When Minister of Finance K. Peter Turnquest announced in the House of Assembly last week that a number of government departments and their programs would suffer financial cuts during the 2019/2020 budget presentation, those in the sporting community cringed. The allocation for sporting federations and sports events has fluctuated over the years, primarily on a downward trend since the turn of the century.
This budget cycle period will be no different with the department of sports expected to experience a major reduction of funds. Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) President Romell Knowles expressed dismay, citing that it’s difficult for sporting federations to implement programs and develop young athletes without proper funding. He remains hopeful that the government of The Bahamas would see the need to increase rather than decrease funding for sports, and look at it as a way of investing in the youth of the country.
“The sports fraternity took an enormous financial hit with the reduction in the yearly grants a few years ago, and cannot afford another cut,” said Knowles. “There was a time when designated federations got $80,000 per year. The following year, the grants were cut to $40,000. I believe now, some federations are getting $20,000, if that. National federations volunteer their time. With all the social challenges we have in The Bahamas today, we need these volunteers in our communities, and it’s really to provide programs for the development of our youth, and when they’re being strangled, it causes a concern,” he added. “That’s why we have some of the social problems that we have today. These national federations are molding lives of young men and young ladies, and here they are being short changed. There is a young lady who was homeless, and went on to win The Bahamas’ first medal at the Commonwealth Youth Games and was enrolled in college. Those are the intangible benefits of sports. Federations meet these kind of challenges every day and they could do more, but they need help.”
The new fiscal budget stresses about a six million reduction for the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture. This, taking place after the government pulled out of the hosting of the fourth running of the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Relays – an event which was rumored to cost the government about five million dollars. So, in reality, in this new period, there is more than a 10 million dollar reduction for sports and sports events.
As for Knowles, his comments came during a meeting of federation heads on Monday, plotting a way forward among growing concerns and tension between the ministry and the federations. Knowles said the BOC has fielded a number of concerns by member federations in recent times. Just recently, for example, a member federation experienced what was deemed as a “serious breach” particularly – executives of the government of The Bahamas meeting with an international federation without an invitation or notice to the member federation with responsibility and global recognition for that sport.
“There must be a clear, defined line between governance of sports by national federations and the relationship and partnership with governments,” said BOC Secretary General Derron Donaldson through a press release. “Sports need both parties, both government and national federations, to work together in an environment of respect and mutual understanding. Sadly, in recent times, the respect due to national federations and the autonomy required is blurred to say the least. We collectively join hands in partnership to listen to and support each other. We expect to charter a course of change and understanding.”
Knowles and the BOC remain optimistic that Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle will meet with the sporting community, specifically the sporting federations heads, on chartering a way forward among the growing concerns. In addition to the aforementioned, there are issues surrounding an audit review of world relays and CARIFTA accounts, and outstanding funds regarding the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) held in The Bahamas.
“The federations would prefer to be one-on-one with the minister so that they could iron out their particular concerns without them becoming public knowledge,” said Knowles. “Although we are off to a rough start, it is my hope that we could agree on the conditions of mutual respect and appreciation for our respective roles. I look forward to meeting the minister on neutral ground so that we can forge a better path for sports, our athletes and support staff.”
There have been repeated calls for a meeting between the two parties that has apparently been ignored, but Knowles said that with all of the federation heads coming together in unison, hopefully that will be the catalyst to convince the ministry that a meeting is indeed necessary.