Two weeks ago, I wrote what I then felt was a story of hope. Or, perhaps, what I then felt was the story that should be told.
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Sport an integral part of human life
According to the National Sport Policy (2002): “Because of the known health, social and economic benefits which can be derived from participating in sport, it can be deemed as important as any other activity or field of endeavour to the total development of the individual and the society. Regular involvement in sport and physical activity are fundamental to good health and wellness at all stages of life. Sport provides an important environment for the education and socialization of all citizens as well as valuable opportunities for personal enjoyment, social contacts and integration.” (p.4). Therefore, the availability of quality sporting facilities is critical for sport to contribute to the well-being of individuals, communities and the sporting community.
In recent years there has been a concerted effort by various political administrations to promote sport as an integral part of human development whether for recreational activities and or for competitive purposes.
As such the construction and or the upgrade of many sporting facilities throughout the country have been undertaken.
Some of the developments have been the construction of football and athletics stadia, multi-sport indoor facilities, and upgrades recreational grounds through the renovation of pavilions, the installation of floodlights, the provision of recreational items such as swings, slides etc and the creation of paved walking and jogging pathways. However, some of these developments have not always borne the calculated fruits such as the Brian Lara Stadium which is already eight years late to projected opening!
It is evident that not all these facilities are being optimally used by the general public.
For instance, it is not uncommon to pass by many recreational grounds during the day and at night and see them unused. Unless a sporting club—for example football or cricket—is using the facilities at nights, the floodlit grounds are deprived of sporting and recreational activities.
The challenge is getting the general public to use the facilities that are provided in the various communities to its optimum capacity.
How is this to be done? There may not be a uniform way toward enhancing people’s engagement in sport and recreational activities. For instance the lifestyles of urban settings may be different from rural settings and as such the approach taken would have to be different. However, there are some basic steps that should be considered.
Firstly, there is need for strategic intervention. The only way strategic intervention may have an iota of a chance of sustained benefits is if there is a proper management system in place. Such a system would include all the major stakeholders’ such as the Ministry of Sport, SporTT, Ministries of Local Government; Community Development; Gender and Youth and the Ministry of Education; national sporting associations and community representatives.
There will be clear identification of roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders. Additionally, the knowledge derived from such a committee should include datasets about various communities based on age, gender, religion, persons with physical disabilities, number of schools and usage of facilities and type of existing sporting activities.
Secondly, it has to be sociologically understood that the provision of sporting facilities will not automatically result in people using these facilities. And in some instances if the facilities are used it may not be for the intended purpose as was the case during the NAR regime (1986-91) when basketball courts were laid in several communities.
In central Trinidad many of the courts were used to play windball cricket. In other words it is important to have discussions with the communities.
Not only is it important to listen to the voice of the people but it also empowers them in making decisions that will affect them.
Thirdly, the datasets would allow for effective planning and implementation. For instance, differentiating between new and existing users is important. The key is to expand the amount of new users.
Furthermore, the various aspects of life that influence directly or indirectly participation in physical activities will have to be determined. Such an understanding will allow for developing new strategies from time to time to keep people actively involved.
As such fun and enjoyment has to be an integral part of the marketing strategy of the various measures.
Fourthly, from a monitoring perspective it is important that once baseline data is established that it is updated with reliable data over time so as to gauge trends such as dropout rates and when these take place.
Furthermore, the data collected will help in measuring desired outcomes as well in steps to be taken to enhance the overall programme.
Every effort should be made to ensure that the sporting facilities that are available are put to effective use to justify the economic and social expenditure. It is even more important in light of recent reports that the population is being afflicted by obesity and chronic non-communicable diseases (CNCD) such as type 1diabetes and hypertension.