Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Editorial | Niggling questions about new sports faculty

Published:Tuesday | August 29, 2017 | 12:00 AM

It seems, on the face of it, a good thing: the launch by the University of the West Indies (UWI), a month ago, of its Faculty of Sport. For, as the university's vice-chancellor, Hilary Beckles, explained, being the leading teaching institution in the Commonwealth Caribbean, the UWI was undertaking the responsibility for ensuring, and building upon, the sporting excellence that characterises the region.

No one could credibly question the excellence to which Professor Beckles referred, the historic depth of its foundation, or the cultural and social importance of sport in the development of the Caribbean. Indeed, Professor Beckles' own seminal historiographies of West Indies cricket, or C.L.R. James' interweaving of cricket, culture and sociology into a narrative of the colonial West Indies, should place such matters beyond debate.

But while cricket, for a long time, had an almost psychological monopoly on West Indian sporting consciousness, it was not the only thing in which the region achieved excellence or in which its people, individually, attained greatness.

Significantly, the launch of the UWI's sports faculty coincided with this year's World Athletics Championship and the retirement of Jamaica's Usain Bolt, the world's greatest ever sprinter, to whom the championships were largely dedicated, for being the Atlas who, for a perilous decade, largely bore the fortunes of international athletics - though not without help from many of his Caribbean contemporaries. This generation, though, was built on the legacies of the McKenleys, Wints, Mottleys, Crawfords, Quarries and Otteys.

Until recently, though, the idea of sport beyond recreation, or possibly socio-psychological recreation, into the realm of business and economics was little explored in the Caribbean. Where it has, in a negotiating dynamic between players and administrators, such as in West Indies cricket, there have been tensions and schisms, as both sides explore the relationship between money and power. It is in that context that the UWI's faculty proposes not only to teach and research the physical aspects of sport, but to offer degrees in sports business management, which, presumably, will include the broader economics of sport.

But even as we recognise these potentially good offerings by the faculty's academies, we still can't help being uneasy about the development of the faculty and look forward to further and better particulars to be fully convinced that its establishment is the best use of the UWI's resources at this time.

 

SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DISLOCATION

 

As Professor Beckles noted, this is the first new faculty launched by the University of the West Indies in four decades and happened as the university is about to enter its 70th year. It has happened, too, at a time of great social and economic dislocation in the Caribbean.

The region is among the most crime-infested in the world, with homicide rates at, or near, the top of the global league table in this area. It is among the world's most indebted regions and has high rates of unemployment and low levels of growth. Regional economies are not globally competitive and are in search of an economic breakthrough. In the circumstances, there may well be claims that focus - where it places its limited resources - on the region's leading academy should now be on science and technology to build global competitiveness.

While the regional character of the UWI is recognised, there is, in the case of Jamaica, G.C. Foster College, which specialises in sports, as well as a school of sport sciences as part of the Faculty of Sciences and Sport at the University of Technology. Questions about this seeming duplication of resources and whether all, especially G.C. Foster, can survive, are not, it seems, unreasonable.