It was sure to happen.
That’s the view of some sports leaders when the first day of the annual Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships encountered a sudden albeit temporary setback on Tuesday 11 March 2008 at the Arnos Vale Playing Field.
The issue was the continuing uncertainty surrounding the responsibility for the Arnos Vale sports facility.
For some time this Column has drawn attention to the seeming conflict that was sure to emerge between the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for the Cricket World Cup 2007 (CWC2007) and the National Sports Council (NSC). No one seemed anxious to pay due attention.
The inevitable occurred on the morning of the Girls Heats at Arnos Vale. The activity was almost called off following disagreement in respect of who gave permission for the double-decker stands to be used by participating teams and who had the right to give such permission.
In the process of securing adequate space for participating teams in the annual Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships representatives of the organizing committee sought the support of the NSC. This meant a meeting with the management of the NSC regarding the requirements of the Championships.
During the meeting the NSC’s management sought clarification on the availability of the facilities, especially the double-decker stands. The decision was taken, based on the information provided, that the facility would be used in full. A schematic was drafted locating the requisite facilities consistent with the information provided.
It seemed then that prior to the commencement of the programme of Heats for the Championships there were no foreseeable problems associated with the facility at Arnos Vale.
It appears that the LOC did not feel that it was given due respect relative to the decision to make the facility available to the organizers of the Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships and therefore invoked its right to challenge the decision making process and the decision makers in this regard.
It appears that the LOC held the view that the double-decker stands were not yet completed and hence would have proven a danger to those who ventured into it for the duration of any sporting activity at the time.
Additionally it seems that the LOC also held the view that it did not hand over the double-decker stands as yet to the NSC since the works, in its opinion, were not completed.
The NSC appears to have held the view that the only work being undertaken on the double-decker stands related to the painting of some of the rafters in the upper deck and that this could easily have been completed in time to facilitate the competition.
The NSC also appears to have taken the stance that the sheer large number of participating institutions made it necessary to have the maximum capacity available for the event to be successfully conducted and that the decision taken was done in consultation and not independently.
The Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships is an event that brings more people to Arnos Vale than any other sporting activity in the state other than the One Day Internationals. In the recent past the turnout at the One Day Internationals has fallen from what had become the norm. In 2006 there was no Inter Secondary Schools competition and the following year it was significantly modified. On both latter occasions Arnos Vale was under rehabilitation.
The Local Organising Committee for the CWC2007 was apparently given responsibility for the field that were to be used for the warm up matches held in St Vincent and the Grenadines in 2007. One is not at all sure why the LOC was given an almost unspecified period of time beyond the conclusion of those matches.
In the 2008 budget presentation the Minister of Finance alluded to the fact that the LOC was allowed to continue its work until all had been completed. That did not say much. It seemed to be something of a blank cheque being handed out to the LOC.
Interestingly, the Minister of Finance did not specify the incomplete works nor did he attempt to establish any scheduling for the completion of the outstanding works.
There is little evidence of the LOC ever really coming to the Vincentian public to state the nature of the incomplete works, the related costs, whether or not there were cost overruns incurred and when the country at large could expect a completion of the work.
It did not seem to matter to the LOC that the average man in the street of this country might have had an interest in knowing just how long the LOC would have been allowed to exist and at what cost to the nation’s taxpayers.
The LOC did not find it necessary to explain to us all the cost implications of the destruction of the river defences prior to the commencement of the warm up matches. The leadership of the LOC did not seem to consider the average Vincentian in failing to take as hard a line against the persons and/or firms responsible for the original works on the river defences similar to that meted out to Gibson’s Construction for the latter’s tardiness on the projects under its management at the same venue. The public has come to the recognition that another company, Marine and General, was called in to reconstruct the river defence at Arnos Vale.
For some time there has been talk of the LOC finally handing over the four playing fields under its responsibility – Stubbs, Sion Hill and the two Arnos Vale playing fields. The public has been under the assumption that almost one year after the completion of the warm up matches that there would have been little reason to leave the facilities in the hands of the LOC. Indeed one is not at all certain that the LOC’s mandate should ever have been extended beyond the decidedly poor warm up matches.
One would dare suggest that there are many Vincentians who would have assumed that the facilities were long since handed over to the NSC.
Unfortunately that was not the case and it would appear that from the LOC’s perspective not all of its works have been completed and so there is reason enough for it to be considered the custodian of some aspects of the rehabilitation works as yet incomplete.
There may well be good reason for the organisers of the Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships to feel somewhat cheated when it was suddenly and almost embarrassingly brought to their attention that there were aspects of the Arnos Vale # 1 that were still the responsibility of the LOC.
While a request was made of the organisers of the Championships on the first day of the Heats to furnish answers to a list of questions about the event, it was long clear that the double-decker was necessary for the activity if previous editions of the activity were anything to go by.
On previous occasions Arnos Vale #1 boasted a Tall Stand and a Wooden Stand in addition to some of the stands still in existence. Given the number of secondary schools involved in the competition and the number of supporters of the event the new double-decker stands would have been ideal to maintain an appropriate distance between the athletes and the supporters for the duration of the event.
The security situation could also be better controlled once the stands are available and appropriately assigned. The chance of patrons moving onto the competition arena in droves would hardly be possible given the new configurations of the playing field.
The Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships have come and gone. There are those who may now wish to suggest that all is indeed well because it has ended with yet another successful edition of the event. That is not the way we should behave.
We do need to reflect on what has happened and understand that it ought not to have occurred in the first place.
There are many lessons to be learnt from what transpired and it may well be one of the unintended legacy consequences of the CWC2007.
The political authorities were apparently led by their noses into the CWC2007 and this is not restricted to St Vincent and the Grenadines alone.
The political authorities seemed not to have ever obtained a fulsome understanding of their own involvement in the CWC2007, given their particularly poor record in sport for the most part.
Many political leaders signed onto the dreaded Sunset Legislation without grasping the full implications for the sporting culture, where it exists, or the broader societal and entertainment cultures of our peoples. It is the reason they stood in silence as the organisers of CWC2007 were eventually forced to recant and allow our peoples to be themselves, albeit very late in the competition.
The haste with which the West Indies Cricket Board now boasts of the largest revenues from a Cricket World Cup is not worth the salt unless we are also told the whole truth about the procurement of these revenues; about the ticket prices relative to previous editions of the competition; about the fact that never before did the host ever have to organise warm up matches; and a host of other issues.
This is not a simple case of the end justifying the means.
The problem that surfaced at Arnos Vale on the first day of the Heats suggests the extent to which the authorities at the highest level failed to appreciate the variance at which they allowed the two institutions – the LOC and the NSC – to operate for three or four years.
The LOC seemed anxious to claim turf that the NSC rightly or wrongly sees as its own.
The tardiness of the LOC to complete its work does not and cannot justify the continued remuneration of those among its membership who have been receiving funds from the public purse.
That the LOC could not determine the schedule for its departure from the Arnos Vale or any of the other facilities is preposterous. That the LOC could not relate to the public its programme of rehabilitation following the conclusion of the warm up matches is unconscionable.
It is unfortunate that the NSC and the LOC had to be caught up in conflict of any sort on the first day of the Heats at a time when all the participants had gathered is reflective of an insensitivity on the part of the protagonist in the issue.
The children of our nation must not be made pawns in any sort of power play. Politicians are the ones consumed with power and that is bad enough. Let us not allow our sport to degenerate into the realm of the politicians.