Press Release- Kendal Elva, Chevening Scholar- The current state of our playing field is nothing, but unacceptable and the epitome of an issue which deserves an urgent, comprehensive and long lasting solution. To accept any explanation to justify the present conditions of the overwhelming majority of our playing fields is tantamount to denying the youth of our country an opportunity to pursue some of their biggest dreams and aspirations. Acceptance on your part serves as evidence that you have failed to understand and appreciate the role which can be played by well-maintained playing fields in promoting the holistic development of young people and the general population. The state of our playing fields also suggests that there is a need for us to ask yourselves whether we are serious about youth and sports development in this country of ours.
For the past two and a half years the majority of our playing fields appear to have become surfaces to grow grass as opposed to serving as venues to be used by our youth to sharpen their sporting talents. The overgrown grassy vegetation on the playing fields have resulted in many of the fields becoming more conducive as a place for rearing livestock. Whereas the relevance of the livestock sector to our economy cannot be understated, we should never doubt that our playing fields were and should never serve as a means to improve our agricultural output, thereby reducing the food importation bill.
Playing fields were established in St. Lucia and in other countries to allow individuals to engage in physical activities in the form of sports and exercise. It is an undisputed fact that physical activities play a major role in reducing vulnerability to lifestyle diseases which limits productivity in the economy and in worse cases brings an end to human life. Many families become shackled by the high cost associated with lifestyle diseases such as obesity and cardiovascular related illnesses. Running a few laps around the field or taking a “sweat” can contribute to an improvement in someone’s psychological and emotional health. Without playable surfaces to practice a sport many of our youth are being deprived of an opportunity to emulate or surpass the sterling achievements of our very own Lavern Spencer and Darren Sammy, who have both made us proud on the international stage. The opportunity to become a professional athlete becomes a distant reality, thanks to poorly maintained surfaces. No longer can our youth get a chance to acquire life skills through sports. Additionally, the poorly maintained fields deprives our communities of an avenue through which they can socialize, learn to work together and develop community togetherness and pride, which are all outcomes of hosting sporting competitions and social and recreational activities on the fields. Poorly maintained playing is a harm which needs to be addressed immediately.
But how did we get to having playing fields with overgrown vegetation? During the period 2011-2016 the grass on all playing surfaces throughout the length and breadth of St. Lucia were cut and managed by workers hired under the NICE programme. Notably these workers assisted with the marking of the playing surfaces in preparation for sporting competitions. In those days, District Youth and Sports Councils and sports clubs were relieved of the task of maintaining our playing fields. As a result these Youth and Sports Organizations experienced financial savings which they redirected to implement much needed youth empowerment programmes. Very importantly, all playing fields were well maintained and were used on a regular basis by community residents.
With the termination of the NICE programme by the current government administration, Sports Saint Lucia Incorporated (SSI), a statutory body, was established to maintain sporting facilities on the island, inclusive of playing fields. This new body was largely financed by a contribution from the National Lotteries Authority. The promise that SSI would replicate the success of the Field Maintenance Programme executed by the NICE Programme did not materialize. Though the grass was cut on a regular basis for two years at the Phillip Marcellin Ground, Mindo Phillip Park and the Sab Playing Field, this was never the reality for the other playing fields. During this two year period in many instances the grass was only cut on one playing field in the out districts after much lobbying by our footballers and sports clubs. Things have gotten worse with since the tenure of the board of SSI came to an end as of 31 July, 2018. Presently no new Board has been appointed by the government of St. Lucia. In the absence of a Board, grass is not being cut not even on our major playing fields unless respective management committees for the fields pay for such services.
The aforementioned situation has left the majority of our playing fields in an unusable state. Our young people and communities are deprived of the opportunity to benefit from the use of the playing fields. Youth leaders and community-based organizations have had to spend significant sums of money to maintain the playing fields from since the termination of the NICE Playing Field Maintenance Programme. A significant number of the athletes and young people who were employed to maintain the fields are unemployed, thereby exposing them and their families to poverty and mental distress. This alarming situation of our playing fields not being maintained as they were under the NICE programme must be addressed at the soonest. Addressing this issue means that the grass on all playing fields, including those in rural communities, will be cut on a regular basis. As such I urge the government and other relevant stakeholders to resolve this matter in a manner which shows that sports and the needs of the youth are top priorities on the national development agenda.