Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Follow the trace | More stadiums needed, not a bigger one

Published:Tuesday | May 17, 2016 | 5:00 AM
Edwin Allen High School's track and field athletes celebrating their victory on the final day of the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships in 2014 at the National Stadium.

Another day, another debate in Jamaican sports. The moot point this time around, do we need a bigger national stadium?

This latest debate has been ignited by recent reports that Minister of Sports, Olivia 'Babsy' Grange, intimated that the government is in the process of fast-tracking a US$60 million expansion and refurbishing of the National Stadium facility.

On the face of it and in a perfect world it would be great to have a huge state-of-the- art 50 or 60-thousand capacity multisport stadium in Jamaica.

In practical terms, Jamaica does not need a bigger National Stadium. The nation's young sports men and women would be much better served by the construction of two or three smaller mini stadia strategically located across the island.

Sixty million US dollars is the equivalent of over seven hundred million Jamaican dollars. If that kind of funding is available, instead of trying to expand the current stadium, which is hardly an urgent need, why not build two mini stadia in the mould of the Montego Bay Sports Complex?

One such facility would be ideal in the central region of the island between St Elizabeth, Manchester, and Clarendon, with Portmore also prime for such an investment with its massive population and relatively sparse sporting facilities.

Better facilities would then become more accessible to more talented young Jamaicans across the island.

Despite Jamaica's positive impact on international sport, especially in athletics, one of if not our biggest deficiency continues to be our lack of proper facilities. It is absolutely vital to us achieving our full potential in sport that we allocate the limited resources available in the smartest and most prudent manner.

Expanding the National Stadium cannot be a credible priority at this point. By all means the stadium should be adequately maintained and not allowed to fall into disrepair, but approving that kind of major expenditure for the purpose of increasing the seating capacity of the stadium would not be the best option at this time.

The fact of the matter is that the National Stadium is severely under utilised, it is only for one single day of one single event per year that the stadium if full to capacity. That is the final hours of the final day of Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships.

None of the recent World Cup qualifiers filled out the 30,000 capacity stadium.The grand gala concert usually held during the Independence celebrations has also fallen short of filling the stadium to capacity. For the huge majority of the days of the year the National Stadium sits there empty and unused.

The loud shouts for a bigger stadium tend to arise once per year during the pre Champs hype, when grandstand tickets for Saturday are a hard to come by.

The option of smaller stadiums strategically located would represent the kind of investment that would not necessarily bear fruit in the very short term, but certainly in the medium to long term in an evolving Jamaica and an evolving world where sports is becoming a real and viable option for more talented young Jamaicans and considering the pivotal importance of proper facilities to the nurturing and development of our young sportsmen and women.

I urge the powers that be to take deep breath and think again on this issue before pandering to the few.