World Heritage Day also commonly known as International Day for Monuments and Sites is focused on celebrating the world’s built cultural heritage every year on April 18th. UNESCO established April 18th as the International Day for Monuments and Sites in 1983. It aims to raise public awareness about the diversity and vulnerability of the world’s built monuments and heritage sites and the efforts required to protect and conserve them. Each year has a different theme which is selected and this year’s theme is “The Heritage of Sport.”
“Sport is part of every man and woman’s heritage and its absence can never be compensated for” – Pierre de Coubertin
The Olympic Games will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in August 2016. ICOMOS wishes to dedicate the 2016 International Day for Monuments and Sites to the heritage of sports, since sports has developed from the origin of mankind onwards and has left testimonies to the diversity of installations and facilities related to their practice, many of them bearing outstanding values related to the development of architecture, art and techniques.
I would like to join the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) in dedicating this year World Heritage Day to “The Heritage of Sport” by raising awareness of the invaluable importance that sport can bring to the formation process of National Identity and social cohesion to a diverse island as St. Maarten with multiple ethnic groups and cultures living together.
The history of sports extends as far back as the most ancients cultures in the world and can teach about social practices and how the human being has developed particular skills. Prehistoric cave paintings in several regions show scenes related to sprinting, wrestling and swimming. Several types of ball games, as well as various sports such as wrestling, swimming, rowing, and athletics were already well established in ancient Egypt, as evidenced by the monuments of this civilization. Ancient Greece saw the first formal institutionalization of sports, notably through the Olympic Games, the first of which were recorded in 776 BC and continued to be celebrated until 393 AD in Olympia.
Since the Middle Ages, whole village communities in England and Ireland have competed with each other in rough ballgames, whilst in Florence the practice of Calcio Fiorentino was originally limited to the aristocracy. Combat sports such as fencing and jousting received the patronage of the aristocracy throughout Europe.
Whilst there is debate on the origin of modern team sports, particular sports were spread around the world by European colonialism. With the increase in leisure time brought about by the advent of the Industrial era, sport became less elitist and more accessible. From 1896 onwards, the modern Olympic Games, together with the Football World Cup whose first edition took place in 1930, have become two of the most important events at the international level. Certainly tennis and motor racing competitions also attract a large public interest. The practice of sports has led to the creation of specific facilities (stadia, grounds, circuits, courts, etc.), which not only bear witness to the development of the sports themselves but also to the evolution of architectural design, use of technology and aesthetic expression over time. From Greek and Roman stadia or pre-Hispanic ball courts in Middle-America to modern high-tech installations now found worldwide, many of these buildings and ensembles carry significant values related to history, architecture and techniques and have become part of our cultural heritage. In other cases, sporting activities involved the special use of particular urban spaces or territories. Many of these places are protected or included in protected sites or areas, whilst others are unfortunately not recognized as heritage components and subject to neglect and decay.
Throughout history, the St. Maarten people have entertained themselves in active and passive participation of games and pastimes, many of which are fast disappearing and others rebounding. These games were accompanied by particular techniques developed over the years. As a young constituent state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands we are presented with many challenges and opportunities on this front. Regarding opportunities that are within our reach and may I say we have a golden one knocking at our door, which is well rooted in our culture dating back to the early 1600’s when the British occupied St. Martin. I am referring to the much talked about cricket stadium that has the potential of uniting us as a young constituent state as it did for us as West Indian people coming out of the mid 1800’s (post slavery). The numbers and the diversity of people that play the sport and are spectators of the sport in itself is testimony to the positive effects it will generate when materialized. Keacy Carty’s success as a member of the West Indies U19 Team along with the West Indies Women’s Team and the West Indies Men’s Team recent victories are snapshots of this potential. We have to reflect and take a closer look on how we value our John Cooper/Jose Lake Senior Ball Park, Little league Stadium, Melford Hazel Sports Facility and Lionel Bernhard Scott Sports auditorium to name a few from an aesthetic, architectural, practical, historical, etc.; point of view and use them to bring out the best in our people, reflective of who we are.
In closing on this year’s World Heritage Day I am urging every citizen of Sweet St. Maarten Land to reflect and ask the question: Am I properly interpreting the values of our cultural properties and presenting them accordingly to the younger generation of our society?
It boils down to a simple obligation and proposition:
Each generation is obligated to teach the future generation of the past and our plan should be in line with that of Jomo Kenyatta who made the proposition to his countrymen and by extension the world that “Our children may learn about the heroes of the past, however our task is to make ourselves the architects of the future.”
Happy World Heritage Day.