An uncaring government with no vision for sport – Part II

Football & Athletics
The two sporting associations that need the national stadium most have suffered the most from the current government in so far as facilities are concerned.
While here to deliver the feature address at the Annual Awards Ceremony of Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Area Representative of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and President of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Area Association (NACAC) of the same institution, Neville Mc Cook, pointed to the fact that St Vincent and the Grenadines joins Montserrat and Anguilla as the only three English-speaking Caribbean nations without a national stadium for track and field athletics. This reality has not fazed the current administrations, which has made more promises to deliver the facility than any previous administration in the history of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Football and Athletics are both severely inhibited in terms of the preparation of teams for regional and international competitions and are unfairly chastised by Vincentians at home and abroad for poor performances. Little consideration is given to the facilities or lack thereof.
Vincentians living in Pennsylvania have consistently requested the participation of school teams in the annual Penn Relays, which come off on the last Saturday of April every year. There is no doubt that every Vincentians at home would wish to have this country proudly represented at this remarkable annual event. But there is much more involve din getting there than registering athletes and getting them there. Unfortunately even these Vincentians do not sufficiently appreciate the reality of no single school having the requisite access to a sporting facility that would allow for the preparation of a team to match the expected standards common at the Penn Relays.
It would be a gross embarrassment to the very Vincentians who extend annual invitations to the schools at home to participate in the Penn Relays should the latter take up the challenge and fail to make the grade at the high-level competition. Here again the reality fazes no one in the current administration.
Schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines are not able to access top quality playing fields on a regular basis for training such that they can develop their skills to the level desired to compete at the Penn Relays. It is difficult enough to speak of making the requisite standards for the annual Carifta Games.
Several years ago the IAAF Vice President, Amadeo Francis, visited this country at the invitation of the TASVG. He was accompanied by the marketing managers of Mondo, track manufacturer par excellence, and one of the most prestigious track and field equipment manufacturers, UCS. The current Prime Minister, at a ceremony at the stadium site at Diamond, spoke eloquently in their presence of the speed with which the stadium project was progressing. That was several years ago.
The national stadium site, the proposed home for Athletics and Football, now houses a track for Dirt Racing organised by the local Automobile Association.
Neither Athletics not Football can readily plan ahead and prepare bids for major regional and international competitions given the absence of a facility that can be accessed without hindrance or in the absence of requests from Cricket or Rugby for the same venue.
Football, the nation’s most popular sport rues its status. There can be no relief under the current administration.
While it is true that the international governing body for Football, FIFA, has offered the local Federation what is called its ‘Goal Project’, the local body bust nonetheless have some commitment from the government in order to achieve a home in terms of a playing field. However, in the absence of such assistance the organisation would have to considerably tone down its project. In any event it is virtually impossible for Football to even consider the construction of a stadium given the enormous costs attached and the unavailability of the requisite huge sums of money from FIFA.
Two of this country’s leading football clubs, Avenues and System 3 have made it to the CONCACAF Club Championships. The fist round of competition, played on a home and away basis will cost on average $60,000 per team. The fact is that none of the teams have been preparing for this type of expenditure and would be particularly hard-pressed to raise these sums in the economic guava season that currently exists in this country. Even the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation wil find it difficult to assist these clubs financially.
The available information seems to indicate that in 2010 all of the Federations teams in training will be involve din regional competitions and the overall financial expenditures will exceed that which is in their coffers.
The fact that the current administration has proven itself incapable of realising the political value of providing the promised national stadium shows a level of weakness on its part. Youths are the largest number of practitioners of Football in the State and everybody follows the sport. Perhaps it may be opportune here to declare that it may well be the impact of the divisive national politics of the day that has driven a nail in the coffin of Football as evidenced in the rapid-fire decline in spectatorship at the present time.
The Sports City
The Prime Minister has advocated that among his many plans for the future will be the construction of a new city at Arnos Vale.
Given that the current administration has taken this country into a level of indebtedness where no previous administration dared to go and the fact that future generations will be saddled with debt created in our lifetime rather then theirs, the proposals appear at best unrealistic and serves no useful productive purpose. A new city complete with shopping malls holds little interest for the people of an increasingly impoverished nation.
This Columnist proposes that it is better to conceptualise the creation of an International Sports City at Arnos Vale. The proposal here includes the land currently occupied by the ET Joshua Airport, inclusive of the Mustique Airways/SVG Air hangar, the Arnos Vale Sports Complex and the Sion Hill Playing Field.
The removal of the airport leaves a tremendous amount of real estate available. Ironically the King George V sports complex was actually at Arnos Vale so the justification is already in place.
It is possible therefore to transform the entire area into the region’s premier sporting centre.
The national stadium and warm up field, both serving Athletics and Football, can easily be accommodated in the area currently used as the start of the take-off by aircrafts using the airport at present, complete with attendant gym exercise and fitness equipment. There is room for a cycling Velodrome adjacent to that.
The area currently occupied by the hangar can facilitate the construction of a National Indoor Sports Arena with attendant gym exercise and fitness equipment
The area can also accommodate a National Aquatics Centre and a small sports hostel to facilitate camps of local teams in training for regional and international competitions and also for talent development purposes.
The proximity to existing and developing groceries offers those utilising the Sports City adequate access to food.
Arnos #2 can be significantly upgraded to serve Cricket.
The current hard courts area could be upgraded to accommodate Tennis. An Indoor Shooting facility should be appropriately located with the outdoor shooting facility
Given the restructuring of the Arnos Vale area there will be ample parking space.
These ideas are not exhaustive and an appropriate consultation with relevant expertise would certainly devise an appropriate plan of action to catapult this country into the international arena in terms of sports tourism.
Such a facility would generate immense interest in sport at the local level and give rise to significant growth in the number of people participating in sport at all levels. There would also be enhanced performance standards established.
St Vincent and the Grenadines can then follow the lead of Canada and plan ahead a sports tourism strategy that would positively impact the Vincentian economy for some time to come.
National Sports Council
The mandate of the National Sports Council (NSC) has a mandate to develop and maintain sports facilities in St Vincent and the Grenadines. However the resources available to this institution does not do justice to the work arising out of its mandate. The NSC cannot complete its work in any given year if it is to rely on the finances provided. Thus it is that there is always a case of the organisation being unable to provide quality playing fields across the nation in any particular year and in a timely manner.
The NSC is inadequately structured to meet its current mandate.
It is a gross disservice to sport and to the NSC and national sports associations to expect the Council to meet annually with associations to claim that they are somehow assisting them.
The arrangements currently in place for the associations to send in documentation annually to the NSC for assistance from the National Lotteries Authority is clumsy and hopelessly misguided and has never really worked.
There is an urgent need to restructure the NSC but this can only be undertaken following an in-depth analysis of the current institution and a review of its current mandate viz a viz the broader national sports development thrust.
At present the NSC cannot service the national sports development process beyond the preparation of some of the playing fields. The organisation is tinkering at the edges of the process without really impacting development.
It is unfortunate that as yet we are unable to realise that sport is serious business. We are light years away from realising that sport in an enterprise and must be treated as such.
We lament the lack of professionalism in our sport without engaging in any form of analysis as to why this is so.
The time has come for us to do what is required to effect meaningful and sustainable change.
It is clear from the 2010 budget that the current political administration does not have any use for sport. It did not receive any attention in the document presented to Parliament. The current crop ministers cannot be blamed for this travesty to sports since they do not understand what is happening in this field of endeavour even though some of them would have played sport.
Sports Associations will have to play a much more active role in the national development process.
We are already very late.