For sports to survive and thrive in Trinidad and Tobago, there needs to be a significant re-framing of the way how sports is perceived, toward an overarching belief that individual participation in sports is service to the country.
And to begin this shift, there must be a strategic pivot of the measure of sporting excellence not only from National Sport Organizations (NSOs) but also Community-led Sports Organizations (CLSO).
Magnifying the role, the amateur or recreational enthusiast has to play will greatly assist the achievement of that overall objective.
Sport is often viewed from a very narrow perspective, over-simplified to the pursuit of excellence through competition.
Do not get me wrong - the desire and aspiration of an individual to represent his or her village, club, school, and their country at regional and international level topped off by the pursuit of medals has an important role in instilling pride and acclaim.
But sports with such a singular focus on competition will only truly benefit select groups rather than the masses.
Now, it may sound cliche but there is a wider perspective that sports - by its very definition - can play a bigger role in the development of a society.
Sport: all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. These include play; recreation; organised or casual sport; and indigenous sports or games. Participants may be motivated by internal or external rewards, and competition may be with others or themselves (personal challenge).
Let's differentiate and take an honest look at sport beyond competition at two basic levels.
The first is sports performance while the second is sports participation.
Numerous organizations operate under the mandate of sports performance. Rightfully or not, a large majority of NSOs fit this mould and their mandate can be recognised by their programmes, often geared towards identifying the next talent and qualifying that talent for the different stages of elite competition.
However, the number of well-run and active sports clubs and groups with a more grassroots and community development mandate has dwindled significantly today. Over the course of several years, many have suffered due to poor support and administration, but more so, wrongfully adopting the focus of exclusively developing talent for elite participation or sport for performance.
Through this approach young people are inevitably fed a narrow narrative, resulting in crushed dreams if no scholarship is attained or an innate feeling of failure if they do not achieve representation at the highest level. In turn, this often guides them away from the many more fulfilling and beneficial experiences available through prolonged participation in sport. - Good Health.
Involvement in sport is not an entirely euphoric endeavour. Issues of governance, abuse and corruption have plagued sports systems globally and T&T has not been immune. Therefore, the delivery of community sports programmes is required to be intentionally planned, designed, and executed to achieve the maximum positive impact.
Creating access to sport and sporting programmes for human and community development.
Like many businesses in the world, sports has not escaped the wrath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Sports activity in its traditional sense came to a complete halt with team sports taking the hardest hit with Government-imposed restrictions. However, physical activity such as walking, hiking, cycling continues to be the go-to activities for most. The more pro-active and innovative sports organisers among the population may find tremendous opportunity to successfully coral these participants - many of them totally new to these activities - into structured community-based “weekend warrior” type of groups.
While this period has restricted organised sport severely, it has simultaneously been a reminder that sport and physical activity is a celebration of what the body can do, overcome and excel in and is not reserved for athletes. Honestly, once you can move your body, you're an athlete. An athlete of life.
Sport has an undeniable role in assisting communities in developing healthy habits, inclusive of community connection, social inclusion and relationship building.
A monumental shift in our approach and mindset to the role of sport could lead to a healthy society, pushing it to the forefront of our country's national policy. This way, there will inevitably always be opportunities for elite performance.
In the recent reread of “Who moved my cheese”, Spencer Johnson, MD, tells a story of two little people and two mice, with NSOs being represented as the little people - slow to change and adapt to their environment - and perhaps community sport organisations as the mice - moving and adapting quickly to the changing environment.
This wave of change, the development of our sports industry, will swell through social entrepreneurship and grassroots innovation of community sports organizations.
Community sport organisations can maximise the talents of the university graduates being churned out at our university sports programmes over the decades and employing their ability to provide quality services and products for the communities.
A robust look at social entrepreneurship in sport provides an opportunity to build a healthier society through sport and physical activity.
Social entrepreneurship for sport requires 21st-century leaders - courageous and persistent in their pursuit to use sport as a tool for development and investments to enable such an environment to see economic benefits for our country.
I was elated to see the merger of sport and community development at the national level and hope it will increase the inherent value of sport to the community, making it more tangible to everyday people.
In that way, sports can play a dual role in evoking national pride, developing heroes but also serve the development of a very healthy society.
I am very curious and passionate about sports and physical activity as a tool for social development and will continue to offer a perspective to promote and advocate for the power of sports in the community.
Kwanieze John - IOC Young Leader & Sport Educator IBIS Sports Hub. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the views of any organisation of which she's a stakeholder.