Quick! Identify one sport in Trinidad and Tobago which, in your opinion, is well run.
Did I hear you say “Chess?” Negative. “Cycling?” Okay, so you watched the annual First Citizens Sports Foundation Awards function on television last Friday. Or you read the report in the press on the weekend.
“Football?” Yeah, right. Good to know you have a sense of humour. But please stop playing games; I seriously want you to tell me what you really think.
Sherlan Cabralis, a lecturer in the UWI Sports Management programme, did; she is not particularly impressed with the current state of the administrative and management game. She thinks that sports administration in the country needs more qualified personnel if the management of the industry is to be improved.
“The problem is that we need qualified people to run the organisations—people who are trained in the business of sport,” she suggested to Wired868. “[Sports administrators] are exposed but we are not strategic in thinking.”
Her views are shared, it seems, by Camara David, who is the secretary of the newly-formed Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL).
“Everything is changing around us,” David told Wired868, “everything is evolving and these people we have in charge are not changing with the times.”
He went on to suggest that, with more qualified personnel on deck, T&T’s sporting administrators may finally find the wherewithal to wean themselves off the dependence on the public purse and create alternative sources of funding. But he insists that the people who have become the pillars of the NSOs have so far been unable to embrace change, with the result that opportunities for trained graduates have come at a premium.
“Education allows you, encourages you or trains you to do research,” Cabralis explained, “and then come up with an idea—not just decide to build a billion-dollar facility without doing research.”
She knows something about the subject. Not only does she have a bachelor’s degree in sports management and a 20-year-old master’s degree in business administration and human resource management but she was also actively involved in sport. She was the Trinidad and Tobago national skipper at the inaugural 2003 Indoor Hockey World Cup in Germany and is a former CAC Games gold medal winner with the national women’s hockey team.
According to her, change may be coming in the not-too-distant future.
“The people who run sport are generally people whose daughter or son play the sport and get involved,” she said. “If you go in a lot of those NSO’s, there are a lot of teachers who, because they are in PE, they do that. So it’s like an extra-curricular activity for them; that’s not their profession.”
“More trained people would mean that we are speaking the same language,” she explained, “so that we are interacting at a particular level based on knowledge,”
But where is the training to which she refers to come from? For the past three years, Cabralis has been a lecturer at The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) FIFA-approved Sports Management programme, the Post-graduate Diploma in Sports Management. It is the result of an MOU between the UWI and the academic arm of FIFA and is delivered in collaboration with the Switzerland-based Centre for Sports Studies (CIES).
It’s an online programme so that students only attend lectures in the first week of the semester in order to familiarise themselves with the technology. UWI graduates and graduates from other accredited tertiary level institutions are eligible for places in the programme and have an option to pursue a Europe-based master’s programme on completion.
The programme, Cabralis says, is focused on a variety of inter-related fields of study, including Sports Finance, Sports Marketing, Law and Sports, Communication in Sports, for example, and is designed to train suitable candidates to become effective sports administrators. In the seven years of its existence, it has already produced some 70-odd graduates.
The former national hockey skipper calls attention to what she feels is an important failing among current administrators and managers in T&T and points to the “disconnect” between general assumptions and knowledge based on proper research and analysis.
“Thinking I know and knowing that I don’t know,” she stressed, “I feel that’s the gap. You would only know up to what someone teaches you on the job. Going back to education requires you to create based on research.”
So are the 70-odd graduates making any impact at all? You be the judge. Having completed the diploma, Charisse Bacchus subsequently assumed responsibility for co-ordinating it.
Annette Knott, TTOC’s chef de mission for the London Olympics, is currently the general secretary at the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee while TTSL Secretary David graduated from the programme in 2014, and then went on to spend 11 months in England, Italy and Switzerland pursuing the master’s programme.
A member of the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) committee that organised the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL) two years ago, David adds that the unhealthily close link between the Ministry and the sporting organisations locally has retarded progress.
“Unfortunately, you can’t separate sports and politics,” he told Wired868. “I would say in England, for example, sport is very well structured. That is the way Trinidad and Tobago should structure their sports. [England’s] sports industry has around one percent political influence; you don’t even know [who is] the sports minister of England.”
Unhappy with the overall performance of those who currently run the NSO’s, he suggested there was myopia, resistance to change, closed minds and maybe even unwillingness to think outside the box and experiment with new ways of doing things.
“A simple example [is something] like social media,” he lamented. “You would hardly find any sport organisation taking the social media seriously.”
“Simple publicity things like these can help an organisation,” he continued, “but we need certain people who know about administrative things who could change with the times. We really need the energy of the young people to actually help the organisations to reach the next level.”
Cabralis concurred that attitudes appear to have hardened in current administrations but she took a less hard line on the issue. She complained that a lot of the decision-makers in sports have failed to pick up the baton despite repeated attempts by coordinators of the diploma to show them the error of their ways.
“If ten of them came through the programme [so far] that is plenty,” she said. “It means that the people we are trying to attract are not interested. We send information directly to every NSO through [the] TTOC. All the NSOs would have gotten an e-mail and would have gotten the file directly. Plus, we’ve been on Morning Edition and, whenever TTOC has a sports conference, they give us an opportunity to talk about the programme.”
Cabralis conceded that, in spite of the increasing presence of graduates, the impact of the programme on the local sports arena has been minimal. She hinted at “friction” between the old stagers and the Sports Management graduates who bring a whole new skill-set to the job. But she hastened to add that nobody was seeking to throw the baby out with the bath water—or to throw the baby out at all!
“[If] someone is in the business of sport, it would be to their advantage to understand the communication process,” she explained, “by knowing the players, the media [and] being able to manipulate that relationship.”
“The beauty of it (the programme) really is that we are giving them all the opportunity to come and re-train themselves,” she said. “We’re not saying we’re going to get rid of you but we’re really creating opportunities for the people who are already there to be on a different level with the people whom you want to hire to be inside so we can all speak on the same level.”
Cabralis remains optimistic about the future. She hopes that more decision-makers will eventually enrol in the programme, thus speeding up the improvement in how sports are run not just in T&T but in the region as a whole.
“We’re developing an industry because we have people looking for a career,” she said, “and when you have people looking for a career, you need to bring a certain level of professionalism.”
Whether the definition of that often misunderstood word “professionalism” is the same as the definition used by her target audience remains to be seen. What is not in issue is that the T&T sporting fraternity cannot continue to ignore the untapped potential a more professionally-run sporting industry is almost certain to unleash.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE for more information and to sign up for UWI postgraduate diploma in Sport Management.