lessons from london
TRINIDAD and Tobago has invested heavily in sports, so much so that we may well be at the upper side globally in overall expenditure and on a per capita basis.
With the London 2012 Olympics now history, it might be a good time to examine if this country gets "bang for the bucks" expended on sports for many decades.
We are not placing dollar-values on medals earned or not won during the recent or past Olympic Games. We leave it to sports analysts to pronounce on how and why countries with fewer resources than ours (Jamaica, Cuba) or smaller populations (The Bahamas) have fared better than we have done at the Olympics and World Championships.
What must be of concern to the population is whether the money invested in sports yields returns.
There is the Elite Athletes Assistance Programme (EAAP), which caters for world-ranked athletes who attain certain standards in disciplines recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The sums distributed range from $75,000 a year to $250,000. There is also State funding for sportsmen and women in cricket and a few other sports. Government also assists sporting organisations with annual grants and special funding for participation in regional and international events.
We do not know what the total disbursements under these programmes on an annual basis are, although we feel certain that the Ministry of Sport has such data, and accounts for every dollar spent. This country also has the State-funded Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) which, among other tasks, oversees the construction and maintenance of sporting facilities throughout the country, and exercises oversight over all recognised sporting organisations.
If we lump these sporting bodies and funding agencies together, we must be dealing with a virtual industry-size operation that costs taxpayers considerable sums of money on an annual basis. Trinidad and Tobago must be the only country in the Caribbean that can boast of having five sizeable stadiums, one of which is of international standard. The incomplete Brian Lara Stadium, when it's finished, would add another world-class facility. And there are in the works equally ambitious swimming and cycling facilities.
We are talking billions of dollars already invested, and hundreds of millions more in annual recurrent expenditure on sports. Surely, these huge sums must be far bigger than what all other Caribbean countries expend. Which begs the question: what are the returns on investment? We are not talking about medals or dollars coming directly from sports—although these would be most welcome.
Let us put it this way: Jamaica benefits from its dominance in the sprints (a narrow window in athletics) by attracting current and aspiring top athletes to its sports meets, clinics and for training. It attracts tourists who want to touch the soil on which Usain Bolt runs, to eat the "blue food" that supposedly fuels his success. Cuba has also carved a business out of coaching (we have used them in boxing) and sports medicine. Both these countries rank among the biggest in the region in tourism (along with The Bahamas), and we feel certain that their reputations in sport would have helped.
Investment in sports is also seen as offering young people in depressed communities an alternative to criminal activities. That seems to be an elusive dream for us, "Hoop of Life" notwithstanding. In other words, successive governments have thrown money behind sports without carefully considering and implementing strategies that would yield tangible benefits.
A case in point is the recent venture by our High Commissioner to Britain, His Excellency Garvin Nicholas, renting the Kilburn Theatre to host a T&T Village to capitalise on the London Olympics. This was State-funded, and we do not know what the benefits might be. In Jamaica's case, a few nationals had a school compound, five minutes away from the Olympic Park, donated to them for free to stage a successful "Festival Jamaica 2012" with cuisine, souvenirs and entertainment—all without state funding.
Surely, there must be some Olympics-size lessons for us in all these costly misadventures.