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Lessons Learnt From 2nd National Sport Conference

Jul 13, 2009, 7:10 AM

The two-day National Sports Conference held from 8-9 July, 2009, has successfully ended, but not without some major lessons and criticisms.

To help put the pieces together, Pointsports spoke to Charles Thomas, a prominent and versatile Gambian sportsman and a sports administrator with vast knowledge and experience in Gambian sports. In addition, he has been a long time member of the GNOC, and was the 1st Executive Secretary of the National Sports Council.

Pointsport: The 2nd National Sports Conference has come and gone. What are your impressions?

Charles Thomas: It was a very useful conference of stakeholders. I don't know why the ministry has been delaying this conference for so long. Just for people to say the obvious, namely that very little has been achieved.

Pointsports: It's been eight (8) years since the policy was launched. Has it all been in vain?

Charles Thomas: No. But I would draw a mark. From 2001 to 2004, there was significant foundation work and significant results in decentralisation, capacity building, infrastructure development, and revitalisation of the sporting associations, fund-raising, administration and policy co-ordination. After June 2004, everything took a sharp decline from which there has been no recovery. A Mid-term review in 2004 would have been the sensible thing to do, but the ministry had that year failed to do so. This conference, therefore as expected, would provide a new stimulus for sports development in this country.

Pointsport: Some have said that the policy is dense, over- ambitious and cumbersome. This has actually been identified as the main problem.

Charles Thomas: I did prove that notion to be inaccurate. During the course of the conference, everyone quickly fell behind another explanation, namely the lack of implementation and proper co-ordination.

Pointsport: Can you elaborate on this failure?

Charles Thomas: The lack of implementation just boils down to an inefficient or lethargic implementation machinery of either the National Sports Council or the Department, or both. This also includes inadequate finance. The lack of proper co-ordination means no one knew who was doing what, who was supposed to do what; and therefore a resulting state of confusion, conflict of roles, functions and responsibilities, disharmony, discord and even acrimony.

In short everything except efficiency and progress.

Pointsport: What steps have the conference taken to address the problem of implementation and co-ordination; I think this is the sticking point?

Charles Thomas: There have been recommendations to restructure the National Sports Council. Functions and roles will be more clearly defined under the new policy, and mechanisms will be put in place for effective co-ordination.

Pointsport: Do you support this?

Charles Thomas: Yes; only that the NSC first needs to be strengthened by way of capacity-building before it is empowered. It is neither safe nor prudent to empower an inefficient or incompetent group of people.

Pointsport: The issues have been several; but can you name a few of the more burning issues and definite areas for improvement.

Charles Thomas: Some vocal ex-Council members had convinced the conference that there has been too much undue interference from the ministry and as a result, the Council was impeded and could not do its work effectively.

Pointsport: You were once the Executive Secretary of the NSC, did you find this at all?

Charles Thomas: These delegates, I'm afraid, are correct.

Pointsport: What form did this interference take, if there is any?

Charles Thomas: During my time from 2001-2004, the ministry wanted to direct Council matters and manipulate decisions, including management of finances.

This, of course, is surely counterproductive and makes one ask what was the purpose of having the Council there anyway.

Pointsport: Given that this is a serious lapse in governance and a clear counter-productive impingement on Council, what is the cause of it and why does Council allow it?

Charles Thomas: It is not an easy question, and maybe one could be understanding and try to show some reasonableness.

You see, to understand this situation you have to look back to the years 1992 and 2001.

Two important things had happened which I can say could have been responsible for this situation. Before 1992, there was the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports. The Ministry then had a lot of work to do with all these things, including education. In 1992, a separate Ministry was launched for just youth and sports matters. This meant that  the Ministry had much less to do then, although  still engaged in dealing with associations problems of programmes and finance.

In 2001, government went further to launch private and fairly autonomous bodies for youth and sports, such as the NSC, NYC and NYSS.

All of a sudden, the Ministry has now been left with virtually little or nothing to do.

Do you see the problem?

So, the ministry, it seems, tried to find something to do to justify their continued existence  by finding something to interfere within the NSC or NYC or NYSS. This is what I conceive to be the case. I may be wrong.

Pointsport: I also asked why Council has not done something about it, and how this situation could be corrected.

Charles Thomas: Yes, Council can react, but it is H.E The President who can consider this and come up with a solution. I think with all these institutions operating fully (NSC, NYC, NYSS) government should seriously consider closing down the Ministry, and perhaps transfer its few residual activities to a reconstituted Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, with 2 Permanent Secretaries or DPS, and the usual administrative and secretarial support cadres.

That proposes that a new Ministry would then have to be an added advantage of finally implementing those provisions in the Policy on sports in schools. Truly, this is not a step backward at all. It is an important way forward, if we consider everything that has been said at the conference about interference and better policy coordination. Otherwise, the Ministry could have little to do except opening ceremonies of sports functions and events, invitations to sports awards ceremonies, or making unwelcome incursions into NSC and NYC affairs. There would be better proactive work there, and it could always end up being a reactionary institution.

Pointsport: Another area of concern?

Charles Thomas: Yes, there is also the point about financing. Without adequate finances, it is next to impossible to develop sports. All stakeholders should therefore join hands. But in particular, government should augment its allocation to sports, considering the current contribution of sports to our socio-economic development through significant remittances from Gambian sportspersons playing abroad. To encourage greater financial contribution to sports from the business community, government should consider providing tax incentives in respect of business income donated to sports.

Pointsport: A final point?

Charles Thomas: Our sports policy should be subjected to frequent review: at least biennial, mid-term and terminal reviews. Meanwhile, coordinating committee meetings should be kept on-going, possibly on a monthly basis. In this way, the policy would be kept on track, and adjustments made where and when necessary.

Pointsport: Thank you for sharing your impressions.

Charles Thomas: Thank you for asking me. I wish I could be more helpful.

Point: No, it was a dynamic interview.