Culture as it relates to sports is not something we hear a lot about in Guyana.
This might be the reason why we are so lacking in understanding and far behind in developing a true sports culture.
In most advanced countries with a rich sports history you would find that sports is ingrained within the culture.
In the US, organized sports are governed by the highest standards from little league/mini/pee-wee to the professional levels.
In Europe, there isn’t much of an amateur system, so sportsmen and women are encouraged to push the boundaries – many become household names before their 13th birthday, and professional athletes, while still in high school – widely celebrated by their community and countrymen.
The success of Jamaica’s sports is well documented as it is integral to the Jamaica culture and brand, so much so that it is legislated from the highest level of government and given due priority to thrive from the primary school level up. The Jamaica model is noteworthy because of the socio-economic similarity to us here in Guyana, apart from that, we are miles apart.
In each of these examples, sports reflect the value of the people as a standard worthy of the society (country).
Sports, therefore must be integrated into the culture for it to thrive, and this could only be achieved through cohesive pro-sports policies from the highest level to the lowest level of the grassroots in society.
This understanding will lead to better and more accessible infrastructure regardless of the community or region because the standard would be the same.
In the United States for example, the average high-school has an indoor gym and synthetic track, and the same is true for China, where I had the privilege of visiting last year.
In China, we learnt that as a matter of policy every new school must be built with an indoor gym, football field, synthetic track and swimming pool.
Yet, here we don’t have basic recreational spaces and we wonder why we are not performing on par with our Caribbean neighbours.
If you ever went to an Inter-Guiana games event in Suriname, you might understand where I am coming from, the culture and support is so rich. Because it is ingrained in the people’s psyche.
Creating a vibrant sports culture will lead to better student-athletes and stakeholders (parents, teachers, fans and sponsors) understanding and participation.
It would lead to better practices and greater accountability.
Not what we have here, we awaken dreams in our youth but then kill those dreams with our anti- sport mentality and practices – so there is really no realistic hope in the young athletes’ mind of achieving much from his/her discipline. This is what kills the motivation, so as soon as our best prospects finish secondary school they become former players.
If you ask any athlete who has attained some level of prowess they would tell you they once dreamt of making the national team or competing at the collegiate level and probably even becoming an Olympian, what became of those dreams? It is a sad tale of what could have been.
So, if we are serious about discussing sports in the context of real life-changing transformational development, we have to go beyond a few facilities, programmes and cosmetic patches, and begin to address the root cause of our institutional failures which would expose the anti-sports culture we have allowed to become our norm. This in my view is the biggest challenge facing our new Minister and his team in attempting to cultivate a modern sports society.
I wish us well.