Minister responsible for Youth Development and Sports, Honourable Shawn Edward says Saint Lucia’s hosting of Commonwealth Youth Games 2017 will be a very huge undertaking and that the eyes of the Commonwealth will be on the island in the build up and during the Games.
In a recent television interview, Mr Edward gave a glimpse of Government’s plans as far as two of the major facilities for the Games are concerned.
Swimming and Athletics are two of the seven sports proposed for the Games, along with Beach Volleyball, Twenty20 Cricket, Cycling, Netball and Tennis.
But the main facility for athletics, George Odlum Stadium, has housed the St Jude Hospital since a fire at St Jude in September 2009. And whilst a decision has been made to build a new 50-metre swimming facility, there has been little information forthcoming about design, timelines etc.
There has been a great deal of concern expressed about those two facilities, especially the Stadium, but the Minister remains confident.
“I honestly believe we do have the capacity to host the Games,” says the minister. “But let me say I share some of the sentiments that have been expressed in the public with respect to the pace at which things are happening. But there is more to hosting the Commonwealth Games than having the George Odlum Stadium in a state of readiness. We all know the circumstances that led to the stadium being occupied by a hospital.”
Although the George Odlum Stadium has remained in use for athletics over the past five years, and the competition area is in decent nick, the superstructure is in very poor shape. Minister Edward indicated that inasmuch as no schedule has been furnished as to the completion of St Jude Hospital, he is aware that work is ongoing. He says that once the stadium is cleared, his team is ready to get to work to ensure the facility is ready for 2017.
“I mean I wish the hospital was already out of the stadium, but we understand the situation,” he went on. “It’s not something that can be rushed. I know that the Government is trying its best to get the hospital out of the stadium, and I can assure you that we have plans at the Ministry that as soon as the hospital vacates the stadium you will see begin to see activities at the George Odlum Stadium with a view to getting the facility ready for the Commonwealth Youth Games.”
Aside from what appears to be a massive amount of construction work, virtually amounting to rebuilding the facility, Minister Edward says that there may be issues with sanitizing the facility and dealing with biomedical waste.
But he has given the assurance that a plan in place, and that the necessary assessments are being made with respect to prioritizing some of the principal problems that need to be tackled at the stadium, some of which he went on to catalogue.
“The stadium is in a chronic state of disrepair,” he offers. “We cannot salvage the roof. I don’t think any one of the 5,000 seats that we have down there can be salvaged. The salinity of the air in Vieux Fort is something that can be very problematic for the facilities you have down there.”
The Minister was perhaps not in a position to be specific as to the cost of the works needed, but it is estimated that over $15 million was spent to refurbish the stadium in 2009 and lay a new international-quality Mondo track.
With regard to the imminent construction of a new swimming facility, the Minister said there is a Cabinet conclusion speaking to allocation of land adjacent to the stadium and a budgetary allocation for construction.
His Ministry has been “in conversation” with a company that has been identified to undertake the construction of the new facility, which will include a 50-metre pool, although only a 25-metre pool is mandatory for the Commonwealth Youth Games.
“We need a 50-metre pool in Saint Lucia,” insists the Minister. “I think our swimmers have done very well in the circumstances, they do not get to train in a 50-metre facility, they use the [25-metre] Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre, and from there they are able go on to Trinidad CARIFTA and record very impressive times and are able to capture medals, and we are very proud of them. So if as part of our development mandate the need has come where Saint Lucia needs a 50-metre pool, of course we are willing to go down that road.”
Aside from the two facilities to which the Minister spoke, the Beausejour Stadium will certainly come in for some attention for cricket. Although it is yet to be determined where beach volleyball will be staged, the local Volleyball Association has had some experience hosting regional and international competition in that sport.
The National Tennis Centre in Beausejour is the home of the International Tennis Federation’s annual Coca Cola Junior Tournament. And further details should be forthcoming in months to come regarding netball and cycling.
But the Minister reiterated on a number of occasions that the hosting of a successful five-day meet in July-August 2017 will come down to more than just the facilities.
An expanded Local Organising Committee has been put in place, along with a five-member ministerial sub-committee, and those two groups continue to make preparations for the Games. “We just want to make sure we cross all our T’s, dot all our I’s and that there is going to be a smooth journey from today until 2017,” says Minister Edward.
The Minister has expressed his confidence that the Local Organising Committee has competent persons to execute a world class event. “Things are not moving at the pace that most Saint Lucians want to see,” he acknowledged. “But I remain very optimistic that come 2017 we will be in a position to deliver a Commonwealth Youth Games that will be the envy of many other nations in the Commonwealth.”