The old people say that there are always two sides to every story. Others say there are three sides – yours, mine, and the truth. The latter view suggests that there is always an expectation of bias/prejudice where contentious issues are concerned and therefore the third side is the truth that is expected to set us all free.
The recent front page headline in one of the weekly newspapers that referred to some of the footballers who use the Arnos Vale Playing Field on Sunday mornings as ‘Renegades’ may well have sparked some national discourse on the use of the facility more generally. In this Column we seek to address some aspects of the situation, making a contribution of our own two cents worth.
Prior to 1960, the area now occupied by the E. T. Joshua Airport, constituted a massive recreational arena called the King George V Playing Field.
This was the venue of horse-racing and some cricket. Most of the football was played at Victoria Park, Kingstown, where it shared top billing with Cricket.
However the very popular Cork Cup Cricket Competition, the forerunner of the current Windward Islands Cricket Tournament, was first played at the King George V Playing Field before shifting to Victoria Park as the Goodwill Series.
In 1960 the field was identified as the most suitable site for a new airport on St Vincent. In the perennial conflict for use of land, between recreation and economic infrastructure, recreation was again the loser.
The loss of the King George V Playing Field created a major vacuum in national sports.
In late 1966, after much consideration and conscious of the awesome nature of the task to be undertaken, local Cricket authorities agreed that the sixteen acres of land adjacent to the newly constructed airport at Arnos Vale could, with consistent hard work, be transformed into an adequate replacement for the King George V Playing Field.
It was the few far-seeing and committed visionaries who approached Premier Cato with the idea. The Executive Council readily bought into the idea and quickly approved the handing over of the area.
By Ordinance No. 22 of 1968 on 27 June 1968, the Legislative Council established the Arnos Vale Playing Field Board.
Administrator, Hywell George, later to become Governor, took on the leadership role of Chairman of the new Board. Frank Thomas, former captain of the national cricket team, was its Secretary.
Gideon Cordice, President of the local Cricket Association, made representation before the West Indies Cricket Board of Control (WICBC) at its meeting in 1969 for St Vincent and the Grenadines to gain access to First Class matches. The WICBC agreed that should St Vincent and the Grenadines establish a sound turf wicket in time, the country would be allowed to host a game involving the touring New Zealand team, in 1972.
Cordice challenged his Executive and the Government to complete the transformation of the Arnos Vale arena into a First Class sports facility.
The grassing of Arnos Vale #1 seeds were imported from Florida. Three strips were laid.
With assistance from the Commonwealth Caribbean Technical Scheme, Barbadian, Seymour Brookes, who was working in Grenada at the time, was brought over to St Vincent to lay the wicket and train local groundsmen, Patrick John (Tall Boy) and Gordon Husbands (Shorty).
The wicket was laid in 1971.
The essence of this segment of the article is to highlight the fact that the Arnos Vale Sports Complex began as a cricket sports facility.
Over time the Arnos Vale Sports Complex grew in size but it always retained a special place as the home of cricket. The history of how football and footballers reacted to this is well known and hence they essentially took control of the Victoria Park for many years while cricket dominated Arnos Vale.
The four Tennis courts were developed at Arnos Vale and it took some time before they became accessible to Netball, Basketball and Volleyball. At the same time, Athletics and Football also required access to Arnos Vale #1 and #2. Later Rugby also sought and obtained access.
Controversy regularly arose between Cricket and Football in particular, for access to Arnos Vale. The Arnos Vale Football league gained access to Arnos Vale #2 and the Football Federation occasionally accessed the prestigious Arnos Vale #1 for international encounters.
Arnos Vale is a most popular venue and for many years individuals and groups have sought access to the facilities for a variety of sport and recreational purposes.
Virtually all year groups of individuals have sought to access Arnos Vale #2 to ‘break a football sweat’. The arrangement has always been quite loose with very little attempt to have it structured.
The Sunday morning group has emerged in virtually the same way. There has been very little by way of structure and it has perhaps always been assumed that since usage has been permitted for so much of each year that there should be no problem.
Individuals have also found the Arnos Vale Sports Complex a venue for engaging in recreational walks as well as to general keep fit, in keeping with the so-called ‘wellness revolution’ and the battle against non communicable diseases in this country.
Athletics coaches and their athletes make good use of the facilities almost all year.
Rightly or wrongly the Arnos Vale Playing Field has been labelled a Cricket facility that tolerates other sports and users.
Rightly or wrongly, the National Sports Council (NSC) has also often been criticised for being perceived as biased towards Cricket even as it allows other sports and users to access the facility.
After conversing with individuals associated with the National Sports Council on the one hand and the grouping that was using the field on the particular Sunday morning that ended in a fracas of sorts, it does appear that there were challenges.
The NSC claims to have simply asked for an appreciation of the fact that with Cricket matches of an international and regional nature pending and given the adverse weather conditions, to say nothing of the other difficulties associated with getting the facility adequately prepared, the individuals should desist from using the grounds.
From the vantage point of the players at the time it appeared unfair since they were aware of other individuals and groups being allowed to use the same grounds during the week. They seemed to hold the view then that they were being discriminated against; they were being unfairly treated.
It is clear that there were harsh words shared by the two sides involved and neither seemed anxious to relent. The Chairman of the National Sports Council indicated that he was personally the object of insults that he perhaps never thought he would have heard associated with himself.
In the end the Police were called in to address the situation.
The issue is not merely about who was wrong and who right in the particular situation.
Unfortunately, while there is a National Sports Council in place there is not established policy that clearly outlines to all and sundry the terms and conditions of usage of the facility all year. This fact has perhaps left the way open for use by anyone.
There is a policy for groups and associations desirous of renting the facilities but there is nothing for the average individual.
There is nothing wrong with allowing individuals to use the facilities for their wellness programme. But each individual must be aware of what is expected of him/her. The NSC should have constructed a well-surfaced walking course around the facilities for the recreational persons.
National associations desirous of using the facilities for training must also be engaged in a formal way. There must be some structure to this usage. Professionalism must be the guide here. Associations must identify their required usage, offer the names of the coaches and provide their athletes in training with appropriate identification to show upon request. This allows the NSC to be able to know in which direction to look should anything untoward happen.
Individuals and groups involved in other sporting endeavour must understand that there must be some structure brought to bear on their usage of the facilities at Arnos Vale and be prepared to adhere to the agreement with the NSC.
No attempt should be made to ‘willy nilly’ deny people access to the Arnos Vale facilities. The proposal here is that there is need for a structured approach to the use of the facilities.
Having said the foregoing, it is also important that the NSC up the ante on its maintenance of the facilities.
There seems to be plenty of equipment purchased for the Cricket World Cup most of which are currently non functional and have been so for a very long time. It is impossible to maintain the fields without appropriate equipment that are regularly serviced and operational.
There seems to be something wrong with the funding of the NSC so far as maintenance of equipment is concerned. This was responsible for the horrible state of the facilities for the recent international and regional encounters. We could only garner very low marks from the International Cricket Council for what we had on offer.
If we were to turn our attention away from the grounds the rest of the facilities are in a state of gross disrepair.
The washrooms and other facilities downstairs the newly constructed double decker stand are horrific in appearance and virtually unsuited for use by humans. This was the case as far back as the Inter Secondary Schools competition and is still the case today.
The NSC building is riddled with cracks and when it rains the building is near inhabitable.
Some of the buildings on the hard courts are still missing sheets of galvanise and may well prove a risk to individuals using them.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a small country with limited sport facilities that of necessity must be shared by all. There is room for all. There must however be a clearly enunciated policy that gives rise to a structure and a professional approach to the management of the facilities regardless of where they are located.
All of us must work together to ensure that access to our limited resources does not end in fracas in which individuals are maligned and the only recourse is the security forces. Surely we can do better and that has to be the case on all sides.
Gone are the days when Arnos Vale was only for Cricket and the NSC has come to recognise this. However, it still remains the nation’s premier Cricket Field and that should count for some consideration by all who love sport.
Equally, Football is the nation’s most popular sport and we must make room for its development and access to facilities.
Let us move on to better things by working together in our collective best interest.