Rather than beckoning for a review of the overall national budget allocation for sports, particularly as it relates to subvention for elite athletes, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Lanisha Rolle offered her full support of the budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal period on Thursday.
The sports ministry was one of the hardest hit in the budget allocation for the upcoming term, suffering more than a $5 million reduction. Whereas a major reduction was expected given the nature of Hurricane Dorian last September and the ensuing global disaster of COVID-19, sports personnel and enthusiasts still felt like the cuts were unevenly dispersed throughout various government ministries and departments. In comparison to other commodities, they feel that sports was adversely affected.
In her budget presentation in the House of Assembly on Thursday, Rolle said that this is a budget for the people and an unprecedented one for an unprecedented time. Subvention for elite athletes alone was reduced by about $300,000. Justifying the cuts, the minister said that extraordinary times require extraordinary measures, and that while the budget is unprecedented, it is a budget for the people. She highlighted that sports still consumes 15 percent of the ministry’s budget, which is the greatest share of the three departments under her purview.
“I wish we had more funds for sports development; and I wish COVID and Dorian didn’t happen because one life lost was one life too many, but it did,” she said. “Given the changing circumstances and limited financial resources, a portion of the ministry’s funds had to be reallocated. This cut ensures that in the given circumstances, there are adequate provisions to help with public health expenses, social safety net programs, job creation and sustenance, food security initiatives and tourism rejuvenation. We are all in this together, and all food comes from one pot, and every man, woman, boy and girl, rich and poor, has to eat.”
The minister said one of their primary goals, through these national disasters, was to ensure that all persons in her ministry who had jobs and benefits prior to COVID-19, maintained that status, thereby keeping their jobs and benefits. As it relates to subvention, she said that in accordance with the existing sports policy, no active athlete approved for subvention would be affected by the adjustments. However, she stated, where an athlete is not performing in accordance with standard policy, the usual adjustments will be applied as recommended by the Department of Sports and through consultation with the respective federations.
“Although the ministry has suffered necessary deductions, the differences are not below actual expenditure. In other words, expenses are in accordance with or below the approved budget allocations for last budget cycle. For example, athlete subvention was approved at $1,346,150 in the last budget period. The actual expenditure under that item for the budget period was $1,007,588 as per the date of the 2020-2021 budget publication. A difference of $338,562 was not spent based on the date of this record. This position would infer any reasonable adjustment or rationale for new budgetary spending,” said the minister.
In that vein, the minister said that Kimberley Rolle will oversee a committee charged with recommending accountability of the subvention system, and she said collectively, they do not intend to ignore or neglect their commitment to deserving Bahamian athletes.
“In the last period, the Department of Sports provided direct and indirect financial assistance to 93 elite athletes in 11 sporting disciplines at an approximate cost of $1 million,” said the minister. “Sports remains a priority of this Minnis-led administration. We will continue to provide assistance to our athletes through the federations for them to successfully compete in international meets. This budget continues to prioritize athletes and sporting organizations. This is a budget for the people.”
Referencing athletes such as collegiate basketball standout Nathan Bain, whose GoFund Me account skyrocketed in the face of Hurricane Dorian from his heroics in college basketball this past season; Chavano “Buddy” Hield, who won the National Basketball Association (NBA) Three-Point Competition this season; and athletic superstars Steven Gardiner and Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Rolle said their success and generosity in giving back to Bahamian communities takes a tremendous burden off the public purse, and are leading examples of why a national sports academy must come on stream.
“We must identify more Buddys, more Shaunaes and more Stevens, and the national sports academy will do just that,” she said. “When you look at our athletes in baseball who have obtained scholarships and don’t have to apply for government assistance, and the 20-plus who are in the minor leagues, sports adds to the financial pot in a tangible way. We must measure the value of sports to our overall fiscal performance. The money will come if we invest in the people, and this budget and this government will continue to do just that. I thank this government for a substantial investment in sports.”
Expanding on the national sports academy idea that surfaced under the last central administration, Rolle said that would go a long way in helping to produce more Bahamians who would add value to the tourism product and international reputation of the country.
“Bahamians possess raw talent in the area of sports,” she said. “What we allocate to sports programs in comparison to academic programs, investing strategically in sports development through sports education is a thought worthy of conscious consideration. Sports is a focused skill that has the ability to produce strategic results. It keeps the youth positively engaged in clean fun and it helps them to remain healthy and to stay active. This sector requires more investment and room to grow.
“It is challenging to build successful national teams without the structure of a national sports academy where the focus is on sports more so than just academics. In that vein, we need to make the sports academy a reality, and given the proper priority, it will happen. Not every professional needs to sit behind a desk with a business suit and tie. A national sports academy will harness the development of multiple sporting disciplines. It would not merely be facilitating, but regenerating.”
The minister gave tremendous credit to the team she has working with her in sports, stating that they continue to carry the weight of sports on their shoulders and that they do a phenomenal job of overseeing the sports component in the country.
“The Department of Sports is deficient in its pool of resources, but nevertheless, the sports team ensures that we execute our mandate to facilitate the direction of sports in the country and directly coordinate annual reward programs designed to give national recognition to the hard work and outstanding accomplishments of our athletes, former athletes and organizations through the national sports awards and the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. We are appreciative of their efforts,” said the minister.
Speaking on the success of Bahamian athletes at the Doha World Championships a year ago, with Gardiner winning gold in the men’s 400 meters (m), Miller-Uibo winning a silver in the women’s 400m and Tynia Gaither making the final of the women’s 200m, Rolle said that they are indeed proud of those three athletes and the entire team, and that the aforementioned trio all received compensation via the government’s remuneration program.
Gardiner received $40,000 for his gold medal win, Miller-Uibo was awarded $30,000 for her silver medal win and Gaither received $5,000 for making a final.
As it relates to a return of sporting activities in the country, in the face of COVID-19, Rolle said in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the sports ministry has prepared a list of safety and social distancing guidelines for the benefit of sporting federations, associations and various clubs and leagues.
“For the record, we emphasize that until we are clear of this state of emergency, particular contact sports and related facilities should not be conducted or opened in the absence of health guidance,” said the minister.
She said the official document will be available on Monday, June 15, and can be viewed via the ministry’s port on the government of The Bahamas’ website or on the ministry’s Facebook page.
Major sporting events worldwide, and local sporting events and seasons here in The Bahamas, have been postponed, canceled or discontinued because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas there is some promise of a gradual return of sports, there is no telling when leagues will be up and running fully, with some degree of normalcy.