The Track versus National Stadium debate – Part I

In the recent past there has been renewed interest in the provision of a synthetic track on which the Vincentian athletes involved in track and field athletics can be adequately prepared for national, regional and international competitions.
The discussion that resurfaced did not speak to the construction of a national stadium but a synthetic track for the aforementioned expressed purpose.
The discussion arose largely because of the sudden termination of the activities of the National Stadium Committee, which has not met for several years, and the absence of any activity that seems to suggest that a national stadium would be constructed here any time soon.
The track and field athletics fraternity were sadly disappointed at the decision by the National Sports Council (NSC) to close Arnos Vale # 1 during the period 1 November 2011 through to 20 March 2012, inclusive. The coaches had a very tough time trying to get their athletes prepared for the 2012 track and field season.
Athletes preparing for the Inter School Championships did not have the benefit of Mini Meets on a surface that could have facilitated an assessment of their preparedness for the competition. Those who had any intention of making it to regional and international competitions were even further challenged.
The athletics fraternity then gave serious consideration to making the case for a centralised training facility of a more durable nature – a synthetic track – located in an area of population concentration – schools and communities – to assist the athletes and coaches in taking a quantum leap forward.
Admittedly, if the opportunity provided itself for work to resume on the pathway to the development of a national stadium, consideration would certainly be given to it.
Mr Leroy Llewellyn, Vice President of Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG) and a resident of Sion Hill, began a campaign to make the Sion Hill Playing field the location of a synthetic track. This proposal soon found favour with the likes of Michael Ollivierre and others involved in the sport of track and field athletics.
This country’s Prime Minister, Dr Gonsalves, having been duly apprised of the aforementioned situation experienced by the track and field fraternity for the better part of the preparatory period and the early competition phase for our athletes, was approached on the matter of a synthetic track.
It is in the foregoing context that TASVG, in tandem with the National Olympic Committee (NOC), invited Mr Michael Tovar, a representative from MONDO, to visit the country to hold discussions on the possibilities available to realise a synthetic track and the proposed national stadium.
This is the backdrop against which the content of this two-part article is written. It is the start of what promises to be an interesting debate on the pros and cons of a synthetic athletics track now and the national stadium later or the immediate commencement of work on the national stadium with the provision of a synthetic track at Diamond Estate.
Cricket’s hurrah
For several decades the sports-loving people of St Vincent and the Grenadines have dreamed of a national stadium that can be used for football and track and field athletes.
Unfortunately, the clientele and leadership of these two sports were not of the same social and economic standing as those of cricket and hence one must understand why it was possible for the Cricket Association to have garnered the support of the Cato government in the late 1960s and early 1970s relative to the development of the Arnos Vale Playing Field in order to attract the first international cricket match in the country.
An article dated February 1997 stated in part,
… by Ordinance No. 22 of 1968 on 27 June 1968, the Legislative Council established the Arnos Vale Playing Field Board, the body to which the veritable herculean task of transforming the sixteen acres of ‘bad bush’ and swamp into a playing arena of some stature, was handed over.
The then Administrator, Hywell George, later to become Governor, took on the leadership role of Chairman of the new Board. Frank Thomas, former captain of the national cricket team, was Secretary.
Meanwhile, Gideon Cordice, took his campaign to another level. He made representation before the West Indies Cricket Board of Control (WICBC) at its meeting in 1969. There he pleaded the case for St Vincent and the Grenadines to gain access to First Class Matches. This boldness was met with success. The meeting of the WICBC, agreed that should St Vincent and the Grenadines establish a sound turf wicket in time, the country will be allowed to host a game involving the touring New Zealand team, in 1972.
By achieving this result he challenged his local Executive and the Government to work more assiduously to complete the transformation of the Arnos Vale arena into a First Class sports facility.
Not many Vincentians would argue that had the leaders of athletics and football at the time approached the then government for land and resources to be made available to construct a national stadium they would have met with such success in such short order.
The fact is that Cricket had gone ahead and made significant progress using the promise of getting on the international schedule as a catalyst in this regard.
In 1998 St Vincent and the Grenadines participated in its first Olympic Games, Seoul, South Korea. Athletics and boxing were the sports represented. This ground-breaking moment was seen as providing an excellent opportunity to take the case for a national stadium another step further.
Talk of a national stadium for athletics and football have been around for many years. Participating in our first Olympics allowed lovers of sport in the country to wake up to the reality that finally we had reached a stage of international sports participation that required a qualitative change in performance.
A document written on 28 December 1988 detailed the importance of a national stadium for St Vincent and the Grenadines. The document also outlined some of the components of such a facility and appealed for the then government to give serious consideration to the construction of a national stadium.
The document was sent formally to the then Minister of Sport, Jeremiah Scott. This was done being mindful that he was the very individual who had procured financial support for some national sports associations to meet their obligations to their respective international federations (IF) in order for our NOC to be accepted as a member of the International Olympic Committee.
The hope was that Scott would use his influence in government to take the matter of the construction of a national stadium on board enough to persuade his colleagues to lend their support to a much-needed project for the nation’s youths.
While Minister Scott appeared partial to the need for a national stadium there was little evidence that the document generated the kind of interest that the athletics and football fraternities would have wanted.
For all intents and purposes therefore the document was left gathering dust.
1992 was the year of the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain. It was the second Olympics in which this country participated. This time around only track and field athletics was represented.
Once more, given the atmosphere created globally by the Barcelona Olympics interest was again piqued at home in respect of the need for a national stadium.
A small group of interested individuals got together for a series of meetings examining the location options for the development of a national stadium in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Unfortunately not much progress was made since there was still little or no interest at the governmental level in the development of a national stadium. This was most surprising since football had long since overtaken cricket as the nation’s most popular sport and athletics was the first sport to gain a place at every edition of the Olympic Games.
Since 1992 there was virtually no movement toward the creation of a national stadium in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Athletics and football continued to lament the problems associated with competing with cricket for the use of Arnos Vale playing field and consistently highlighted the need for a national stadium to serve the needs of the two sports. This, however, got nowhere.
In the meantime, neighbouring Grenada constructed its own stadium in time to host the annual Carifta Games in 2000, with a commitment from the country’s National Lottery to meet the cost over time.
But 2000 was also the year of street protests here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. These gave rise to a sudden turn of events including the decision to call early general elections.
There were five critical activities regarding the national stadium in 2001.
It should be noted that at the time, prior to the general elections of 31 March 2001 and in the immediate aftermath, there was no mention made whatsoever by the Unity Labour Party (ULP) of any intention to conceptualise and construct an international airport. This may have surprised many given the heated discourse on an international airport that had taken place in the years leading up to the general elections, especially during the street protests of April-May 2000.