When Barbados’ sports heroes perform well at the highest levels on the regional and global scale, there is a collective celebration as the achievements of these people automatically become the achievements of us all.
There have been many examples of the national pride that comes with those who represent us on the international stage. From former champions such as Mary Fraser and Akela Jones at the CARIFTA to Hayley Matthews and Kraigg Brathwaite as members of the West Indies Cricket teams, to Obadele Thompson and his bronze medal on the Olympic stage.
Participation in sporting activities by young people has proven to be an enormously positive influence on the development of their social skills and values. Sporting activities often assist in helping them to be prepared for a healthy lifestyle and enhances their social and emotional well-being.
People who are involved in community-based sports often consider the impact of individual actions on others around them. It is because they have been exposed to greater examples of teamwork.
These are just a few of the positives of sports. And so, we must raise alarm at the continued threat to the operation of the Barbados Defence Force (BDF) Sports Programme.
In fact, the decision by our Government to pull financial support for the highly valuable programme seems contradictory to the administration’s emphasis on maintaining the social fabric of our society, despite the financial pressures the state is under.
This programme drew heavily on talented, but sometimes rudderless young men in our communities who require guidance to reach their fullest potential. It puts them on a path of discipline while showcasing their sporting talent.
Established in 1990, the BDF Sports Programme has as its aim: “To develop a unique body of highly trained athletes in various sports capable of representing the nation at the highest levels of competition, and also rounded in their social, educational and moral development.”
Despite the constraints to resources, the programme survived the crippling International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme of the early 1990s, it survived the decade-long global financial crisis that started in 2007, and it survived the brutal cuts imposed by the former administration.
One cannot help but ask, what is it about the BDF Sports Programme that it has become a target for abandonment, despite the obvious public support for its continuation.
Was it among those public institutions and bodies that Barbadians were asked to rank whether they were necessary, or could be discarded?
It was heart rending to hear the appeals on radio from some beneficiaries of the programme. Tino Best, who has played cricket at the highest level for Barbados and West Indies, credited the BDF programme with paving the way for his success as a person and sportsman.
He credited the discipline, as well as the educational and sporting opportunities the programme provided him at a time when his life could have gone in a completely different direction. His testimony was powerful.
We are not going to repeat the long list of sportsmen and women whose lives have been put on a different trajectory as a result of enrolment in the army-run programme.
Another aspect that some people have missed in the debate over the future of the project, is the gateway it has provided to the BDF for young, fit recruits. The BDF, like other disciplined forces such as the Barbados Police Service, is suffering from attrition and challenges attracting fit, disciplined, quality young men to its ranks.
In a September 2018 statement distributed by the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) headlined No Termination of the BDF Sports Programme, Chief of Staff of the BDF Colonel Glyne Grannum said the BDF would absorb the budgetary costs associated with the programme, which was formerly funded by central government.
“The BDF will incorporate the sports programme under its operational budget, and fund it from there,” Colonel Grannum emphasised, as government conceded the programme “has been one of the most successful youth sports programmes in this country”.
The final paragraph of the statement read: “The Government of Barbados reaffirms its commitment to youth and sports development, as it recognises the importance of this programme to young people.”
We cannot on the one hand trumpet our commitment to youth and their development, while at the same time scuttle a programme we have admitted is one of the best youth development programmes the country has operated.