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SPORT, SOCIOLOGY & UWI SPEC by Rae Samuel

posted 21 Jan 2014, 16:59 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 21 Jan 2014, 17:00 ]

During the week of January 13-18 I attended a workshop seminar at the University of the West Indies in one of my other professional incarnations - sport consultant. The conference was put on by the University itself and was entitled '’Science, Higher Education and Business; An Interdisciplinary Approach to Sport Studies, Research and Development".

Like a respected national football coach, an encounter with whom I shall close this story, I initially thought: "Okay: a sports conference at UWI? Ho hum!! Intellectuals? Oh well, their business!" until a track and field coach from Deep South, Keith J., called me and said: "Mr. Samuel, what kinda  man yuh is? Keith Joseph in the country and yuh ain't tell me nothing".

Keith Joseph, youngest sibling of the famous Joseph cycling brothers, is the General Secretary of the St. Vincent Olympic Association. He is a respected figure internationally in the Olympic movement, (he is in Malaysia at the moment), and has contributed significantly to the development of track and field in the region, Trinidad and Tobago most definitely included.

Whenever Keith Joseph is here we corner him for updates and advice. At the end of the night, both Keiths suggested that I attend the conference.

Happy for a chance to visit the Hyatt without having to take pictures, the chairs are softer than those on the Brian Lara Promenade; I paid my fee and sat down in the conference room. I was offered Press accreditation but it is not often I get a day off at the Hyatt, even though I paid for it, so I declined. And that was where my interesting and educative seminar began. The hot air of the line Minister blew for a while but the air condition unit at the Hyatt worked well. It was the presentation of the  feature speaker, Professor Jay Coakley that woke us up. 

Our introduction to Professor Jay Coakley, University of Colorado, was anything but routine. Within a few minutes he was challenging long-held myths about sports being a panacea for social ills; about sport cleansing participants of social defects, the 'carwash effect', the enrichment of the individual lifted out of poverty vs. the upliftment of the community; the neo- liberal approach to development; the type of investment that goes into a major event like the Olympics or World Cup and who benefits at the end of the day, corporate or community. By this time enough of us in the room are wondering. "Oh boy, are we in the right place?"  I was waiting to hear him drop the word "capitalism' which he did. I asked him afterwards what took him so long.

Talking to him later on I realised he was even given a document titled ""Hoops for life". I did not even know that existed. Maybe Shaq gave it to him.

During the actual sessions topics were dealt with ranging from "Psychology, Sociology and Sport” through “Anti-doping in Sports”, "Sports tourism'',  "Language, Power and an emic perspective”; “Small goal football in the  Caribbean '', Yes, you would be amazed what some sociological eyes manage to see in a 7 a side. CLR James on a football field.

What emerged from all of this is that there is a generation of young Trinis involved in diverse areas of sport: coaching, management, facility management, sport tourism, physiotherapy, sport sociology and psychology, care and prevention of injury, politics and sport. Many of them are young, are qualified or are students in the various fields. And they bring a modern multi-faceted approach to the matter of sports and social development. Of course some topics, persons like me will never understand in my lifetime e.g. "White Ascendancy: Bio-capital Material Performativity within Transnational consortium alliances, A case study: Right to play and Master Card ''. But then Chairman Mao teaches us that there are phenomena independent of our consciousness. 

The University is a centre for all these activists to meet and do research, formulate policy and impact on programme development, to give some type of ideology to sporting development. In the sessions I wondered where the representatives of our national sporting bodies were.  If they continue to imagine that they can work independently of research-oriented institutions like SPEC/UWI not only will we continue to under-achieve but the educated, agitated young minds will leave the sport or migrate. 

 


Dr. Rhoda Reddock
So congratulations to Dr. Rhoda Reddock, Deputy Principal and Chair of the Conference. One can only wait and see what common initiatives participants take after this.  Equally important were the calls for a Caribbean perspective on all of this. The Jamaican contingent was showing us that the 'anti-doping drive' is heading in the same direction as the 'front foot rule' in cricket, intended not to level the playing field but to harass “third world” powers. One representative gave the example of the proposed hair test where a sample may show a banned substance in a shampoo.  Okay...what about the time line for 'kinky versus straight hair?"

Two anecdotes.There was a lecturer, Nadim Nassif, from the Notre Dame University in Lebanon. In his brief he pointed out that '' a sports policy is always influenced and shaped by the historical, political, social, cultural and economical characteristics of a given country.'' Good. Their political system, known as a 'confessional’, allocates power according to the eighteen state recognised sects. The presidency goes this way, the premiership and the Speaker of the House yet another way. Similar informal arrangements follow in sport. Proportional representation anyone?

My conference did not end on Friday but really on Sunday when I met one of our national and club coaches. I asked him why he was not at the conference and his reason was he thought it was for intellectuals. Same error I almost made. This brother has lived and coached/worked in Morvant/Laventille all his adult life.  So I asked him without inputs from people like him, on what will the 'intellectuals' base their research because I can assure you that there are research papers, findings, documentation et al to be found in so many Ministries based on what?  Mao only knows!
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