That National Sports City

In the previous edition of this Column, dated Friday 1 September 2017, we addressed the matter of the options available to us if we are serious about getting a synthetic surface in place and eventually provide Vincentians with a grand national stadium.
Many have been discussing the issues raised in last week’s Column if only because of the interest that they have in seeing this country provide appropriate facilities to give the youths a more even playing field in the sporting arena at the regional and international levels.
This is not to say that facilities alone would make a difference. It has to be understood, though not taken for granted, that everyone involved as stakeholders in sport must lift their contributions to the broader national sport development process.
The deep divisions amongst Vincentians resulting from the narrowmindedness emergent from tribal politics must be cast aside if we are to allow the immense capacity of sport to inculcate positive values that make a difference in its participants.
Perhaps, if those involved in sport leadership took the time to reflect on their own training they may understand that they too have been significant contributors to the division of Vincentian society.
If we took the time to cast aside tribal politics and sheer egoism, we may find it possible to achieve much more of what the country needs to genuinely develop than is currently the case. Capacity is not restricted to a particular group of individuals. If people with similar interests work together the results would be much better than if they were not allowed to do so.
One would have expected that the smaller the country the more closely knit the society would be. Unfortunately, St Vincent and the Grenadines, like so many of the smaller Caribbean countries, exemplifies the numerous challenges that can inhibit the unification and common sense of purpose of such societies. Myopia can be debilitating in every aspect of life in such societies.
Arnos Vale/Sion Hill
There has been much talk about the transformation of the Sion Hill/Arnos Vale area consequent upon the decision to relocate the nation’s premier airport at Argyle. The problem here is that the government does not seem too eager to involve people outside of its immediate leadership corps in the discussion in respect of the optimal utilisation of the space left behind.
There is an inherent part of the political culture of the Caribbean that allows any politician fortunate enough to be allocated a ministerial portfolio, regardless of qualifications and competence relative to the particular areas included in such portfolio, to suddenly assume that the sheer appointment somehow becomes an enabling force of knowledge, competence and empowerment to speak officiously on the subjects involved.
Administrative Offices
This Columnist wishes to suggest that with immediate effect the several national sports associations could be given space at the existing building that was the main area of airport operations at Arnos Vale.
The national sports associations could among themselves agree to a central Secretariat where professionals can be employed to undertake all that falls under this aspect of their work. Much savings would be realised if there is a central office where the secretarial work, financial management and record keeping are done in one main office.
Each of the national sports associations could then be given an office for its principal officers to look after other aspects of their work. There should be a place for the maintenance of work files as well as space for meetings of the executive and individual work to be done by the organisation’s principal officers. The latter could also have individualised meetings with visitors from this country as well as from abroad.
There could also be a central conference that could be sub-divided to facilitate smaller group meetings simultaneously.
The proposal is to allow all national sports associations that do not yet have the capacity, an opportunity to have their own operating centres and benefit from assistance that can be offered by others involved in a similar endeavour, the development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Indoor Sports Complex
Despite repeated requests the sports that should usually be played indoors continue to be without an appropriate facility to train and compete. Year after year our athletes in these sports have to compete unfavourably against opponents better served with the requisite facilities and equipment.
Some time ago mention was made about the building that once housed the Glove Factory being made available for transformation into an Indoor Sports Complex. That never materialised.
Squash was fortunate enough to have been given favourable consideration when the National Lotteries Authority (NLA) purchased the Cecil Cyrus Squash Complex. The NLA afforded Squash the luxury of having possession of the existing courts and so possession of its own home.
The majority of indoor sports – Basketball, Boxing, Karate, Netball, Table Tennis, Taekwondo and Volleyball – are all without a home. They therefore remain at a distinct disadvantage relative to competing against their regional and international counterparts.
One proposal here is for the hangar that was used by the small aircraft operators of this country – SVG Air (inclusive of the planes owned by the Mustique Company and hoteliers) and Mustique Airways, could be converted into an indoor sports complex. This option seems less expensive than seeking to construct such a facility from scratch.
There is enough room for expansion to allow for a rather large indoor sports complex; one that would allow for at least two training facilities and two competition venues.
It should be noted that indoor sport complexes use retractable seating that allows for more available space for training versus competition.
One is fearful that the standard practice is to set about engagement of agencies for the construction of sport facilities in this country without involvement of the appropriate sport authorities in the respective disciplines. This approach has often lead to a failure to satisfy the requirements of the respective international sports federations (IF) regarding such facilities.
While most IFs today provide detailed guidelines regarding the requirements of their training and competition facilities it is also the case that they change their own regulations with such frequency that at times the facilities’ templates are not in sync with them. This makes it all the more necessary to involve the administrative and technical personnel of the respective national sports associations.
Indoor sport complexes are usually constructed with a spring wooden floor or synthetic surface that is much easier on the knees than the concrete and/or asphalt usually associated with outdoor surfaces. The former affords athletes a longer competitive life than the latter.
National Stadium & Warm Up Track
Today’s national stadium is actually a multi-purpose facility. This means that for a country like St Vincent and the Grenadines we can expect football and rugby to be played on the grassed areas of both the competition and warm up facilities. This is in addition to the field events for track and field athletics.
Currently, at Arnos Vale, there is a certain fear by National Sports Council (NSC) personnel that throwing implements – shot, discus and javelin – would damage the existing sprinkler system which was placed at strategic locations for cricket but not for any of the other sports that use the facility or competition. For this reason, the throwing events are done on Arnos Vale #2. For the Windward Islands Games however, the chance was taken to conduct the javelin throw on Arnos Vale #1, with much concern on the part of NSC authorities.
The establishment of the twin facilities being proposed here would allay fears that currently exist regarding damage to any sprinkler system by applying modern technology relative to the maintenance of the grassed areas.
It is also common in modern stadia to have two Ds – one at each end – that are covered with the same synthetic material as the track. These Ds are used for the location of the high jump, the shot put circles and the run up for the javelin throw. In one of the Ds the pole vault run up and designated area for the mat would be located while on the other D, there would be the circle and cage for the discus and hammer throw. The long and triple jump runways and pits are located, on either side of the stadium, on either side of the stadium. This is done in such a way that four runways are actually provided even though there are only two pits constructed.
Ideally, the construction of the warm up track is done in a manner similar to the competition arena regarding the location of the field events.
It is usual to restrict use of the competition synthetic track during the year, allow for it to be in prime condition for local, regional and international competitions.
The warm up facility is the one that get used on a regular basis for training.
It should be noted that it is still advisable that in the early preparation phase in any given year the use of the beach and grassed areas remain important to the athletes’ foundation. Most athletes avoid using a synthetic track alone, all year, for their preparation, as injuries can result in some cases. The chance of injury from all-too-frequent use of a synthetic surface in one’s preparation is also related to the quality of the material used on the surface and the toughness.
There are a variety of producers of synthetic surfaces of varying quality and durability. Careful consideration must be given to the process of identifying the material being purchased.
We have had experiences in the Caribbean where track surfaces were provided as part of a stadium facility delivered as a government to government gift and which have failed to meet the standards of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and not even a national record was recognised. This was a quality issue.
Other sports
The enclosed area that constituted the ET Joshua Airport, is relatively large. It was once the King George V facility that accommodated several sports. It is possible to create a National Sports City in the enclosed arena that allows for a variety of sports today.
Cycling as well as some form of motor sports can be accommodated at the arena.
What is required is a creative analysis of the possibilities of making good use of the entire arena for sport and include, the already existing sports complex at Arnos Vale where facilities for cricket already exist.
The Sion/Arnos Vale National Sports City would be an ideal location for a hotel that would serve sports.
Sporting organisations may often use major hotels but this is in countries with a high cost of living.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines it is possible to have a hostel or sport hotel dedicated to use by sport groups for the hosting of training camps as well as competitions.
The centralised location at Sion Hill/Arnos Vale would allow for dedicated parking established in the planning and construction phases of the project.
There is much that can be said in favour of establishing the Sion Hill/Arnos Vale area as a National Sport City, a legacy with immense potential for sport to be a major contributor to the national economy and national development.