By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
MINISTER of Youth, Sports and Culture Michael Pintard pledged a more comprehensive approach as his ministry seeks to address the needs of each segment of the sporting community, ranging from elite athletes to the underserved youth of the inner cities.
One of the focal points for the aforementioned elite athletes will be a refinement of the government's subvention programme.
"During the course of the next calendar year, we intend to do a variety of things that continue to build a strong infrastructure in sports throughout the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. I have had the opportunity and great pleasure to meet a number of the federations both here in New Providence and in Grand Bahama.
"There are so many amazing iconic figures who have dedicated their lives to sports in the Bahamas. Some have been recognised and celebrated and many have been overlooked. This is also true about our athletes," Pintard said.
"We have many elite athletes, some who are benefitting from subvention while others are languishing, wondering when their subvention will come through. In much of the same way I commit myself to respecting every staff member within the ministry to ensure that everyone feels valued and that their opinion matters, this is the same attitude I wish to engender among all senior staff members when interacting with federations, associations and athletes.
"It is a tragic thing when an athlete who is preparing to compete with the best from around the world has to be preoccupied wondering that if he or she does not perform well at this one particular meet, are they likely to be at risk of losing their subvention."
In its current form, the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture, through the Department of Sports, offers assistance to developing, intermediate and elite athletes to assist with the development of sport.
Its website states: "As an athlete progresses, the status is changed from developing to intermediate, and finally to elite status. It is the responsibility of the federation to supply the department with information regarding the development and progress of the employee. Any assistance received is directly related to the established status of the athlete."
A subjective process, the system constantly came under fire because of what many athletes considered an "unclear" determination of the criteria needed to achieve a particular status. There was also the matter of developmental athletes as subvention for them could conflict with the rules necessary for them to maintain their amateur status.
Pintard said it is an issue that should be resolved succinctly to give athletes a greater opportunity to focus being ambassadors of the country.
"As a people we are not always good at celebrating people who pour out their lives out on our behalf as a nation, because when they don't excel in a particular race, we become armchair quarterbacks assessing what they could have and should have done, when the truth is many of our athletes are ranked in the top 100, in the top 50, in the top 10, in the top four and have been ranked number 1 in the world. If we are honest as a people are we are to take our vocation, whatever our occupation is, most of us, including Bahamian politicians, are not ranked in the top 10, in the top 100, in the top 100, in the top 20,000 in their particular vocation around the world. It is important for us, in dealing with our athletes, not just as citizens but especially as policy makers, to be careful of the mindset we put them in when they are training to be ambassadors for our country," he said, "It is our intention over this fiscal year to refine the subvention programme at the Ministry with responsibility for sports - to reach out to our athletes and to have a very clear and transparent conversation with them about what out policy is going forward and how we might better serve them. To make this overture, not just directed to a select group of sports, but to demonstrate appreciation for the wide range of sports in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas."
An emphasis on local development and previously neglected facilities will also be a focal point of the new administration.
"One of the best ways to judge a government is how they deal with those that have been forgotten. In Grand Bahama, the Sporting Complex, which will be the site of the National Championships that begin in just a few short days, has been neglected over time. It is our intention to do several things: One - Put in place dynamic leadership that will manage the entire process and the upgrade. Two: we will ensure that resources that are needed are provided as we work in partnership with the private sector and with various federations that use the facilities. As an addendum to this point, I had the opportunity to tour the South Beach Pools. It was a heartbreaking experience. It is in a near dilapidated state. The staff has almost been forgotten. This is not an attempt to assign blame to anyone, it is all of our responsibility. It is important for us to show all of our team members that we value them and care about their welfare and so we intend to work with the Ministry, the Aquatic federation, the NSA and with the communitties that surround the South Beach Pools to ensure that: one - we upgrade the facility, two - we consistently maintain it, three - that we have a clearly defined policy on the use of the facility," Pintard said, "I use the pools only as an example of the approach of this administration. We intend to reach out to those who have been forgotten. It is our intention to demonstrate respect for our people, concern and care, because it cannot be right that political figures live large and the people who gave us this right to serve them are suffering."
Pintard said his ministry seeks to encourage Bahamians to become more active in order to foster better community spirit and active family lifestyles.
"Sports is not merely to create elite athletes in the Bahamas. It is also designed to create camaraderie among young people and there are thousands of them, many of whom have conflicts with each other. I grew up playing basketball under coach Moon McPhee in Grand Bahama and the lessons taught by coaches to many of us that sit in this place made the difference in terms of the kind of people we turned out to be," he said, "There are many inner city young people who do not have the benefit of being a part of any organised sport and it is our intention over the next calendar year to put in place a more vigorous outreach program so that we might regain many of our young people. Our Minister of Health underscored the tremendous lifestyle health problems that we have in the Bahamas, so the department of sports will also play an active role in helping to promote a healthy lifestyle, encourage exercise and proper eating habits. Our role goes beyond merely creating a feeder system where we produce junior and senior elite athletes; we are interested in the development of all of our people."