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Defiling sport’s good name

By Vaneisa Baksh

“The ultimate objective of this programme is to reduce crime.” There is something sadly, but predictably ironic that the website that promoted the LifeSport programme had this to say, given the sickening state it has been revealed to be in.
Earlier this year, I was reporting on a conference on Sport and Higher Education that recommended an interdisciplinary approach. The feature speaker, researcher Jay Coakley, had outlined some assumptions made about the role of sport in development and how this affected decisions relating to funding, in particular.
He introduced his idea of what he called the Great Sport Myth (GSM). He defined GSM as beliefs that sport is inherently good and pure; that those who play or consume sports share in this purity and goodness, and that sport inevitably leads to individual and community development. These beliefs lead to the conclusion that the matter is so settled that there is no need to study and analyse sport because its essence transcends time and place and it is already as it should be.
I am repeating here what I said in that column:
“We have seen how politically attractive it is to dispense vote-money through sport’s good name: Hoop of Life comes readily to mind. A year ago, the Prime Minister was boasting her unproven conclusion that the basketball tournament had kept its 1,000 participants away from criminal activity for the nine months of its duration. She then upped the ante for the first prize to $1.5 million. The tournament had already cost $12 million in its first year; with weekly $250 stipends being offered to players.”
The LifeSport programme, launched amidst much fanfare in June 2012 by the Ministry of Sport, has this rationale on the website: “Given the increasingly high levels of criminal activity being experienced in our communities, the Ministry of Sport designed this programme to impel unemployed young men to get involved [sic] in sport, in order to redirect their lives into productive activities and positive engagements.
“These programmes have cost millions; well-intentioned or not, there is little to suggest that either has done anything to reduce crime. Newspaper reportage over the period featured several comments from participants, coaches and community members to the effect that they were not making any differences.”
Cabinet had approved $340 million for the LifeSport programme for the first two-year phase during the State of Emergency in 2011. It was projected to take in 1,800 males between the ages of 16 and 25, for training in football, cricket, basketball and athletics (athletics was dropped) with a monthly stipend of $1,500 ($32.4 million annually).
The Prime Minister referred to them in Parliament in September 2011 as “anti-social young males”.
Looking at the way the programme was supposedly structured, I had warned that it was not going to serve its purpose, but instead was ripe for corrupt activities.
As reports of the programme’s progress emerged from one source and the other, it became clear that it had been hijacked and transformed into what Clarence Rambharat this week described as a slush fund. The news that has broken wide open just how far and away it has gone into the realm of corruption cannot be new news to the Minister of Sport, who is now claiming that its move to the Ministry of National Security is a graduation.
This is yet another glib attempt at mass obfuscation, and no amount of titivaying with the truth should allow him or any of his cohorts to pretend that they are not responsible for yet another scandalous misuse of public funds.
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