Jermaine Lannaman, Gleaner Writer
Four of the country's leading sports administrators have called on the Government to consider implementing a national sports infrastructure development project similar to that of the ongoing national road infrastructure development project.
Marva Bernard, president of the Jamaica Netball Association (JNA), Fritz Harris, secretary of the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA), Edward Shakes, principal of the GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sports, and Leroy Brown, secretary of the Jamaica Boxing Board of Control were panellists at a special Gleaner Editors' Forum held at the company's offices on July 11.
"Infrastructure is critical and I think that it is a big project that the Government should take on for Jamaica 50," Shakes said."We talk about 50 years and looking forward, but one of the areas I think people need to give more credit to when we talk about Jamaica being world-class is to attach that label to our athletes and our coaches.
"This is so because when one looks at infrastructure support it is in need of urgent attention, but yet still we are able from time to time match skills with the best athletes and teams in the world.
"We therefore need to take a closer look at what is happening to our sports infrastructure network, and how it can be improved. In the same way the Government can strategically go out and seek funding for a highway and other big projects, they should, in the same manner, approach the building of sports infrastructure across the country," he declared.
This has been a constant call from sports administrators over the years, especially in light of the country's outstanding sporting accomplishments since Indepen-dence.
These include the almost yearly accomplishment of athletes on the world scene, including the Olympic Games and World Championships, the qualification of the Reggae Boyz to the 1998 World Cup, the rise to third in the world of the Sunshine Girls netball team and the accomplishments of the Jamaican and the once world number one ranked, West Indies cricket team.
However, due to what is a generally described as a lack of funds and according to the quartet, in some instances a lack of understanding of the evolution of sports and its effect on the world economy, little has been done to address their pleas.
"There is no doubt that we need an extremely large investment in sports," said Brown, who is of the opinion that boxing could have produced far more world champions had there been better facilities and government support.
"For example, right now I think we need a multi-purpose stadium whereby different sporting associations can converge rather than everybody having a little area somewhere. There is no doubt, however, that it's going to cost a lot of money. Therefore we have to think about a multi-purpose stadium like how we think about the highways.
"We recognised that we needed the highway and the government found a way through investments to get them built," he added.
Calling for assistance
Harris, whose association has in recent times been calling for assistance regarding the installation of lights at Sabina Park so as to raise the popularity and profile of the sport nationally, also voiced similar sentiments as Shakes and Brown.
"Sabina needs lights and if this does not happen we will not be able to expand in cricket, as on the international scene cricket is increasingly being played at nights," said Harris.
"There is also the need for better cricket grounds across the country and a cricket academy to name a few, which can take not only Jamaica's cricket, but West Indies cricket to new heights.
Bernard, in the meantime, while agreeing with the sentiments of a sports infrastructure network build up, said it cannot be expected that the Government alone can do it and called on the private sector to join in the investment.
"I think that we would be foolish to expect the Government to do everything and sometimes some of us sit and wait for them to do everything," she said.
"But this mindset needs to be changed, and especially among those in the private sector, who should be able to look into a sports infrastructure project, and recognise that over time there can be returns both from a social and economic perspective."