Better planning needed in sport

On Saturday last Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines hosted its annual Relay Classic at the Grammar School Playing Field. There was absolutely no effort made by those responsible for the playing fields in this country to have the facility prepared for the kind of competition that this event has generated over the past few years. It was in stark contrast however to the attention paid to the Arnos Vale Playing Field in preparation for the upcoming One Day International (ODI) Cricket Series pitting the West Indies against Australia.

For the past several years it has become clear that there is little by way of planning by the West Indies Cricket Board WICB). While the International Cricket Council (ICC) seeks to establish its tours over time the WICB seems unable to convince anyone of its own programme in an appropriate time frame.
It has become normative for the WICB to wait until very late to determine where matches are going to be played and this even for our own regional competitions. This leaves the local cricket boards in a quandary.
In the current case of the 2012 Australian tour of the Caribbean the WICB seemed to have hinted since last August of the possibility of matches being allocated to St Vincent and the Grenadines. Nothing specific, and in writing, came from the WICB to the local board before November 2011. By this time Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines would have submitted its Calendar to the National Sports Council (NSC) and the Ministry of Education would have long since determined its schedule for the annual Inter Primary and Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships.
Neither the Ministry nor Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines were officially communicated with in respect of the West Indies versus Australia ODIs being scheduled here. They heard it on the media first and later by word of mouth.
What has happened over the years is that the NSC essentially takes it for granted that since Arnos Vale is first and foremost a cricket facility any other sport that uses the facility has to understand that it must shift its programme once regional and international cricket are proposed for this country. There is no consultation. It is a fiat that cricket takes priority.
The NSC must rise to a level of professionalism that allows for ongoing consultation since the facility is often used by other sporting organisations some of which are able to plan well ahead, unlike cricket.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is not particularly blessed with high level outdoor sporting facilities. Indeed this is one of the areas of weakness of successive governments and the current regime is in no way different.
The Arnos Vale Sports Complex was originally designed as the home of cricket. At the time cricket as the most popular sport in the country and the opportunity existed for this country, with a high quality cricket arena, to access matches of an international standard. This is all understandable.
One recalls the battle that took place between cricketers and footballers over the Victoria Park after Arnos Vale was created. It was obvious that the cricket authorities turned a blind eye to the fact that over time football was the sports major challenge in terms of national popularity. The football fraternity simply adopted the stand that cricket could not get the two best facilities in this country and leave the fastest growing sport in the country on the outside looking in.
The end result however is that cricket got its home at Arnos Vale while football and athletics have been left to fend for themselves wherever they could get a surface, regardless of its size and/or status.
The NSC has itself not been a model of good planning.
When this country agreed to accept the ‘brown paper bag’ package of ‘goat cook’ matches for the Cricket World Cup in 2007 the NSC in tandem with the government and cricketing authorities here took control of Arnos Vale # 1 and # 2, the Stubbs and ion Hill playing fields. There was no consultation with any other sporting body in this country in respect of that undertaking. It was simply assumed that given the international nature of the competition everyone else would understand what was happening. This has been the approach, generally.
It is therefore not surprising that other sports associations desirous of using the Arnos Vale playing field have all come to an understanding that they are tolerated rather than facilitated. Regardless of the level of planning in which they engage cricket is priority.
Field conditions
When we were preparing for the ‘goat cook’ matches nothing was spared. There were monies seemingly available in abundance. But the planning again fell short.
While there was much talk of legacy the reality has proven otherwise. The Stubbs playing field is today a ‘dust bowl’. Grasses of all sorts overrun the Sion Hill playing field. Arnos Vale # 2 remains a mixed bag with no one really in a position to explain what is happening there. These are the legacy items that must concern us.
Prior to the Cricket World Cup preparatory exercise Sion Hill was one of the better kept playing surfaces in this country, capable of holding two cricket wickets – one dirt and one turf, and hosting football and athletics competitions with relative ease. Since the conclusion of the ‘goat cook’ matches Sion Hill has been a veritable mess.
The Grammar School playing field has been an expense account for several years. The problem has been management. Perhaps the best time experienced by this field was when Orde Ballantyne was responsible for its management. At least at that time there was some semblance of planning. However the facility has since returned to its former days despite several undertakings to upgrade it.
The fact is that the Grammar School playing field is exposed to the largest number of users on any given day. There are four secondary and two primary schools surrounding this facility and each of them seeks access. In the afternoon the community and several teams and clubs take control. One would therefore have imagined that this facility would receive constant attention akin to what is often reserved for Arnos Vale # 1. No such luck!
The Grammar School playing field is treated as a secondary or third level facility when it could easily have retained a high level status with appropriate attention.
It does appear that there is no sustainable plan for our playing fields. The politicians see them as a necessity to appease the youths in their respective constituencies and then ignore their conditions between general elections.
There is no management plan in place for maintaining these playing fields and over the years the equipment purchased have been essentially based on a ‘hit or miss’ approach rather than expert advice.
The monies expended on Arnos Vale for the Cricket World preparations remains obscene when one observes the current status of the facility, to say nothing of the tons of equipment lying waste, ostensibly awaiting the procurement of parts without knowing if and when they would be purchased.
Field preparations
Once the NSC received word that this country would host three ODIs in March of 2012 the facility of Arnos Vale # 2 was closed for extensive repairs. No one can really quarrel with the extensive repairs and upgrade necessary for the quality of the competition involved. The fact however is that this should not have been the case.
The NSC has never, since the Cricket World Cup, had a plan in place for the marketing of the facility to generate income to even remotely approach what is required for its sustainability. The government of the day has been unable to provide adequate resources to the NSC to facilitate appropriate maintenance of the facility.
The Local Organising Committee for the Cricket World Cup that had promised so much by way of legacy delivered so little that they left the facility without any of what was on offer to this very day.
The care that has been taken to pull personnel from other areas to focus attention on Arnos Vale for this year’s ODIs is commendable yet remarkable. No other sport is accorded that amount of attention by the NSC when Arnos Vale is requested.
We have had regional and international football played at Arnos Vale and never once has that facility been prepared with half as much attention as is being devoted to the preparations for the ODIs.
Perhaps the fact that the facility has to pass rigid tests by scrutineers including the ICC and the Australian team has something to do with the level of preparations but that should not be the case. We should recognize the importance of ensuring that the field is always maintained at the very highest level. This has nothing to do with others using the facility. Facilities are made to be used not remain locked up. They must however be a=cared for and this must emerge from a detailed long-term plan for its sustainability. Were such a plan in place all users would readily have acquiesced. The same holds true for all of the other facilities under the care of the NSC.
The NSC must understand that failure to plan is a recipe for planning to fail.
Had adequate planning been done the St Vincent Grammar School playing field would not be such a health risk to the athletes. The NSC may not be aware of the extensive work undertaken by chiropractor, Edmund Sealey, to correct athletes using this facility to train, on a weekly basis. They experience serious dislocations that have to be corrected. They suffer as a result of the unevenness of the surface.
Months are allowed to pass before the holes are filled at the Grammar School playing field.
The major problem plaguing the NSC is one of competencies.
The NSC is in need of comprehensive restructuring. The current structure cannot meet the needs of the St Vincent and the Grenadines sporting community today.
There is an urgent need for an appreciation of what is required for the NSC to be an organization that can carry the mandate of managing the sports facilities in St Vincent and the Grenadines. There is an urgent need for a broadening of the structure so that appropriate expertise can be acquired to facilitate ‘horses for courses’ within the organization.
There are no competencies in marketing to assist with promoting the facility across the globe. There is need for expertise in all aspects of the organization and an expansion of its mandate.
The government must review its decision to retain a Division of Sport while also having a National Sports Council, especially when the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.
The time has come for sport to be brought on the front burner of national development and not be treated as some adjunct. The continued tagging of sport to a most cumbersome and clumsy set of ministerial portfolios leaves this important developmental facet out of the loop of a genuine commitment to national development.