Brent Sancho says transparency and accountability will be the hallmark of his stewardship as Minister of Sport in the People’s Partnership Government.
“I see organisations bringing me budgets and pleading poverty while management enjoys a high standard of living, yet their staff is owed money. I cannot justify that kind of budgeting,” Sancho says of his interactions with sporting bodies since assuming the post last month.
“If an organisation is in debt, you have to reduce your spending. Every sporting organisation, team and club needs to be run like a business.”
Borrowing a perspective from United National Congress (UNC) political leader, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who, early in her tenure as Prime Minister in 2010, condemned the practise by some Caribbean islands of turning to Trinidad and Tobago for financial assistance in times of crisis, a tough-talking Sancho declared that the ministry, too, “was not an ATM where people can just receive handouts.”
“I want transparency and accountability. These may just be words to some people but to me they are fundamental requirements to achieve funding,” he says. During his tenure, Sancho, 37, says he will also be pushing for value for taxpayers’ money.
“I want to know what’s in it for the TT citizen.
I want their coaches supporting our programmes. I want our youths to be welcomed at events.
I want to see development,” he says, Weaning organisations away from government support, says Sancho, also factors prominently on his agenda. Bent on encouraging various sporting bodies to take an active involvement in future facilities and so generate income and control their own destiny, Sancho says:
“I want to see how they (sports organisations) have engaged support from the corporate sector and how they have developed income streams for themselves. In return, I can offer more than money. If need be I will help them with their audits and accounts.” He also plans to convene a symposium with senior corporate executives to promote the value of investing in sport.
“I am engaging corporate TT in sport in a meaningful way. For example, I am talking to Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to assist with overseas flights for our athletes and teams. In return, CAL would be recognised as a sponsor with their logo on travel jerseys and tracksuits.
“Think about it, our athletes compete in every continent and are televised into hundreds of millions of homes globally. What a fantastic promotional tool! Sponsoring sport is the best value for money promotion you can buy.”
Sancho’s goals may seem quite ambitious given the limited time frame in which he has to effect meaningful change at the ministry, ahead of the upcoming general election.
However, he assures that he will not pursue any major initiatives within the next few months but rather influence improvements in existing projects as well as make tangible inputs in forthcoming policy decisions. “My goal is to make a positive impact on the ministry so that whoever takes over my portfolio will have streamlined procedures, structured policies and motivate staff,” he says. The dreadlocked Sancho, who holds a degree in Psychology from St John’s University in New York, has had no grace period within which to gradually embrace his role at the ministry.
He’s had to buckle down to work quickly but describes his stint within the government thus far as phenomenal.
“It has been an exciting time for me as I experience the inner workings of the People’s Partnership.” The sport portfolio, he admits, has been especially overwhelming.
“My initial thoughts were, how can one person do this job?” he jokes.
“My wife says that I live at the ministry. I’m usually at work by 7 am and I’m rarely home before 8pm each day.”
Apart from his Cabinet and senatorial duties, the former national footballer has a slew of tasks to which he has to attend on a daily basis.
Outside of these responsibilities, he oversees the SPORTT Company, “which in itself is a full-time role.”
The father of two, who announced his retirement from international football in October 2006, told Sunday Newsday, “There was no honeymoon period as I had to immediately immerse myself in a myriad of projects while trying to learn everyone’s name and function. But I have to say that I am enjoying the role and I have set myself specific goals to achieve during my tenure.” The founder of Central FC, who enjoyed a stellar career as a member of TT’s beloved Soca Warriors and as a player on several high-profile, foreign-based teams, Sancho admits that he had never considered a career in politics before being approached by the Prime Minister to take up the sport portfolio in the government. “I had no previous political inclination and had not considered entering politics, at least not for another ten years or so.” The ministry, he was told, was in need of “someone dynamic with leadership to bring about positive change” and the Belmont-bred Sancho, who made his debut on a political platform during the UNC’s Monday Night Forum at Brazil Government Secondary, last week, readily accepted the opportunity to serve.
“As a professional footballer and sport being my passion, I see myself contributing to my country in a meaningful way and to helping the youths and all athletes by ensuring that proper facilities and funding required, are provided for them to succeed in their relevant discipline. I am grateful for the opportunity to see the situation from the other side of the fence and bring positive change where I can,” he says.
So, can a sportsman make a good politician?
Observing that quite a few athletes have made the transition from sport to politics, Sancho listed Brazilian football legends Pele and Zico as persons who have successfully traversed both fields.
Pele, he says, holds the title of “Extraordinary Minister of Sport” in his homeland while Zico, who worked briefly in Fernando Collar de Mello’s administration in the early 1990s as sport minister, is still recognised for securing passage of a bill to assist clubs with their business affairs by ensuring they were run in a professsional fashion. At home, he recalls that late netball star Jean Pierre had also served briefly as Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs and Member of Parliament for Port-of-Spain West from 1991 to 1995 in the People’s National Movement administration.
Sancho, who was the owner/coach of the Trinidad and Tobago Football League Club, North East stars, again dismissed talk that he is being groomed to contest the Toco/Sangre Grande seat on a UNC ticket for the upcoming general election.
“I have not been asked by the Honourable Prime Minister to contest the Toco/Sangre Grande seat or any other seat. There is no truth to the talk,” Sancho says. The seat is currently held by his predecessor in the sport ministry Dr Rupert Griffith.
Sancho says his focus, in the interim, will be to improve the status of sporting organisations.
His announcement of a semi-professional women’s football league during last week’s political meeting is a case in point.
“Most people would agree that our national women’s team excited the nation like no other team since the Soca Warriors of 2005/6 but after their last-minute loss to Ecuador, what have they done?” Sancho asked.
“They have had no games, nothing has been put in place to build upon their success and the interest generated. These girls need regular football so that they can develop.”
Sancho is hoping to use his office to organise international matches for the players. He laments that while there has been a positive start to women’s league football, it did not provide any income for the players. “My concept is to offer six or eight franchises to corporate TT based on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) system,” he says. “Each team would have its own sponsor and would contain a sprinkling of overseas players.” The minister pointed out that while he will assist with the creation of the league, there would be very little financial input from the government.
Sancho also intends to embark upon the construction of several football-specific facilities to encourage Pro League clubs to become financially self-sufficient. “I am seeing that there are many sports in need of facilities and I would hope to address this more after the election,” he says. Aside from his portfolio, Sancho says he is deeply concerned about the ccountry’s crime situation. However, he believes that sport can help to turn young people away from crime.
“No child is born bad. We have to give them attractive alternatives to drugs and gangs,” he says.
Sancho says the society has the ability to mentor children who do not respect institutions such as schools and the law. “They come to us to have fun, and while they’re enjoying their sport we can embed certain core messages that can help to shape their psyche going forward,” he says. “Teamwork, honesty, respect, passion, self-belief are all components of sport success. They are also building blocks for great citizenship. Prevention is better than cure and sport can be a cure.”