For decades now and maybe even longer the swimming fraternity here has been lobbying for a 50 metre swimming pool. The long wait is over. On Monday during a press conference at the Ministry of Youth Development and Sports, government’s plans were unveiled for a National Aquatic Centre at Beausejour which has become the Mecca for sports in St Lucia.
During his opening remarks Minister of Youth Development and Sports, Shawn Edward said: “Today I have good news for the swimming fraternity and by extension all sports people in this country. The government of St Lucia has recognized there are several critical success factors upon which the sporting fortunes of our country are hinged on. Critical among these is the provision of quality/modern infrastructure.”
Edward believes strongly in the philosophy if you are going to have world class athletes, you need to expose them to the best possible infrastructure. With that in mind he went on to say: “Two weeks ago that commitment of providing quality sporting infrastructure to the sportsmen and women of this country was given further expression at the level of the cabinet, when a memorandum [relating to the National Aquatic Centre] presented by the ministry was favourable considered by the Cabinet of Ministers.”
In the past there have been numerous discussions not only about the need for a 50 metre pool but just as important the location. Edward was caught in a tug of war concerning where the facility should be located. In admitting he had his biases and remarked “for very obvious reasons I could not go out in the public domain and let people know what my preference was.”
He went on to say: “At the end of the day my preference really did not matter, because it was a collective decision of the cabinet that would have decided where exactly that facility would have been located.”
With everyone anxiously awaiting the decision the minister announced: “I am happy to report this morning that by way of cabinet conclusion number 664 of 2013, the Cabinet of Ministers agreed that the National Aquatic Facility will be situated in Beausejour, Gros Islet.”
The facility will be located adjacent to the Beausejour Cricket Ground in close proximity to the Indoor Facility and the National Tennis Centre.
The decision will not be popular with everyone. The minister is aware there are people particularly in the south of the island, who believe because there is already a swimming facility in the north (Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre) a national facility was needed in the south.
Edward was sympathetic to their cause and actually made a strong case for having a facility in the south. Reading between the lines might lead one to think he agreed. Judge for yourself. Here’s what he said: “Let me say that I recognize and I am fully aware of the need for a swimming facility in the south. The Southern Flying Fish which is the premiere swim club in the south, continue to expand and their programs have proven to be very fruitful and beneficial to youngsters. There is no better way to measure that, than when you see youngsters from their program making their way on to the national team. For them today they are at a pool at Coconut Bay, next day out in the ocean, the day after they are by Senator Tobierre. They really need a facility that is theirs to allow their program to mushroom and to blossom as has happened in the north of the island.”
Cheer up southerners it is not all doom and gloom. The minister did say “we have been instructed to go ahead to put plans in place, to ensure a facility is constructed for the swimmers in the south. As far as that is concerned we are pretty advanced and have a proposal. We are considering a 25 metre four lane pool to be situated somewhere in the vicinity of the George Odlum Stadium.”
The privately owned Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre has undoubtedly contributed to the success of swimmers at the OECS and regional level and in one way or another will be affected when the National Aquatic Centre is completed. To what extent remains to be seen.
Edward tried clearing the air: He said: “The Ministry for Youth Development and Sports was given a mandate to work collaboratively with the owners of the Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre, to ensure that the establishment of the national facility does not in any way disenfranchise the management of the Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre.”
Why did it take so long to get the green light for a 50 metre pool and with a staggering economy why now? The minister insisted that while the facility is a requirement for St Lucia hosting the 2017 Commonwealth Youth Games, that is not the main reason why the pool is being constructed. Besides the need for one he feels apart from competition, swimming ought to be a life skill that the children of St Lucia have as part of their repertoire.”
President of the St Lucia Amateur Swimming Association (SLASA), Lance Arnold, expressed his delight about the National Aquatic Centre being built at Beausejour. He referred to swimming coach David Peterkin as being among the swimming fraternity who petitioned long and hard for a national facility.
Arnold assured everyone that a 50 metre pool would not only enhance swimming here and said “in the future the swimming fraternity will be taking their rightful place on the podiums of the highest levels.”
The SLASA President has high in praise for the Rodney Heights Aquatic Centre and said: “We are grateful for the private sector investment in swimming, by building a facility when one was not readily available. I think that level of investment and commitment from a private entity should not be understated and should not be unceremoniously put aside. We will continue to work with the RHAC to ensure as we expand our base of swimmers that facility is kept alive and well in the future.”
Edward was asked the estimated cost of the National Aquatic Centre. He replied: I think a supplementary amount of $1 million is in the estimate for this financial year but the preliminary estimate is somewhere in the region of three to five million which is not cast in stone.”