"Year after year we have the same conversations about sport, where it can be, what should be done, how can it be done? Let us work towards changing those conversations to include what has been done."
This from Ian Pritchard, Senior Manager (Ag) of the Sport and Recreation Unit (SRU) of the University of T&T (UTT).
The national university recently completed a five-part Sports Webinar Series, covering a range of topics aimed at provoking thought and affecting change. Undoubtedly, one would have heard the same or similar conversations over the years, albeit these having the personal experiences of the panellists.
The topics discussed were "Sport – A Vehicle for National Development, Sport Tourism – A Viable Option, University Sports and its Importance, Sports Law and Drugs in Sport, and Gender Equality in Sport".
The panels comprised sports administrators, coaches, current and former athletes, students, lawyers, doctors, presidents of National Olympic Committees (NOCs), National Governing Bodies (NGBs), and other sports professionals.
Panellists included Ephraim Serrette, Dr Terry Ali, Larry Romany, Cleopatra Borel, Shaka Hislop, Anthony Gray, Brian Lewis, Bridget Adams, Tyrone Marcus, as well as foreign counterparts.
I will admit I shy away from the continuous rhetoric. I have heard way too many discussions, seen policies collecting dust rather than being implemented, and even gotten railroaded while trying to assist in improving sport in some way or the other.
But, this time, I had little choice, since it was both duty and instructions that obliged me to listen to all the webinars and even serve as a panellist. In doing so, I gained confidence in speaking my mind and being the devil's advocate. More importantly, I gained knowledge and was made aware of some interesting facts.
It was almost shocking to learn that Physical Education (PE) is a compulsory core subject in the Primary School curriculum. According to panellist Samuel Badree, former T&T and West Indies cricketer, and now Curriculum Officer at the Ministry of Education, teachers have a responsibility to fulfil that requirement.
However, there is the ongoing argument that one of the problems hindering participation in sport is the lack of physical education in these formative years. Badree alluded to the lack of interest in sport and PE by teachers and noted that NGBs play a role in providing coaches to assist in fulfilling the PE aspect of the curriculum. Agreeably, NGBs can help, but it is confusing that there would be a core subject area that is allegedly not achieved by the teachers.
The lack of facility and infrastructure is possibly a reason but countless activities can be done in just an open space or even if you shift some desks and tables around.
Very rare, I hear parents talk about sports in their kids' school life; it is always about how much homework, projects or hours they spend with their books. The competition for higher grades and prestige schools is not just the primary focus; it seems to be the only focus.
Badree made a good point – marks and grades from PE should add to the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) scores.
When asked if there are repercussions for not fulfilling the PE subject, Badree said, "Yes."
He explained that the Principals and heads of the schools must ensure that all subjects are covered and report the same accordingly. I was left confused as to what precisely the repercussions are - the timeless argument of students not engaging in PE in primary schools continues to wage on.
During the discussion of "Sport Law" and "Drugs in Sport", the T&T Anti-Doping Commission's topic arose. A member of the viewing audience reminded us that this Commission was in the making for the past five years. In response to the status of the Commission, a panellist indicated that only one part of the process remained, that is, the appointment of the Board.
Recommendations had been made by various professional bodies, which would have led to a good cross-section of individuals in different but relevant fields. However, to date, the local anti-doping commission seems to have been shelved.
Perhaps UTT's webinar sports series could prompt progress in such matters. Throughout the five webinars, hard questions were asked. Some went discreetly unanswered, or at best, skirted around. But that in itself has strengthened Pritchard’s conviction that he and his team will explore all options to assist in providing solutions.
"These webinars were planned and executed not just to stimulate National Conversations from which pertinent information, suggestions and recommendations were sure to be derived, but more so, to form the platform from which this knowledge shared would drive us on to the next step - 'The Way Forward".
"We find that excellent policies are created and plans formulated too often but we seem to lack the drive and determination to implement these well-developed policies and plans. The SRU, therefore, intends to be the catalyst for change in that regard. We want to work with all stakeholders in sport, using data-rich research information to begin the implementation process," said Pritchard.
The University's SRU plans to set up a Task Force, charged with analysing and evaluating the data collated from the webinars, thereby developing an implementation process. It remains to be seen whether the same conversation takes place next five years, or if we can look back and see fruits borne out of the UTT's Sports Webinar Series 2020.