(SNO) — The Saint Lucia Football Association Inc (SLFA) officially opened its newest facility at the Grande Riviere Playing Field in Mabouya Valley, Dennery on Saturday, February 23.
It’s strange to think that this initiative, originally meant to have been a FIFA GOAL Project 1, has been 20 years in coming, overseen by at least four different presidents, and overtaken by multiple “national” football facilities, and by another GOAL Project.
The FIFA Goal Project Programme was initiated by then FIFA President, Joseph S. Blatter, way back in 1999. The idea was to launch a tailor-made development and assistance programme, designed to realise projects based on the specific needs of national associations. The first project envisioned for Saint Lucia, then under the leadership of Mark Louis, was a headquarters for the beautiful game.
According to then Minister for Sports, Mario Michel, the facility would include, inter alia, “a standard international–size football field, two small training fields, a 3000–capacity seating area, a 100–bed dormitory, administrative offices, coaching rooms and referees offices, as well as a gymnasium and a swimming pool.” That vision was detailed in 2006, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Needless to say, the ambition of the SLFA has been scaled back considerably since, as the “technical centre” opened recently is essentially a training ground. Since 1999, a lot has happened, however, not least of which the establishment in 2016 of the SLFA headquarters at La Clery, in what was now dubbed GOAL Project 1, comprising an administrative building.
Also since 1999, the Government of Saint Lucia (GOSL) built the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground (then known as Beausejour Cricket Ground) in Gros Islet, and the George Odlum Stadium (formerly the National Stadium) in Vieux Fort. Both were opened for use in 2002, both were certified by FIFA as suitable venues for international football, and both have hosted multiple official matches.
Sadly, neither venue is controlled in any way, form or fashion by the SLFA. The George Odlum Stadium has been in use as a healthcare facility since the 2009 fire at the St Jude Hospital in Vieux Fort. Football plays second fiddle to international football at the DSCG, and the SLFA has had no choice but to “host” its Concacaf matches at neutral venues overseas.
Meanwhile, GOSL agreed in 2003 to give the SLFA a piece of land in Union for its international field, training fields, seating, dormitory etc. Ground was broken in early 2006, but General Elections that year saw a change in philosophy, as the incoming administration withdrew the offer of the land at Union, which had been earmarked for agricultural use.
It was not until 2012 that a new piece of land was acquired by GOSL on behalf of the SLFA in the Dennery basin. Per the SLFA, “through the government about six acres of land was finally leased for the next 99 years which paved the way for the first artificial turf in Saint Lucia. Goal Project 2 is far from what was originally planned but it is a step in the right direction.”
Make no mistake, the new facility will be good for Saint Lucian football. National teams will better be able to prepare for regional and international engagements. The SLFA, which also owns its own 30-seat coach (managed in collaboration with GOSL) has most of the pieces in place to operate independently of government. All, that is, but an actual playing facility.
Of course, GOSL — through consultant Don Lockerbie — has outlined its own rudimentary vision for multiple national football facilities, and community facilities with artificial playing surfaces. It’s left to be seen whether these will be accomplished within 20 years, and whether their promise will match their eventual reality.