The athletics season is in full swing.
Over the past several months the numerous primary and secondary schools spread across this beautiful nation of ours have been engaged in the conduct of their annual athletics competition. Most have road relays and their track and field competitions.
Following the conclusion of their respective individual competitions the primary and secondary schools prepare for the annual Inter Primary Schools and Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships, when the very best compete for top honours at the prestigious Arnos Vale Sports Complex.
The competition arena – a level playing field
The schools of this nation are spread across the country, inclusive of the Grenadines. It is a major challenge for the different schools to organise their respective athletics competitions. The road is always there and this component is easily addressed and concluded.
On the other hand the track and field competition is another matter altogether.
The schools are not all competing on a level playing field when it comes to the facilities available to their students during their preparations for the annual competitions.
In some cases schools organise their athletics competitions on playing fields that are on anything between 150m and 350m. These fields may contain no lanes or as many as eight lanes.
There are playing areas where it is simply not possible to get a 100m event contest because of the size of the field. On some areas children can probably get giddy trying to complete an 800m event because of the number of laps they have to make, so small is the available circuit.
It is therefore easy to understand that at their respective annual athletics competition, some schools are more disadvantaged than others.
There is yet to be a policy that seems to suggest enough of an interest in the role of sport in the development of our country to give due consideration to the numerous aspects attendant to the decision as to what type of playing field to construct, how large and where to have it located.
No thought is ever given to the requirements of the sport of athletics when constructing playing fields. This is one of the problems confronting our sport development in this country – the absence of appropriate consultation.
Over the past years efforts have been made to encourage schools, if possible, to utilise a playing arena that is consistent. It is the reason that increasing pressure has been placed on the authorities at the Victoria Park and Arnos Vale.
The Schools Games Committee (SGC), a few years ago, took the decision to have the Heats and Finals of the Inter Primary Schools Athletics Championships (IPSAC) held at the Arnos V ale # 1 playing field. There the circuit is 350m, the largest we can get in the country and the venue for the Heats and Finals of the Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships (ISSAC) for decades.
For some primary school students the size of the arena at Arnos Vale comes as something of a shock. For the majority of the participants, this would be a new experience and they inadequate knowledge of pace judgement certainly takes away from their performance in their events.
The SGC’s decision relative to the use of Arnos Vale #1 for the IPSAC is at the same time to allow the young athletes to at least have a level playing field and a better chance at success than would otherwise be the case.
Some may recall that in the past the IPSAC was zoned and different size running circuits were used for the Heats, leaving many very disadvantaged when the time the Finals were being contested.
Access to the competition arenas – the sporting hierarchy
The Victoria Park has, over time, become the veritable home for football, in the absence of consistent access to Arnos Vale.
For several years the Victoria Park fell under the ambit of the Kingstown Town Board. During this period the authorities, aware of the importance of using the venue for generating income from cultural activities of one sort or another, often entered agreements with promoters without due notice being given to the Football Federation.
It was also unfortunate that not much attention as paid to maintaining the facility for football. This often meant that after any major cultural activity the football fraternity was never certain how long it would take before the facility would be back at an acceptable level for the game to be played properly.
Since the facility has been placed under the ambit of the National Lotteries Authority there has been much greater attention paid to its maintenance.
While athletics has increased its use of the Victoria Park for training and competition on occasions, the reality is that the maximum sized eight lane track that can be placed there is 250m which creates numerous problems for athletes given the number and tight nature of the several turns in the circuit events.
Arnos Vale is the largest outdoor playing arena in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This has been the case since the arena was constructed in the early 1970s. But we must remember that it was built with cricket in mind and not really for any other sport.
The conflict between football and cricket in respect of the access to Arnos Vale is well documented.
The planners and those in authority at the level of cricket gave little thought to the use of Arnos Vale by athletes involved in track and field competition. Certainly, it was also not envisioned that there would come a time when track and field athletes and coaches would develop to the point where they would require year-round access to the facility in order to adequately prepare themselves for annual competitions at home and abroad. Athletics has been engaged in establishing agreements regarding access to the facilities for most of its season. The largest sized track that Arnos Vale #1 can accommodate is 350m utilising eight lanes.
Football is allowed access to the Arnos Vale playing field for major regional and international competitions.
The reality is that we have only two outdoor arena for sporting athletics in this country that are possessive of an acceptable surface for athletes to train and compete consistently – Arnos Vale #1 and Victoria Park.
Arnos Vale is the home of cricket and Victoria Park the home of football, for the most part.
The best facility is Arnos Vale #1 but the athletics fraternity has to contend with the persistent pronouncements that the presence of the athletes at the facility so often does not allow for the appropriate development of the facility or the sport for which it was constructed – cricket.
Not surprisingly, the facility remains unprepared for the athletics competitions during the year, mainly due to the inadequacy of funds to commit to even rolling the arena for the IPSAC and ISSAC grand competitions – the largest local sporting events conducted at the facility every year. In this regard the athletes are the ones to suffer as they cannot give of their best under the unfavourable conditions.
There is often the view that athletes only need a relatively flat surface on which to perform. The reality is they need a very flat surface with grass that is appropriately trimmed and the field rolled. This is hardly ever provided for our athletes in this country.
Once there is a regional and/or international cricket match scheduled it is often the case that no effort is spared attempting to access the necessary resources to ensure that the preparation of the facility meets the requisite standards.
One may well conclude that there is little consideration of standards where local athletics is concerned, inclusive of the IPSAC and ISSAC.
The authorities at the National Sports Council (NSC) can legitimately claim a tremendous shortage of resources needed to adequately and appropriately maintain the facilities at Arnos Vale on an on going basis. The money and equipment are simply not there to do what is required.
The option therefore seems to be to pay more attention to the sport of cricket since the hosting of regional and international matches generates the kind of income that cannot be realised from the range of local activities for which the facility is often requested.
This is also the reason why for a very long time the Arnos Vale #1 was rented to religious organisations for their activities. They meet the expenses.
As so often happens the track and field athletes are virtually expelled from Arnos Vale once a major cricket competition is pending. There are occasions when the expulsion is summarily done despite the governing body for the sport having provided a calendar and reached agreement with the authorities.
Interestingly and to the detriment of our athletes the decision to close off access to Arnos Vale is not accompanied with a collaborative endeavour to provide a reasonable alternative. There is no discussion.
It is as though the athletes and their coaches are not sufficiently important to receive the most basic consideration.
It is also often the case that the expulsion comes at a time when the athletes need the facilities most. As our athletes prepare for the IPSAC and ISSAC Finals they do not have access to an appropriate facility to fine tune themselves for the competition.
While it may seem simple to some the inability to access a proper surface as one seeks to climax one’s preparation for the aforementioned events and the Carifta Games that follows could readily make a significant difference in their performances.
It is also possible that the use of inadequate facilities in the final stages of preparation for the Finals and the subsequent Carifta Games the athletes are exposed to a very real prospect of injury that could debar them from even participating in the competitions.
Time and again we have stated here that talk is cheap. Indeed it is. It is also relatively easy to do.
The time has come for a more practical approach to be taken to the determination of what we do with our sport facilities.
The NSC may well feel justified in its action regarding access to and use of the Arnos Vale Playing Field given that is it primarily a cricket ground.
I tis also time however for the NSC to be clear on precisely what is its mandate in St Vincent and the Grenadines. If part of that mandate is to ensure that our facilities are adequate relative to the requirements of the various sporting disciplines then there has to be a systematic strategic that speaks to that. Such an approach is sadly lacking.
The continued failure of our government to provide more than the odd paragraph or two devoted to sport in the annual budget is reason enough for us to understand the severe constraints placed upon the NSC. It also offers little hope that anytime soon we can expect meaningful change in what currently obtains.
The athletics season is in full swing.