One of the more important revelations in the audit of the LifeSport programme was that the persons who were supposed to be the main beneficiaries, the so-called ‘poor, little, black boys’, were receiving a great deal less than the assorted group of contractors and consultants attached to it. A cynic may conclude that the whole thing was set up as a feeding trough for a select few while sport was an afterthought. It would be interesting to hear what percentage of the money given to LifeSport was actually used for the direct benefit of the participants. A similar situation occurs in some international relief programmes where the funding often goes to administrators and officials while the victims get the leftovers.
The original motives for establishing LifeSport may have been noble but early in the game the hustlers and con men saw loopholes in the system and exploited them to the hilt. The extent of the corruption in the programme suggests that there was collusion at several levels while others were guilty of turning a blind eye. For instance, the programme received additional funding every year and this would not normally happen unless there was a thorough review of the activities in the previous year. How thorough were these reviews and did they unearth any of the numerous discrepancies that the audit eventually picked up? In fact the central audit report emphasises that “given the widespread nature of the breaches it is difficult to understand how they went unnoticed”. Who has the responsibility to monitor and ‘notice’ these breaches? In the circumstances the call for a forensic audit is a valid one.
The real tragedy of LifeSport, however, is that it could have been an ideal vehicle for transforming the lives of “poor, little, black boys”. I remember chatting with the legendary Roger Milla many years ago about the impact that the performance of the 1990 Cameroon World Cup team had on young people in Africa. He was adamant that their remarkable success was an inspiration to millions of youngsters across the continent giving them a sense of purpose and the determination to improve their lives. All across the globe there are similar stories about the positive impact of sport on individuals as well as communities.
The United Nations Office of Sport for Development and Peace has emphasised that “sport has a unique power to attract, mobilise and inspire. By its very nature, sport is about participation. It is about inclusion and citizenship. It stands for human values such as respect for the opponent, acceptance of rules, teamwork and fairness”. And the agency for sport in Scotland (Sportscotland) states that “participating in sport can promote social inclusion, improve health, counter anti-social behaviour and raise individual self-esteem and confidence”.
At the individual level there is no greater evidence of the power of sport than the words of our own CLR James. In his classic ‘Beyond a Boundary’ he wrote, “as soon as we stepped on to the cricket field all was changed. Rapidly we learned to obey the decision of the umpire without question. We learned to play with the team, which meant subordinating your personal interest to the good of the whole. I acquired discipline for which the only name is Puritan. I never cheated. I never jeered at defeated opponents. My defeats and disappointments I took as stoically as I could. This code became the moral framework of my existence. It has never left me.”
It was sport that taught James the virtues of teamwork, self-sacrifice and honesty and they remained with him throughout his life. These are the principles that LifeSport should have emphasised instead of promoting the principles of skulduggery.
Sport has given T&T so much to be proud about from the achievements of the late Rodney Wilkes to the great Hasely Crawford, Dwight Yorke, Brian Lara et al. It is a pity that a programme that had such tremendous potential is now the source of such widespread condemnation. The money earmarked for LifeSport should now be given to the many organisations that are already in the field working in so-called ‘at risk’ communities including Police Youth Clubs. These clubs which were originally set up “to prepare the youth for a positive role in the nation’s development” have tremendous potential but they need financial assistance. There are other honest, hardworking groups and individuals who would be grateful even for the crumbs that fall from the LifeSport plate.
Alarming as they are, the recent revelations may just be the tip of the iceberg. A murder has already been linked to the programme and a contractor has brazenly warned, “anytime I come out… it will shake this place like an earthquake”!