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Raffique Shah


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Labour Day 2005 Photos

Fix existing sports facilities
for much less than $850m

June 19, 2005
By Raffique Shah

TODAY being Labour Day, many readers will expect me to focus on what's happening in Fyzabad, on the division in the labour movement that seems to render it impotent. I shall, of course, be there, and I shall march, paying homage to Uriah Butler and the comrades of the 1939 oil strike that forced the colonial powers to legitimise trade unions.

Many who have since moved up the ranks, who are now CEOs and managers and even owners of capital, ignore the fact that it was labour that lifted the status of workers in the country, improved their wages and conditions of work. These latter, in turn, were responsible for successive generations aiming for higher heights. Almost every person of standing in the society today benefitted from that struggle waged by Butler and his protégés. So as you sit smugly in your air-conditioned offices and mansions, give thanks to leaders like Butler, Cola Rienzi, George Weekes and many others who made it possible for you to live in fine style today.

I wish, however, to focus instead on the Government's proposal to spend $850 million on sporting facilities at Tarouba, which has become a very controversial issue. As a sports enthusiast, one who literally moulded a new athletics event in the Caribbean-the mass marathon-I have a very positive approach to sports, culture, and education, seeing them as inextricably linked to producing well rounded citizens. One need only to look at individuals like Euric Bobb, Wendell Mottley, Deryck Murray and Ian Bishop (to name a few) to understand where I am coming from.

In fact, UWI's Sports and Physical Education Centre forms part of that vision to return our young people to understanding the nexus between a healthy lifestyle, good education, and organised physical activity.

Further, when the UNC was in government there were many projects they undertook that I was critical of. I opposed the expansive-and-expensive airport terminal ever since the idea was first mooted by the PNM. I opposed corruption. I opposed abuse of power. But their one major project I supported fully was the construction of three new stadia and the refurbishment and upgrading of the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Oh, I suspect that all was not kosher in expenditure incurred in those works, and I still question how and why certain individuals and/or firms came to be involved in the initiative.

But it was clear that we needed sporting facilities superior to the run-down Skinner Park, the Arima Velodrome, and several other grounds where the surfaces were badly scarred, where there were no facilities for the sportsmen and women who wanted to use them. So even though there were huge question marks over the new stadiums, I fully backed the UNC when they decided to proceed with the projects. I later discovered that all three new stadia were constructed with only football in mind, that one had to make major adjustments to accommodate cricket matches (our number one sport), that proper athletics meets could not be held in them since they were not equipped with space for electronic timing equipment, an imperative in modern track and field.

Still, they are fairly decent stadia. And here I launch my assault on the proposed establishment of an $850 million complex at Tarouba. That's a short-run from the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium, so the argument that "de Southland" does not have its own stadium falls flat. If it is that we must have a dedicated cricket facility named after master cricketer Brian Lara, again I think Bunty deserves it.

But why can't we spend substantially less and upgrade, say, the Ramjohn stadium, creating within it the "Brian Lara Cricket Facility"? Even the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva may suffice, since all that is required can be accommodated within any of these stadiums. In fact, the latter may be even better suited, since the T&T Cricket Board has its facilities next-door, where practice grounds can be installed. Spend money on making the ground itself a multi-purpose one (hey, the Oval is used for both cricket and football), add nets and an electronic scoreboard, increase the seating capacity and presto, for less than $50 million we can get a first-class cricket facility.

Government should also consider upgrading all the other main facilities to correct the football imbalance imposed on us by the UNC government. This country is much too small to have stadia in every village. However, in almost every district there are "recreation grounds" that sorely need minimal expenditure to upgrade them, to make them multi-purpose facilities that will better serve the nation's youths than one "macco" stadium in Tarouba. But governments have a way of going after ultra-expensive prestige projects that later come back to haunt them, since they never factor in maintenance and operational costs. The proposed cricket stadium can end up being another such "white elephant".