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‘Sport alone cannot ensure peace or solve complex social problems. Sport should be positioned, instead, as a highly effective tool in a broader toolkit … and should be applied in a holistic and integrated manner with other interventions and programs to achieve optimal results. But there are limitations and risks associated with sports (but) … these risks can be minimized by ensuring that sport for development and peace initiatives are driven first and foremost by development objectives and are delivered according to the principles of transparency, accountability, and sustainability, thereby protecting the integrity, inherent joyfulness and positive social value of the sport experience’ (Sport for Development and Peace International Working Group (SDP IWG) 2008 report).
In 1989, I was contracted to do a study on ‘Sports and West Indian Integration’ for The West Indian Commission and as I traversed the region speaking to sports officials and ordinary people I concluded that, the vast majority of them supported the integration process but believed that politicians were the stumbling blocks. ‘They prefer to be a big fish in a small sea’ is how the matter was usually put. Cricket was seen as a powerful force for integration and there was a feeling that, sensibly organised, other sports could make significant contributions.’
It is now widely accepted and the SDP IWG report noted that sport possesses unique attributes that enable it to bring particular value to development and peace processes. It is one of the most cross-cutting of all development and peace tools and is increasingly being used to promote health, prevent disease, strengthen child and youth development and education, foster social inclusion, prevent conflict and build peace, foster gender equity, enhance inclusion of persons with disabilities, and promote employment and economic development. The report claims that ‘there are few areas of development where sport cannot be used as a platform for public education and social mobilization, or as a program vehicle to strengthen individual capacity and improve lives.’ The universal popularity of sport, we are told, transcends national, cultural, socio-economic and political boundaries and can be invoked with success in virtually any community in the world. But ‘sport’s popularity derives in large part from the fact that, when done right, it is fun and enjoyable for everyone and can connect people and communities, and this value as a social connector is one of its most powerful development attributes.’
If his speech at the launch of the Caribbean Premier League tournament is anything to go by, it is upon this broad canvas of sports capacities that President Irfaan Ali wishes us to view the current tournament. He claimed that ‘Cricket is much more than a game for us in Guyana, it is a passion, part of our culture and a unifying force. As we celebrate ‘One Guyana’, the hosting of the CPL final will be an energising force.’ However, questioned on the issue of financing, he is reported as saying ‘On the issue of funding, this is an integrated effort. The private sector would have to be involved, corporations, organisations, the government would have to be involved; every stakeholder. It is not only about cricket. It is about building a calendar of events around cricket. We are talking about carnival, regional artistes’ night, local artistes’ night… a regional carnival, a Hall of Fame dinner… and the process will start from now. ….. CPL itself would be investing a lot of resources, the private sector and of course the state would also have to invest. We have not decided as yet; at the end of it [planning] we will know exactly what investment. But for now, we are providing that support, that institutional support, providing the planning support and all of that (‘State subsidy amount for CPL finals still to be determined – Ali,’ SN: 09/04/2022).
From this presentation it is quite clear that apart from the normal run of the mill notion that sports can contribute to national unity, we cannot be certain of anything else. There are no clear concrete objectives, much less benchmarks, against which to assess the success of this process. Indeed it does not appear that the president himself knows what he is doing or where his intervention is going or is likely to cost!
According to the SDP IWG report ‘If the population involved is broadly inclusive, sport’s connecting dimension can help to unify people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, establishing a shared bond that contributes positively to social cohesion (and for) this reason, sport has long been used as a means to promote national unity and harmony within and across nations.’ However, nowhere in the Caricom region is the population more ethnically/politically divided than in Guyana. And contrary to what is stated in the opening paragraph, Guyana is arguably the most autocratic country in the Caricom: where inclusion, transparency and accountability – the bedrock of successful efforts at using sports and entertainment to induce national cooperation and unity – are almost nonexistent.
The PPP thrives on razzmatazz and propaganda and when this is added to the present policy fuzziness, the possibility was left wide open for a credible case to be made that this entire intervention into sports and entertainment right up to the 2025 elections, which will cost the taxpayer unknown millions, is nothing more than another PPP electioneering poly. Without an adequate plan, it gives the impression that it is a developmental effort but the PPP also wishes to uses the attractiveness of these activities to Africans to bribe some and win substantial support from others.
What we can be certain of is that given the ethnic/political context of Guyana and the open-ended nature of this intervention, the likelihood of it contributing to national unity or ‘One Guyana’ is nil! Indeed, the president appears to be in conceptual confusion when only days ago he called for the non-political establishment of ‘One Guyana’ or national unity! Given what we known of Dr. Ali’s stated objectives, the nature of Guyana and these kinds of processes, all-round failure is the most likely outcome!