?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." .
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 the construction of football and athletics stadia, multi-sport indoor facilities, upgrades of recreational grounds, 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. In 2015, the national cycling centre, aquatic centre and tennis centre are to be added to the list of available facilities.
However, some of these facilities have become eyesores and are blatant examples of wastage of taxpayers' monies. The Brian Lara Stadium is already nine (9) years late to its projected opening!! A third ICC World Cup (2007, 2011 and 2015) will be staged and the facility is still not yet ready!! Walker Park is in a dilapidated state.
It is common to see many sporting and recreational facilities unused whether day and or night by the general public. The challenge is getting the general public to use the facilities frequently and in great numbers. How can this be achieved? There may not be a one size fit all answer. For instance, urban lifestyles may be different from rural areas and as such the approach taken would have to be different.
Sport New Zealand has established a national Sporting Facilities Framework to get the best value from its sporting facilities. In England, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have partnered with Sport England identifying five (5) areas toward creating a sporting habit for life as part of its youth sport strategy. These include: competitive sport in schools; improving links between schools and community sports clubs; working with the sport's governing bodies focusing on youth; investing in facilities and working with communities and the voluntary sector.
In T&T, lessons can be learnt from the approaches undertaken in England and New Zealand. Firstly, there must be a strategic plan with an efficiently functioning management system. 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 Education; National Sporting Associations and community representatives. This integrative framework should provide critical information 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 their use. And in some instances if the facilities are used it may not be for the intended purpose. This 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 or small goal. 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 information would allow for effective planning and implementation. For instance, differentiating between new and existing users of sporting facilities is important.
The key is to expand the amount of new users. Furthermore, the various factors (religious, gender, age, disabilities etc) 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 baseline data is updated with new data over time so as to measure trends such as dropout rates and when these take place. Furthermore, the data collected will help in assessing desired outcomes as well as determining the steps to be taken to improve all programmes.
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.
A strategic approach offers greater possibilities of measured success than the hope that people will naturally use the sporting facilities if they are made available.