Ministry of Sports eulogises Windwards games

By Terry Finisterre, Sport Correspondent

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unnamed (7)Jim Xavier, Director of Youth and Sports, addressed the media on Wednesday at a press conference to discuss Saint Lucia’s performance at the 2015 Windward Islands School Games.

The Games had ended 10 days prior in Dominica, and Saint Lucia had finished last for the second year in a row.

Mr Xavier explained that the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports “sought to prepare the team as adequately as possible, given limited resources so to do.

One major recommendation which was implemented this year was the hosting of one preparatory camp instead of the usual two.

The rationale was that a longer more high performance camp with a smaller more focused group would have been more productive.”

The truth is that in most of the sports involved in the WISG – athletics, boys football, girls netball, boys and girls volleyball – those youngsters have been involved in training under their respective federations for the better part of the year, and have been participating in tournaments either at the national level, regionally or internationally.

Several of the footballers were on Saint Lucia’s team that made the CONCACAF Under-17 Championships in Honduras, for instance.

Mr Xavier said that the management team for Team Saint Lucia complimented Dominica for doing a great job as hosts, but panned the officiating of the various events.

He alluded to the long-standing claim that some of the athletes participating in WISG are not in fact students. “The process of verifying that all participants in these games are duly registered and attending full-time educational institutions must be taken seriously and discussed at the next meeting here to discuss the WISG,” he said.

The veteran sports officer went on to point out that Saint Lucia had the youngest and smallest team of all four islands. Reportedly the average age of Team Saint Lucia was 16.5.

This is due in part to the advent of Universal Secondary Education, meaning that many student athletes will be out of school by the age of 16. But it is also due to the fact that the island’s sole tertiary institution has for years been kept out of school sports.

It is further due to the absence of sixth forms at the island’s secondary schools, further shrinking the pool.

For some reason, Mr Xavier’s opening remarks failed to address the elephants in the room, though. WISG is not properly integrated into the framework of actual sporting development, for one.

Aside from basketball, where the national federation has programmes for neither boys or girls, the preparatory camp is their only preparation as a team. Even then, more often than not, athletic girls are pressed into service in basketball at the eleventh hour, because even the Ministry does not have a proper programme.

Another issue is the disparity in ages between the various teams. Let’s put it bluntly: WISG is antiquated. Why would a competition have rules that put the respective teams on an uneven footing? Saint Lucia has the biggest population in the Windward Islands, but it is highly unlikely that the island has the most school students aged 18 and 19. WISG minus the ‘school’ part would give you a wider talent pool, greater confluence with the national federations, and fewer hassles in terms of verification.

But Mr Xavier went on to assert that Saint Lucia was considered the best behaved team at the tournament, although he continued by essentially saying that the athletes underperformed: “Despite their challenges, the management felt that the Saint Lucia team could have done better than a fourth place finish. Some team members could have been more focused and hungry for success.”

The Director provided what he described as an inexhaustive list of possible measures to help reverse Saint Lucia’s recent fortunes at WISG. These included:

– Strengthening the primary school physical education programme

– Earlier commencement of training for the WISG

– Allocation of more resources for the WISG team preparation

– Mental toughness training to be included in the coaching regimen

– Ensure the best coaches are selected to work with the team

– Enrol individual teams in national leagues to enhance their fitness and competitiveness

– Increase the participation of students in sports, as school enrolment has been decreasing over the last few years

– Increase private sector involvement and sponsorship and partnership in school sports

– Increase parental involvement in the sporting life of their children

– Strengthening the club structure at the community level

– The media playing a critical role of developmental and being diversified in their offering… take on a more promotion and developmental role

– Greater commitment and passion to win on the part of our athletes

– Greater commitment and passion on the part of physical education teachers, principals and education officers

– Greater commitment and passion on the part of the national sporting associations

The Director correctly noted that there is “a role for everyone” and that the development of sports in Saint Lucia is not just the purview of the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports.

But the fact is that it remains unclear what role the Windward Islands School Games are meant to play in the development of local sport. And it does appear clear that the Ministry is unprepared to shake up the status quo.

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