with skills and abilities comparable to the very best of their age internationally. Sadly, for quite a number of these youngsters this will be the heyday of their achievements in this sport.
But this condemnation is not limited to football. It goes right across the border of all school sports. The talent displayed on the football field is replicated in athletics, cricket and netball. I cannot speak for swimming because there is not inter-primary competition that I know of and as far as basketball is concerned, the competition is in its nascent stages, but I would be surprised if the same observation did not apply to those sports as well.
Those are the six sports identified and accepted by successive governments of these Islands (and thereby the people of these Islands) as being the core National Sports. This then begets the question, “Why, if these are the accepted core national sports, are they not being taught and competed in at the post-primary school levels in competitions organised by the schools themselves on an annual basis?”
The truth be told, the sad answer to this question is that there are those in the Department of Education who do not see or value sports as an integral part of the education process. These persons view school sports as either elitist or as something that is to be considered after the academic aspect of education has been successfully implanted into the students. In the 21st Century that is quite simply laughable.
Sport is a tool of nations development and culture. It, like much of the arts such as music, drama and theatre, goes to the heart and soul of a nation. One need only recall how the achievements of Cydonie Mothersill, Chantelle Morrison and little Mikaya McLaughlin lifted the spirits of this country last year to prove the point. The achievements of these three ladies underscores the point being made that the athletic talent (in all sports) that exists on these Islands can successfully compete and win at the highest levels. They have succeeded in spite of the lack of a truly structured school sports programme. One can only imagine how many more student athletes of their calibre who have slipped through the cracks because of the lack of such a programme. It is time we get correct this injustice to our youngsters. We need to stop paying laudatory lip service to sports and take concrete action to remedy the situation in order to stop the wastage of the talent of our gifted youngsters.
This process must start in the schools. That is where it starts in every other country of note in international competitive sports. And because it must start in the schools, it is imperative that the schools, with the blessing of the Department of Education, and not the Department of Sports or any other national sports association, be the driving force behind the process. Where the schools own the process and the competitions, they become more meaningful to all concerned. The role of the Sports Department must be to ensure that the Government’s policies on sports are implemented and, along with the national sports organisations, provide logistical and personnel assistance in ensuring that any inter-secondary schools competition is organised and governed in accordance with the internationally accepted standards and rules for that competition.
Some may say why the schools and not the clubs? The simple and honest answer to that is that schools teach while clubs compete. Although the schools will compete in their respective championships, the essence of their athletic programme will be that of teaching and building on the fundamentals of the sports from the primary and continuing through to the secondary level. This in turn will, or should, mean that by the time they are at the club and/or national levels, basic skills would have been learnt, appreciated and understood and would not need to be taught at these levels because by then it becomes difficult to eradicate bad or incorrect habits. Another compelling argument is that competition between schools has an element of citizenship and school pride that is hard to replicate in club competitions. This in turns augurs well for national pride and development.
As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, we need to set our sporting house in order if we are truly serious about sports being a vehicle for national development. Talk of sports tourism is quite good and well but we owe a commitment to our youngsters first and this must be attended to before and in preference to the development of any such programme.
In recent memory there was a sports forum involving most, if not all, of the stakeholders in the field and form which international sports consultants were supposed to have prepared and presented a report to the government on the development path for sports in our Islands. It is my understanding that the report has been prepared and submitted, but as far as I am aware, it has not been made public to date. Maybe the time has come for this to be done.
Whether the report is made public or not should, however, not be a matter of major concern because there are people and companies involved in sports locally who can together efficiently organise sports in the schools. Maybe it is time for such persons and entities to coalesce and put the pressure on those with the decision making authority to ensure that this is done and not let another decade go by in which we sit by, complain and allow the talent of our gifted athletic youngsters go to waste. This would be to the detriment of not only these youngsters but to our society as a whole. Food for thought.
H. Delroy Murray