The stadium debate remains important

In the recent past the debate on the national stadium has again been brought to the fore. It is important that this matter not be allowed to die as natural a death as some other projects once deemed essential to the developmental pathway of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
A quick perusal of the sports facilities across the country leaves one with no doubt that despite the changes that have taken place in terms of popularity Cricket remains the primadonna of Vincentian sports. No other sport comes close in respect of the number of facilities to which this sport has access, at least in the minds of the governmental authorities responsible for sport.
Globally it has become quite commonplace to find the authorities engaging in annual research projects aimed at monitoring the developments taking place across their respective countries and how they impact what they do in so far as sports facilities are concerned.
Here at home what we do is ignore the benefits of a scientific and professional approach to sport development, to say nothing of facilities development. This may well be the reason why it is so difficult to understand where the money was spent relative to the work undertaken at Arnos Vale in preparation for the ‘goat cook’ matches held here in the early part of 2007.
To date there is no evidence of the many positive legacy issues, which were supposed to result for the upgrade to the Arnos Vale Sports Complex. There is however no end to the tale of woe regarding negative legacies at the Sports Complex.
Why a national stadium?
The rationale for a national stadium here in St Vincent and the Grenadines is particularly simple. That we have not yet been able to construct a national stadium is an embarrassment to successive governments, all of whom at one point or another claimed to be anxious to respond to the needs of the nation’s youths. In reality none of the governments prior to and since Independence havs proven itself truly committed to the development of Vincentian youths. They have all however utilised the youths whenever general elections become due. It is an unfortunate truism that our youths have been unable to stop the trend of successive administrations riding their backs in an effort to get into government only to abandon them immediately thereafter.
Successive Vincentian governments have paid lip service to sport yet none has appropriately addressed the immense potential of sport to genuine national development.
After a relatively long wait we have had the good news that the FIFA-sponsored Goal Project is underway here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This allows the football fraternity here to have the Brighton Playing field all to themselves. They can refurbish it to their liking. They would also be able to establish their headquarters at the venue.
The FIFA Goal Project was on offer for several years and many governing bodies for the sport around the region have long since completed theirs while ours is only just beginning. Congratulations are therefore in order for the last administration for having started the Goal Project.
Football in St Vincent and the Grenadines has unfortunately become so heavily political that only the game suffered.
The Goal Project would give the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation a home. That is sorely needed. It would not however satisfy the sport’s need for a top class competition venue for regional and international events. The sport would still require access to a national stadium.
The football facility that the Federation is establishing at Brighton would allow for training and friendlies at a relatively low level. It would hardly be the home for truly international competition.
That the nation’s most popular sport, that has achieved so much over the years, remains without access to an international standard national stadium remains one of the most stunning indictments of successive governments here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. It serves to highlight their failure to appreciate the important role such a facility would play in the broader national development process.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has been more successful in track and field athletics at the regional and international levels than any other sport. This is no mean achievement. Despite the many criticisms the reality is that Vincentian athletes in athletics have been able to train under some of the most horrible conditions and have still managed to gain medals at several regional and international competitions.
For our athletes to access medals at the Carifta Games where only Montserrat, Anguilla and Guyana are the only ones with us in not having a national stadium at which to train, is a tremendous achievement.
Marvette Collis won gold in the 200m at the Carifta Games in Barbados in 1989, defeating the best that Jamaica and others had to offer. She was training on grass at Arnos Vale where there were on-going challenges in getting access to the facility frequently enough. The nation was not sufficiently appreciative of her achievements.
It is extremely difficult for athletes who only have grass surfaces to compete favourably against athletes who have access to synthetic surfaces, especially in the sprints events. Collis’ success was therefore all the more remarkable and worthy of the highest commendation.
Out track and field athletes are in urgent need of a national stadium. Failing this we cannot realistically expect those who are home-based to achieve much by way of success.
While training on grass in the early season is recommended it is not the best when the competitive season comes around. The running techniques for running on grass are significantly different from that which is required on synthetic surfaces.
Access to an international standard national stadium would witness significant growth in the performance of Vincentian track and field athletes and this would in turn create greater interest in the sport across the nation’s students and youths, ultimately leading to increased participation in the sport.
Economic benefits
Our politicians continue to amaze. They speak glibly about sport but seem to have little understanding of what this phenomenon really is. Consequently, St Vincent and the Grenadines has been unable to engage in any systematic planning regarding the sport development process that has led to an appreciation of its contribution to economic growth.
An international sport facility such as a national stadium would allow both football and athletics to host more regional and international competitions. The governing bodies for both sports can engage in long-term planning to bring competitions to this country on a regular basis as part of a deliberate sport tourism strategy that can yield immense benefits to the national economy.
International teams often do seek out places to train in their off-season but the facilities must be of a relatively high standard. The same can be said of international athletes in individual sports. A national stadium could more readily satisfy their requirements. This could mean attracting teams to utilise the facilities as part of a plan rather than the hit or miss approach that seem to have characterised the Arnos Vale cricket ground following the CWC2007.
Sport facilities do not independently attract activities that yield economic benefits. They have to be marketed. This has never happened in the history of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is unbelievable that in the many presentations on the development of an international airport for this country no mention has ever been made of its importance to the sport programmes of this country. This highlights the lack of understanding of sport by the governmental authorities here. An international airport would facilitate ease of access for teams travelling to and from the region in search of friendlies, especially in the sport of football. This adds to the importance of a national stadium from which we can all benefit.
It must be remembered that clubs and national representative teams often travel with accompanying guests and family members who spend monies in the host country. That is very important for small countries like ours.
We have witnessed the economic benefits accruing to neighbouring Barbados as a result of hosting annual sports events like the Sir Garfield Sobers Schools Cricket competition every summer – just one example. There is little doubt that with our national stadium we could engender similar programmes to facilitate sustainable income from sport programmes using the facility.
Socio-cultural benefits
Thousands of Vincentian youths play football. They have been attracted to the game and can be seen engaging in it all around St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Historically, Vincentian children begin their life in sport with running. Most Vincentian children’s first involvement in sport is with running. This is fundamental to most sports.
Vincentians generally love sport. They love to play sport as well as watch and support sport.
The crowds that have followed the matches of the national football team each time they play at Arnos Vale or the Victoria Park tells us much about the social impact of sport on Vincentians.
Sport brings people together.
It is unfortunate that for several decades the leaders of community development here, in the Caribbean and globally never saw sport as a vehicle for building communities until recently.
A national stadium opens up avenues for greater interaction between local clubs and individuals as they strive for excellence in sport. This friendly rivalry serves to bring them closer together.
Additionally, the increase in the number of regional and international competitions that could take place at a national stadium allows for greater interaction between peoples of different countries and by extension, different cultures.
Political benefits
Our politicians spend so much time talking off the top of their heads that they often lose sight of what they are saying.
While some of our politicians speak much about sport and its benefits they do not really speak from the vantage point of statistics.
Politicians fail to grasp the importance of sport to their own politics. Had this not been the case we would have had a national stadium already in place.
If football is indeed the nation’s most popular sport the construction of a national stadium could only lead to increased political support from the thousands who daily seek out playing areas to hone their skills in their sport of choice.
Unfortunately over the years what we have had is politicians placing lofty ideas in their manifestoes about their commitment to sport that are tantamount to little more than promissory notes aimed at garnering votes from our youths. This has been the case since 2000 and nothing has changed.
Our youths have been short-changed by our politicians.
The time has come to change our mode of operation and deliver to our youths a national stadium that would elevate s in the world of sport.