The Government of Belize needs to invest more in sports development, and give the National Sports Council a bigger budget, more authority and more autonomy, recommends the Caribbean Sports & Development Agency (CSDA) in a draft National Sports Policy, prepared by CSDA during a six month consultancy for GOB.

CSDA’s Andre Collins and Tyrone Marcus presented a first draft of the policy, and a three-year National Sports Plan to a session of Sports Policy Working Group on August 9. A final draft should be ready for presentation to GOB by the end of the month.

The plan is for sports for all: both physical education in schools and in for recreation, including women and girls in sport, and even persons with Disabilities.

Sport programming can also stimulate development and peace in the community; sport also affords young people the chance to learn leadership roles. The plan encompasses proper administration and governance of sports and the development of elite athletes with the provision of facilities and infrastructure. Sport must also have proper ethics, backed up by the law. The plan includes the management of risks to safeguard the athletes with insurance and certification of coaches, trainers and medical personnel.

In many other countries, sports is a part of the entertainment industry, it’s a billion-dollar business; professional clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid are multi-million dollar franchises. CSDA’s plan also addresses sport as a business, with funding and finances, and how major sporting events like the Ruta Maya, the Cross Country cycling classic and the triathlon can stimulate tourism. With proper marketing and entrepreneurship, sports can also provide financial rewards for its participants.

The government of Belize had hired the CSDA team of consultants when the need for a comprehensive national sports development plan was highlighted by the simultaneous unavailability of the Civic Center and Marion Jones Sports Complex, which sent both the National Sports Council and the Central Secondary Schools Sports Association scrambling to find alternative venues to host last year’s primary and secondary schools sports tournaments.

The long drawn out power struggle between the National Sports Council and the Football Federation of Belize which was only resolved with the intervention of FIFA and the election of a new FFB executive; and the problems that arose in the elections of the Belize Cycling Association also indicated the need for a proper legislative framework and a well-established mechanism to resolve disputes. The CSDA team also brought along an attorney who has been consulting with the Attorney General’s ministry to prepare a revised Sports Act to amend the existing Chapter 46 of the Laws of Belize, Revised Edition 2000.

CSDA embarked on their national consultations with a proposed Vision for a healthy and happy Belize where sport contributes to national pride, is interwoven into the fabric of society; and effective administration of sport at all levels affords all Belizeans the chance enjoy sports as much as their ability allows.

The consultants were given a mandate to develop a national sports policy and a three year plan, but many local sports associations initially thought it was a waste of time; and not even half the 22 national sports associations and federations registered with the National Sports Council bothered to attend the first consultation hosted by Ministry of Sports at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel on April 4, when CSDA’s Mark Mungal and Andre Collins first visited Belize to evaluate the status quo.

CSDA was undeterred by this initial lack of enthusiasm by the local organizations. The consultants returned for several more visits each month, travelling to Corozal, Punta Gorda, to Benque and Dangriga for on site evaluations of Belize’s sports infrastructure, the stadiums, playing fields and basketball courts. They also consulted with all and sundry: athletes, coaches, teachers, sports administrators and executives of all the organizations who had failed to attend the first consultation.

The consultations produced several key recommendations which they now report back to GOB in the draft policy. The consultants recommend that GOB implement a revised and comprehensive Sport Act, which covers every aspect of sport. GOB should also support the national federations in a suitable and sustainable manner in the development of elite athletes. GOB should also provide regulated incentives and rewards for national athletes, establish a program to train coaches and improve their competencies and also ensure that Sports Council officers are suitably trained.

Athletes should also be provided with suitable identification carnets to access sport facilities, and possibly even get medical services free of charge! GOB should also develop and enforce an athletes’ commission, provide local and international scholarships for athletes; and train Physical Education teachers for the elementary and secondary school system.

Initial feedback in the first months of consultations found that Belizeans love sport and are generally very optimistic about sport. They agreed on certain values to guide sport in Belize: a sense of national and community pride through sport; that sports also rewarded participants with social health and wellness; and resulted in a respect for people’s rights and dignity. There was also better communication as athletes took on responsibility and accountability for organizing their sport.

The site visits also found that while Belize has many sporting facilities, most of them are in need of significant repair. When CSDA consulted with the locals, the feedback was that there needs to be better management of the facilities with better trained sport coordinators. Athletes wanted better access to reasonably priced equipment, and also felt there should be more facilities and existing facilities should be better managed. The Sports Council, the national Federations and Associations need coordinate activities better. Athletes also asked that GOB and the Sports council develop a clear policy on how sport should be managed with more sustainable programs.

Sports development as a way to a happier society was also a part of the vision of Horizon 2030 prepared by Dr. Carla Barnett in 2010, but a preliminary survey of the national federations and associations found there had been no effective implementation of previous sport plans. The National Sports Council was inadequately funded, often only receiving 20 percent of the budget they proposed to government, which was less than one percent of the National Budget. The CSDA found the national federations needed support to build administration and coaching capacity, but they are not accessing international funding which is available to them.

The consultants found that while there are many sport initiatives happening across Belize all year round, few are organized and managed by the sport federations; and there’s no record of participation. Secondary schools sports engages over 50,000 secondary school students in well organized tournaments in five sporting disciplines. Primary school sports organized by the national Sports Council also focus on same five sports but were not as well organized; as the schools’ sports schedule is over-packed. CSDA found there was a lack of sufficiently trained persons at all levels.

In preparing the policy, CSDA also review of the policies of Trinidad & Tobago, Canada; Guyana, Australia and Jamaica 2013. To prepare the three year plan, a National Sport Sector Working Group was established that included the National Sports Council; National Olympic Committee; national federations; the physical education teachers association; civic society and the Media. They were tasked to consider four areas: Human and Financial Resources, Facilities, School Sports/Physical Education; and National, Community and Club Sports Programs.

The Reporter