The thorny issue of sports facilities rears again

arnos-valeDuring the past several years we have seen the decline of St Vincent and the Grenadines in a range of sporting disciplines where once we were competitive. There is now an ongoing debate as to the several factors that impact the state of affairs confronting the Vincentian sporting fraternity today.
Perhaps one of the most important factors impacting the performance of our athletes is sports facilities.
The state of our facilities remains of major concern and it seems that regardless of how often it is written or spoken about the response is the same – nothing.
The list of facilities treated in this Column is by no means exhaustive but is intended to serve as examples to make the critical point of the inadequacy of our approach to the management of these facilities.
Arnos Vale
Let us begin with the Arnos Vale Sports Complex.
This facility is easily the best kept outdoor sports facility in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Arnos Vale #1 is the premier cricket arena in the country and was once the best in the OECS. This has since changed and there is now a concerted effort to recapture that status.
Prior to the advent of the current Operations Manager, Loren Baptiste, the situation with the maintenance of Arnos Vale #1 was relatively poor. Arnos Vale # 2 was much worse. Happily Baptiste knows his profession and has since managed to raise the profile of both playing fields at Arnos Vale so much so that they can readily accommodate a variety of sporting disciplines in quick succession without fear that the surfaces will deteriorate beyond repair. This is a most welcome change to the management of the playing fields.
Of course, the heavy sand base used on Arnos Vale #1 still poses tremendous challenges for those engaged in track and field athletics. It remains almost like training on bay sand.
The heavy focus placed on the Arnos Vale playing fields come as a direct result of the fact that it is the one venue for international cricket. Every effort is made to ensure that St Vincent and the Grenadines leaves a good impression on those who have the privilege of following international cricket when played at the scenic Arnos Vale #1.
It is unfortunate therefore that even as we seek to attract international cricket to Arnos Vale there is not the same level of attention paid to the hard courts that can accommodate Tennis, Netball, Volleyball and Basketball. These courts have unfortunately been allowed to deteriorate and while still usable they require greater attention to be brought up to international standard and so enhance the status of the entire complex.
Cane End
In the recent past it appeared that the Social Investment Fund (SIF) was one of the conduits for getting some of the sports facilities upgraded. Unfortunately only a few people around the country seemed to have had the insight required for their facilities benefit from the SIF.
A recent newspaper story on the SIF-sponsored project at the Cane End Playing Field was captioned, ‘Thanks but no Thanks’. The story revealed the highs and lows of the sportspeople in the area. They were initially enthused at the grassing of the field only to find themselves lamenting the poor state of the surface. In other words the project appears to have ended without being complete in terms of what was expected.
To date no one seems to know who is responsible for completing the work at the Cane End Playing Field.
Of course this is not the first time that the Cane End Playing Field has been in receipt of extensive upgrading especially where the grassing is concerned. The problem for the people of the area is that there seems not to be any management of the work being undertaken diligent enough to ensure that the work is completed in a manner that would allow usage for the intended purpose.
Grammar School Playing Field
There is also the case of the Grammar School Playing Field, referred to as the Richmond Hill Playing Field in the Minister of Finance recent Budget Address. This field has perhaps received more rehabilitation than any other sporting facility in the State. Despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent repeatedly on this facility there was only one brief period when it appeared that some sort of effective management was in place. That was when Orde Ballantyne was in charge.
The Grammar School Playing Field is easily the most used sports facility in all of St Vincent and the Grenadines. There is no other sports facility that is expected to service patrons from so many schools – The St Vincent Grammar School, Girls High School, Intermediate High School, Thomas Saunders Secondary, Kingstown Preparatory and the C W Prescod. Additionally the footballers from Frenches and the Pastures Football teams and several others also use the facility.
Cricketers, footballers and track and field athletes compete with the children after school for access to some of the space that is the Grammar School Playing Field on any given afternoon.
Today, the Grammar School Playing Field is still at a state of disrepair, a reflection of the very low level of priority that it is given in the overall scheme of things. One wonders how it ever became possible for the Minister of Finance to draw attention to the rehabilitation work undertaken several years ago in the early days of his administration. Clearly he appears not to have been in receipt of any information relating to the current state of the facility.
In Colonarie, the playing field appears intended to service both the George Stephens Senior Secondary School and the Primary School which share the same compound. The field has potential to meet the requirements of the schools and on afternoons offer the community ample opportunities for sporting development. However it seems that work has stopped on this facility and no one seems capable of advising on the state of the project. Meanwhile the students and the community languish.
Mention should perhaps also be made of the hard court that serves both of the aforementioned schools in Colonarie. The surface of the court leaves much to be desired and may well be more of a hazard to the well-being of its users than an asset. Not surprising, the court is not frequently used. It appears far too dangerous for comfort.
Then there is the Buccament Playing Field where the school has called for the construction of a long jump pit. Unfortunately it appears that the NSC does not have the requisite funds to assist with the project.
North Leeward
Recently, a dear friend, Mars, called in on a radio programme and described how he sought to chase a goat and it got lost on the playing field at Troumaca Bay. The point he was making essentially was what had happened to sport in the North leeward area. He reminded the nation that at one time there were several playing fields in North Leeward but at the present time it appears that only the Petit Bordel Playing Field exists. This conclusion he drew from the failure of the authorities to look after the other fields that once produced some of this country’s finest sportspeople.
It should come as no surprise therefore that the Petit Bordel Playing Field is over-used and like so many other such facilities it is often out of compliance for those for which it was intended. Here again the issue is one of management.
London Playing Field
Beyond the Rabacca Dry River the London Playing Field has been renamed the Pamenos Ballantyne Playing Field. Unfortunately the state of the facility does not adequately reflect the contribution to this country of the athlete after whom it is named.
One gets the impression here again that the requisite work on the Pamenos Ballantyne Playing Field has never been completed. Many of the people in the North Windward area believe that the facility could be of much value to the development of sport in the various communities if it is properly upgraded and maintained. This however is far from the horizon at the present time.
Monitoring and evaluation
There is little by way of ongoing monitoring and evaluation of our existing playing fields. This does not make much sense. In the absence of such a monitoring mechanism fields and other facilities are left to themselves and each year the same amount of money is expended simply redoing what was only recently done.
There must be a system that allow us to know the location and ranking of all of our sports facilities so that at a glance we can determine which requires what level of work. This is the process of planning. It allows us to determine our needs at every turn and to allocate resources such that eventually all of our facilities are at an appreciable level.
There is a very real problem in St Vincent and the Grenadines with regard to the management and maintenance of our sports facilities.
The NSC as presently constituted is ill-equipped for what is required.
The NSC as presently constituted barely copes with its mandate in respect of the management of the nation’s sports facilities. It is also under funded.
What is required is a restructuring of this organisation such that it becomes less political, less the plaything of the ruling party, regardless of which party is involved, and more response to sporting needs.
A Chief Executive Officer who is answerable to a Board that is decidedly non political must run the NSC political and must be equipped with adequate knowledge in sport and physical education.
There must be greater devolution of authority and a decentralisation of its operations.
The reason for the lack of Management Committees around the country managing and maintaining the existing sports facilities is largely political. The government of the day wants to ensure that it has effective control over these facilities. This is a fundamental error since it often results in ill-equipped individuals being coerced to take on leadership roles, which they cannot handle, or no one steps forward and no Committee exists.
It must be remembered that the bulk of the best equipment is kept at Arnos Vale. It is utterly ridiculous that we have to take the equipment and personnel from Arnos Vale to cut playing fields when needed. One would have imagined that in a country where the government boasts of its employment policies that we would have employed staff at all playing facilities to facilitate all aspects of the management of these facilities.
Playing fields cannot be treated as the roads of this country. They cannot be allowed to languish into disrepair before receiving requisite attention.