St Vincent and the Grenadines remains one of the few countries in the Caribbean that does not yet possess a national stadium. Indeed, in the region, it is now commonplace that a country should be have a national stadium in so far as athletics and football are concerned.
Of course, for many years we have been touting the Arnos Vale Sports Complex as the nation’s cricket stadium.
This columnist is the first to raise for consideration by local authorities consideration of the option of transforming Arnos Vale (inclusive of the Sion Hill playing field area) to a national sports city given the movement of all airport operations to the Argyle.
It is of much significance that since the ET Joshua Airport has been closed, the facility has been used for a variety of activities with sport being perhaps the most frequent. Cycling takes place their currently more than any other sport while motor sports have been fairly consistent in terms of its usage given the appropriateness of the surface of the former airstrip.
Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG) has long since been making the clarion call for a national stadium. Aware of the changing economic realities over the years TASVG has indicated a preference for a synthetic track to be located at Sion Hill, while the larger, more ambitious national stadium is being appropriately planned.
Why Sion Hill?
Some years ago TASVG invited Mr Michael Tovar, the regional representative for internationally renowned track developed, MONDO, to visit St Vincent and the Grenadines to discuss the possibility of provisioning a synthetic surface for the country. The visit included the Hon. Minister of Tourism, Sport and Culture, Cecil McKie, representatives from the National Olympic Committee and the media.
The Stadium Committee had, of course, prepared plans for the development of a national stadium at Diamond Estate.
For its part, TASVG had requested the surveying firm of Alexander and Alexander to draft a tentative survey plan locating an eight-lane synthetic surface at Sion Hill.
Following the visits to both venues there was much discussion on the options available to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
For the athletics fraternity the comments made by Mr Tovar was particularly instructive and rational. He noted that because there was an urgent need for a synthetic surface for track and field athletes the first one to be constructed should have a location of population cluster. The Sion Hill/Arnos Vale area as well as the significant number of schools in Kingstown (five minutes away), Sion Hill, Arnos Vale, Belair, Fountain, Villa and Calliaqua, constituted a major catchment area that would guarantee optimum usage of the track for the development of track and field athletics.
The school population in an around the aforementioned catchment alone justifies the location of a synthetic track at Sion Hill. It makes sense to allow students to be able to have their regular school-allocated physical education sessions – double periods – at Sion Hill. Travel time would be minimal.
The population around the facility as mentioned before, would reap immense benefits by easy daily access.
Importantly, Sion Hill has always been one of the nation’s foremost sporting communities, especially athletics, football and cricket. With easy access to the Arnos Vale cricket facilities it is not necessary for cricket to continue at Sion Hill.
The Sion Hill community, already extremely knowledgeable about and eagerly involved in sport would reap handsome dividends from the location of a synthetic surface in the community that also allows the nation’s most popular sport, football, to be played on the infield.
Another option could be a decision to change thinking and locate the grand national stadium at Arnos Vale, using inside the arena vacated by the airport operations. Such a facility can be located parallel to the existing Sion Hill playing field in such a way that the latter can be used as a synthetic warm up track, also of eight lanes and using the same material as that on the grand stadium. This is an even better option.
Today’s international athletics competitions requires two facilities in close proximity so that the athletes train, for the most part, and warm up for competitions on one and competition is left to the other. The same can happen with football at the same two facilities.
The reasons for selecting the particular geographical area being discussed here as a first option far outweigh any that can be put forward for locating the grand stadium at Diamond Estate, at least at present.
The prevailing winds at Diamond Estate will ultimately negatively impact the longevity of such an important grand stadium.
There is also the matter of the preservation and protection of the King’s Hill Forest Reserve near the Diamond Estate that would hinder the growth of the population surrounding the area currently designated for the grand national stadium.
There are significantly compelling reasons therefore to locate both the grand national stadium and the warm-up facility in the Sion Hill/Arnos Vale area.
For some time TAVG has been in discussions with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in respect of assistance with the provision of a synthetic track.
Like FIFA, the IAAF does not build stadia nor tracks. What the organisation does is facilitate the provision of synthetic surfaces to member federations that do not yet have one through the International Athletics Foundation (IAF).
The stated purpose of the IAF reads, “The International Athletics Foundation is a non-profit organisation. The Foundation’s goal is to charitably assist the world governing body for track and field athletics – the International Association of Athletics Federations – its affiliated national governing bodies, and any other individuals or organisations deemed worthy of support in order to perpetuate the development and promotion of athletics world-wide.”
In its introduction regarding the funding for synthetic tracks the IAF states:
- In principle, the IAF will give priority to the countries where no synthetic track at all exists. The applicant must explain the synthetic track situation in the country.
- In principle, the IAF contribution is limited to $60,000 by project. (IAAF may provide additional support, but limited).
- In principle, the IAF financial contribution will be paid to the builder after completion of the works and delivery of the track.
- The IAF contribution will be cancelled if the works are not completed within 24 months after the Council’s agreement
Recently elected IAAF president, Lord Sebastian Coe, has pledged to support national associations like TASVG, where there is not as yet any synthetic track. It is a commitment he has given and stated as much while visiting TASVG in 2015. Since then discussions have been ongoing.
The Qatar commitment
Somewhere around the time of bidding to host the IAAF World Championships 2019, the national track and field federation of Qatar made an important offer to the IAAF. The offer appears to have been the provision of 10 tracks to the national sports associations in need as determined by the IAAF.
The aforementioned offer was made during the period when Senegal’s Lamine Diack (now under investigation by French authorities), was president of the IAAF.
TASVG has recently been informed that as yet none of the synthetic tracks that was on offer from Qatar, has as yet been delivered. Indeed, it appears that the IAAF’s leadership is itself in discussions with the Qataris regarding the precise nature of the offer and the terms and conditions attendant thereto. This is necessary before any commitments can be made to member associations of the organisation regarding the allocation of the synthetic tracks.
It should be noted that the Qatar offer is not in any way linked to the International Athletics Foundation. This is a separate arrangement, hence the reason that TASVG has been in discussions with the IAAF’s leadership to be one of the member associations in line for consideration of such a facility.
If the IAAF opts to award one of the 10 synthetic tracks to TASVG, it would mean engagement with government relative to agreement on a number of issues. For example, it would have to be determined whether TASVG would do like Tennis, Squash and Swimming and seek land from the government on which to set about preparing for and installing the synthetic track. The facility then is the headquarters of TASVG. Such lease arrangements are quite common and allow the respective national associations the opportunity to pursue their developmental goals with relative ease.
Another option would be whether TASVG, the Football Federation (SVGFF) along with their respective international bodies, and the government would partner to produce all of the facilities required.
There is still another option. This is one where the National Olympic Committee can work along with the aforementioned national sports associations, prepare an appropriate project and approach government for the land to develop the synthetic track and later, the grand stadium.
Qatar and the government
Qatar is one of the oil-rich nations that has been forthcoming with aid to several developing nations. It is not always clear the nature of the agreements at the governmental level.
In the recent past Qatar has been under some pressure from its oil-rich neighbours and some of the advanced industrial nations.
Some time ago St Vincent and the Grenadines established relations with Qatar. It may well be possible therefore for the Vincentian government to give consideration to seeking an agreement here Qatar funds the grand national stadium as it was once hoped Libya would have done.
Even if Qatar does agree such an undertaking the matter of location would remain an issue and the importance of weighing the available options would feature prominently.
Football and Athletics need a home. They are the most popular sports in the country.
Of course, cricket may well suggest that the time has probably come for the national governing body to own its own home as well.