By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
Several initiatives that have been discussed ad nauseam took centre stage for Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Michael Pintard yesterday as he noted the impact his ministry will have on this administration’s budget.
In his contribution to the 2018/19 Budget Debate, Pintard addressed several issues in the local sporting community which will be affected by the budget, most notably the stagnant construction of the Andre Rodgers National Baseball Stadium, a restructuring of the national subvention programme and the establishment of national sports academies. Listing the “six pillars” set to reorganise the way the administration and the country at large approaches sports, Minister Pintard said his administration plans to complete the construction of the new Andre Rodgers National Baseball Stadium.
“We believe that in order to help cultivate additional elite athletes, it is important we have facilities throughout the Commonwealth of the Bahamas where it is financially feasible. Some work has already begun in this regard by previous administrations – Free National Movement and Progressive Liberal Party. Some of those initiatives have stalled because of financial reasons, because of inappropriate planning. We intend to clearly outline which facilities we believe we have the capacity to build over the course of the next four years. One is the baseball stadium.
“The Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture is the client, the executing agent is the Ministry of Works, and Minister of Works is in process of ensuring that the funding is available for us to continue the work on the baseball stadium and to include additional fields surrounding the stadium and to install the ‘IT’ infrastructure,” he said.
“As the public would be aware, we have more than 25 professional baseball players. We believe that through attracting amateur, high school as well as collegiate athletes, we have a capacity to on a regular basis, stage a wide range of athletic competitions in the stadium to gradually grow the revenue associated with it, but more importantly to inspire the next generation of Bahamian professionals who we believe will make a mark on the international scene. We also believe we can become the hub in the region for players who are interested in joining MLB teams or competing in other jurisdictions.”
The groundbreaking for the stadium’s construction took place on November 7, 2014. Construction has been on hold for over a year with no definitive timeline set to resume or an estimated completion of the project.
By establishing proper facilities, the ministry seeks to bring the much talked about National Sports Academies to fruition.
“We believe that the ministry has the capacity to help federations, associations and clubs produce and cultivate elite athletes.
“If you look at our budget many of our programmes are organised in a way to accomplish this. Toward this end we believe one key component of our strategy is the establishment of sports academies. Toward this end, we have already appointed a working group that is diligently reviewing all work done previously in the ministry toward this end.
“Included in this group, is really in our mind, the architect of the Centres of Excellence, Mr Martin Lundy. We are already making progress in terms of having discussions with existing sports academies to write a memorandum of understanding so that we might support the work they are already engaged in. In addition, we have begun discussions with federations, who through their parent organisations are prepared to invest heavily in creating Centres of Excellence, High-Performance facilities in this region,” Pintard said.
“In the cultivation of elite athletes, we believe that all facilities ought to be accessible, and we are in discussions with the NSA. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in meetings with them and the federations to discuss the fee structure to make sure elite athletes and their friends who are interested in coming home have access to those facilities and other facilities that are on the drawing board in a variety of places, including Moore’s Island, Abaco and Grand Bahama so that we do not discourage those athletes through the price structure.”
The new budget will also include a revision of the elite athlete subvention programme, currently with an endowment of $1.4 million. The new programme looks to include coaches in the programme as well.
“We have completed a revised draft of our subvention programme. This document will now be delivered to Cabinet and then published pending Cabinet approval. To date, we have a little over $1.4 million dedicated to athletes that are on subvention. We do intend to ask Cabinet to transition this committee outside of the ministry so that it is quasi-government, enabling it to raise capital to increase the amount of fund needed to subvent Bahamian athletes since we are exploding on the international scene in multiple sports,” Pintard said.
“Our assistance to various organisations in this country goes beyond the subvention that we give them on a regular basis, which exceeds $420,000 per annum. We are also engaged in funding multiple trips for the majority of the federations that are presently travelling internationally. This is unsustainable the rate that it is going and that is why we have asked federations to provide a calendar at the beginning of the year so we can plan with them to approach corporate citizens locally and internationally. We are working in tandem to make sure that we work out a consistent formula on how to fund these national championships and how to engage these federations so they take greater responsibility for the events we host annually.”
The Government spent approximately $8 million to host the Commonwealth Youth Games, more than $1 million on the CARIFTA Track and Field Championships with another $350,000 still outstanding.
“While the approach of this administration is different because we have expended a tremendous amount of money in the past five years on various sporting events. We understand in these austere times, there is a demand for us to fully explain the return on investments. That, however, does not mean we ought not to recognise what contributions have been made previously. It is important for us in our view to build on all success in the past that improves on brand and reputation in this country as a sports destination,” Pintard said.
“The major international events, that some have scoffed at, including policymakers, have the potential to put millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of eyeballs on the Bahamas, in other words, to grow the brand and reputation of this country and through targeted marketing, increase the number of heads in beds.”
Some of the other pillars in the programme include utilising sports in a variety of ways - as a vehicle to fight obesity and non-communicable disease; as a means to generate employment and income; as a vehicle to develop character and well-rounded citizens; as a means of healthy recreation and to achieve higher education.
“Millions of dollars that have been allocated to education have come about as the result of the sporting prowess of a number of Bahamians in a wide variety of disciplines. We are presently cataloging coaches, individuals and agencies who have historically facilitated Bahamians obtaining scholarships overseas. We are helping to coordinate scouts who can come in and see the talent we have on display,” Pintard said.
“We believe that sports is a powerful vehicle to ensure higher education. One of the programmes we have presently is to provide a substantial subvention to the University of the Bahamas so that Family Island athletes and other student-athletes can benefit financially and obtain a first-class education. We are also collaborating with the Ministry of Education in this regard as the ministry plays a pivotal role in financing a number of our athletes who are presently overseas. We are also active in discussions encouraging corporations and companies that do business in the Bahamas to include scholarship funding for Bahamians in general but for athletes in particular.”