MINISTER of Sport Anil Roberts said he would fight to get more money to fund sporting programmes in at-risk communities across the country as he and Minister of National Security Jack Warner officially launched the "Hoop of Life" basketball competition.
Speaking to members of the media after yesterday's launch, which cost taxpayers close to $300,000, Roberts complained that when money was spent by the previous administration there were not much questions about it but there always seemed to be questions raised whenever the People's Partnership sought to spend money.
The Hoop of Life, which was launched at St Barb's basketball court, will cost taxpayers a total of $36 million for a three-year period, Warner told members of the media.
Before he could finish, Roberts interjected, saying: "It is not enough money, I am going to argue for more. I am going to fight in Cabinet to get plenty more millions to invest in our communities that require assistance. That is money well spent. Any money spent that can save a young man or young woman's life is money well spent."
Roberts said he wants to expand the Life Sport programme from 33 communities to an additional 65 communities that have requested it.
"This is not a mini-URP (Unemployment Relief Programme) or CEPEP (Community-Based Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme)," Warner said when asked whether or not the budgeted $12 million yearly figure for the Hoop of Life would increase.
Warner said the competition would begin on November 1 in 12 communities across the country. He said 60 teams have been registered with a total of 720 players, who would be paid $250 weekly for six months and must take a life skill course throughout their duration in the programme.
He added that any player arrested while a member would be automatically kicked out of the programme.
Warner said the targeted age group is 16-35 in at-risk areas with the aim of players turning their lives around, for those who were otherwise inclined.
The Minister said that crime was a problem that not only he and the police can fix but everyone and urged parents to play an active role in the lives of their children as this would have a great impact on the crime level in the country.
The Hoop of Life competition was unveiled in July when US basketball star Shaquille O'Neal visited two hotspots to rally support for the programme.
During his feature address, Warner said the State did not pay for O'Neal's visit, adding that his visit was just a mere coincidence.
Asked to clarify whether O'Neal was invited by the State to appear in support of the programme or "happened to be in the country", Warner said: "I want to stick to what I have said. I say he happened to be here. And believe you me he will come back next year for the end of the competition."