The amazing procurement of $50m plus, to refurbish the Arnos Vale playing fields #1 and #2, as well as those at Sion Hill and Stubbs for the hosting of what we refer to as the goat cook matches used as warm up for the Cricket World Cup in 2007 remains an amazing embarrassment to this country’s sports fraternity.The monies spent on matches that Bermuda refused because of their insignificance could easily have constructed the promised national stadium.
Any review, however cursory, of the facilities on which the $50m was spent would yield some interesting facts. Arnos Vale #1 is now served with double-decker stands where the toilets do not function. Indeed they have not been functioning for several years and have apparently been considered too expensive to repair any time soon. This means that the largest stand for patrons at the facility is inadequately served with toilets whether for local or international competitions and events.
For the annual Inter Primary and Inter Secondary Schools competitions toilets have to be rented to facilitate the maintenance of sanitary conditions for patrons suing the double decker stands.
This is the same Arnos Vale playing field that we offer up to the International Cricket Council (ICC) as a venue for hosting international cricket.
Earlier this year the Council it had to be brought to the attention of the NSC that some of the galvanise roofing of the double decker stands had come loose and were flapping in the wind. This was just prior to the annual Inter Schools athletics championships. The Council had not noticed the dangers lurking at their own facility on the eve of a major national competition. Imagine the catastrophe that could have materialised had one sheet been blown onto the competition arena and injuring a student or several students!
Arnos Vale #2 is back to its original condition after millions spent on refurbishing it for the goat cook matches. During the period of the matches the facility was used for overlay – the location of tents for a variety of purposes. Essentially therefore, the facility into which millions of dollars had been poured was embarrassingly transformed for other purposes. The money was wasted.
In the recent past the ICC has apparently turned its eyes away from the once idyllic Arnos Vale playing field as an acceptable venue for its international cricket competitions. Instead, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and Dominica have joined Antigua and Barbuda as the venues of choice by the ICC in the OECS.
So much for our commitment to cricket in this country!
Then there is the status of the four hard courts at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex. Here is a complex, designed to host regional tennis, netball and basketball competitions, that has been allowed to languish into a state of disrepair.
The two southernmost courts have essentially been destroyed for sport by the failure to adequately protect the surface while rented out for public entertainment activities. The surface is now unfit for meaningful sporting activities even though it is still used, perhaps placing athletes at risk.
No attention has been placed on the maintenance of the courts and the stands around them.
Given the number of rentals for entertainment and religious activities one would have imagined that greater attention would have been placed on maintenance. Instead, the galvanised roofing is in near tatters and the seating is rotting in several parts of the stands.
The toilets available for patrons of activities on the hard courts are woefully inadequate and inconsistent with needs.
While use is made of the courts for sporting activities they are certainly in no condition to meet international competition standards and in some cases, not even local standards.
Indoor Sports Complex
Basketball, boxing, netball, karate, table tennis, taekwondo and volleyball, have all been in search of a home for several years. They have suffered because of this deficiency. They need an indoor sports complex in order to be effective in their respective development strategies.
Sport science has long since revealed that concrete and asphalt surfaces for the aforementioned indoor sports are unacceptable given their propensity to cause injury to athletes and long-term problems with critical joints.
Squash already had a home procured by the government through funding from the National Lotteries Authority (NLA). The NLA actually shares its headquarters with the Squash Association.
Netball was one of the first national associations to have constructed its own home. However the facility lacks adequate space relative to international requirements and an indoor surface is now the norm.
Basketball has a facility to itself at New Montrose but it is deficient in modern requirements of the sport. Attempts at procuring a roof and ensure adequate security have been fraught with problems and the facility is at best a poor representation of what is required for success development of the sport.
The current political administration agreed to develop an Indoor Sports Complex on the site that once housed the glove factory. The project was supposedly placed in the hands of the NLA.
Interestingly, the national sports associations for the aforementioned indoor sports were never brought together to discuss the project.
Suddenly, it was learnt that the project was cancelled. The former glove factory was no longer going to be an option.
It would appear therefore that since the associations were never involved in discussing the project concept relative to their respective needs as defined by their international federations (IF) there was no need to bring them together to inform them that the project was cancelled and to contemplate the pathway to an alternative.
The lifespan of athletes using these indoor sports is extremely short and many experience serious physical health problems later in life.
Most indoor sports practised in this country cannot claim that they have in any significant way experienced, over the past 14 years, developmental assistance from government that would satisfy their needs.
The single biggest hindrance to sport development in St Vincent and the Grenadines after that associated with the national sports policy is funding.
There is no clear indication at the governmental level that guarantees funding for sport development just as there is no evidence of any understanding of how sport can be a vehicle for development.
Just how the annual government budget for sport is arrived at is anybody’s guess. The figures bear no relation to reality.
Despite the government’s repeated boast of commitment to sport the evidence reveals a startling contradiction.
In the absence of a clearly articulated national sport structure the annual budgetary allocations are almost a figment of the imagination of the Minister of Finance. One only has to examine the brevity of the segment of the annual budget address of the Minister of Finance devoted to sport.
There is no forum at which the national associations engage in dialogue with government to forge a cohesive strategy for sport development and sport for development in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Consequently, there has never really been a budget in the past 14 years that the Minister of Finance can claim has had the benefit of any input for the national sports associations of this country.
There is the continued argument that the National Lotteries Authority has a mandate to provide support for sport and culture. There has never been, in the past 14 years, any indication of just how much money this body allocates to each of the aforementioned areas in any given year.
The announcement, earlier this year, that the NLA borrowed $6.5m from the National Insurance Services (NIS) ostensibly to develop sport infrastructure, has not been accompanied by any meeting of the authorities with national sport bodies in respect of the needs and priorities of the latter. It must therefore be assumed that either the NLA possesses both the knowledge and capacity to satisfy the aforementioned needs and priorities or that what is being done is determined by political opportunism more than anything else.
National sports associations do not know whether at any given time they would be considered important enough to the political directorate to be afforded ample opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process regarding the role of sport in national development. They are made to feel like beggars every time they require assistance.
For some national sports associations, were it not for the existence of the National Olympic Committee they would have no assistance to facilitate any sort of development of their disciplines. Yet, any success is deemed an opportunity to share in the accolades and government officials somehow feel that they should be present to bask in whatever glory emerges.
As the general elections draw ever closer the government that has been in office for more that 14 years finally remembered the contributions of Adonal Foyle of Canouan, such that he has been named a sport ambassador.
This is not surprising given that the ruling party may well feel that it has never won the confidence of the electorate of the Grenadines and may have allowed a certain amount of political myopia to set in.
Foyle should not be bothered, any way. Given the seemingly flippant approach of the government to the implementation of the national sports policy, the designation of sport ambassadors, likewise, has no real significance.
None of the appointed sports ambassadors has ever been given an understanding of precisely what the designation means beyond the receipt of a diplomatic passport.
There are no duties and responsibilities attendant to the designation of sport ambassador and it has not afforded the recipients any sense of achievement and pride.
Governments come and go. They are never there forever, much as they would wish it to be otherwise.
Sportspeople are also members of the Vincentian electorate and have as much right as any other citizen to examine the scorecard of the ruling regime.
Sportspeople must exercise their franchise and live with the decisions they make.
A country gets the government it deserves since it is the electorate that puts them there.
Increasingly however, sportspeople understand the importance of letting their voices be heard in respect of what they need and how these should be considered in the broader context of genuine national development.
Decision day is here. Make the best of it!