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UWI sport faculty an idea whose time has come

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The recent establishment of a Faculty of Sports by The University of the West Indies (UWI), the first new faculty in over 40 years, is a bold initiative and an indication of modern thinking.

It will pull together several sports-related courses in medicine, psychology and management that are already offered on the three campuses in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad at world-class standard.

For example, Jamaican athletes based here — perhaps with the exception of Mr Usain Bolt who goes to Germany as part of the contractual arrangements with his sponsors — are treated by medical practitioners trained at UWI.

The Faculty of Sports is the vision of Vice Chancellor Sir Hilary Beckles, a man who knows the social and development importance of cricket. Vindication of the potential is that several of the better-performing members of the West Indies cricket team, including the captain, are UWI students or products of the High Performance Centre.

It is an ambitious goal involving establishing or upgrading world-class facilities and infrastructure for teaching, research and training. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, and the gains will be academic, social and financial.

Sport is a major profit centre for many universities in the United States, with the surplus being used to support research, teaching and scholarships across other faculties. There is no reason why the UWI should not tap into the US$700-billion business of sport, in partnership with the Caribbean and the global private sector.

Indeed, the Caribbean has tremendous potential and comparative advantage in track and field as the unquestioned number one sprinting region.

And the potential is not confined to track and field, as demonstrated by the fact that the region has produced world champions in almost every major sport from boxing to swimming. Time was when the West Indies were the longest-reigning cricket world champions. Neither do we forget the audacious Jamaican bobsled teams.

Over and above the contribution to the UWI, the Faculty of Sports will create a new sector which has the potential to drive economic growth, generate employment, induce investment, and earn foreign exchange.

UWI is well equipped with the expertise of its staff to lead the Caribbean into the more lucrative aspects of sport beyond performance and coaching, and to enhance the region's capacity to get into the legal, promotional, medical, manufacturing and managerial aspects of sport.

The UWI's decision is based on the view that sport can be a driver of economic growth because of its extensive inter-sectoral linkages which can have significant secondary benefits in education, heath, entertainment, finance, tourism, manufacturing, construction, media, real estate, and banking.

Moreover, UWI's sports faculty, combined with its criminology and sociology departments, and in conjunction with governments and other educational institutions, could make a critically important contribution to tackling pressing social issues like youth unemployment and crime.

We see the potential of the sport faculty to usher in a new era in Caribbean sport and the UWI is to be commended for such forward-thinking. No need to worry about the inevitable againsters who do not have the self-confidence to believe such things are possible.