The way in which we live, participate, and spectate sport is rapidly changing. This has considerable impact on planning for the future of sport and its supporting facilities. One need only look at the lacklustre competition in recent years for hosting rights to the Olympics — in decades prior seen as the centrepiece of a city’s claim to be truly global but in 2017 seeing Paris and Los Angeles agree to split the 2024 and 2028 games between them because they were the only two nations left standing who had wanted the 2024 Games.
That’s why the National Sports Program Infrastructure Development Strategy is a prime candidate for real scrutiny. Is it a strong and sensible plan for the nation’s sporting life? Or a road map to debt and wasting money that could be better spent elsewhere?
Going to Bat for Sports
The benefits of sporting events and their facilities should not be understated. True, there will always be some critics who say money would be better spent in the arts, with many non-sport fans surely dreaming of world-class opera houses and galleries built ahead of a new stadium. But teams and stadiums can prove a huge draw just the same as can a theatre or new art icon.
Sporting facilities also help establish and grow a sense of community, and raise the profile of the cities and neighbourhoods. For younger fans, a local team that plays in their community can provide a special link that shows a lifelong passion for sport. They also encourage healthy living, and help foster a spirit of friendly competition, fair play and devotion to pursuing shared goals — the values that can make a great athlete, and a great citizen.
While the benefits of professional sports and their accompanying facilities in a community are real, complications can arise in sporting upgrades. That’s why a strong and enduring strategy to build Saint Lucia’s sporting future is vital.
The Master Plan In-Depth
Consultant Don Lockerbie’s Master Plan for Saint Lucia is undoubtedly ambitious, providing for a vision of Saint Lucian sport that would see 30-40 facilities around the nation that will either be upgraded or built anew. By Lockerbie’s own acknowledgement, this is not a plan that will happen overnight. Instead it is a course that will be charted over the next two, or even three, decades. But that is no bad thing because, save for some of the biggest and fastest growing countries in the world like the People’s Republic of China and India, most nations need to look at major capital works that will be carried out not over years but over decades.
And yet because of the lengthy planning and long period it takes to execute a sporting vision, there is also a rich capacity for mismanagement and waste to leave a long, long legacy. Three venues in particular serve as key points of interest in the master plan: the existing Soufriere Mini and George Odlum Stadiums, and the current absence of a true national stadium. A national venue would provide a new home not only for events currently held at Soufriere Mini Stadium, but would go beyond this, offering upgraded facilities that could be enjoyed by Saint Lucians first and foremost, while also serving as a springboard for luring regional sporting competitions and new tourism. But it’s no secret that big stadiums have often brought big problems elsewhere.
Lessons from Abroad
New capital works with huge expenses are so often justified with the old adage ‘build it and they will come’. But recent history has shown that this is not the case with so many sports facilities, and this should give Saint Lucians pause for thought.
The 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona were widely seen as a successful venture in infrastructure and global profile that helped propel the Spanish city onto a new level as a sporting capital. However, the return on investment seen to stadium upgrades for Sydney 2000 and London 2012 are far less clear. Then there are the huge setbacks and debt that Athens faced hosting the 2004 Games, and Rio in 2016.
However much the Saint Lucian government may relish the addition of new facilities across the nation, there are lessons here as it looks to the future. Just like a playing roster must be finalised before a game begins, so too must the financing of these future facilities be considered carefully; once plans are in place, there’s often little prospect for an easy revision.
When done well with private investment, it can be an asset that speeds progress and optimises outcomes. When done poorly, it can be an ongoing headache for the government. Conversely, the experience of multiple NFL teams, and the constant pressure put on public authorities to build and perpetually upgrade facilities at taxpayers’ expense, shows an expectation that it is a government’s responsibility alone to maintain public facilities. These can generate enormous private profit but don’t pass the smell test for so many sports fans, even the keenest among us.
Finding a Game Changer
An approach here that could be agreeable to many is where sporting facilities are also mixed-use locales. Sports remain as the central use of these stadiums, but gone are the days when surrounding amenities such as a pub or restaurant are afterthoughts; now they are on-site attractions in their own right.
Put simply, mixed-use facilities go beyond the hosting of sporting events, to become real epicentres of the community — venues that draw crowds even when sport isn’t being played. This approach has been advocated in major cities where a sports team is pushing for a new stadium, but a citizenry is weary of the cost. It is also a form of insurance against a stadium being under-used. Saint Lucia may not have a population that rivals those of Los Angeles, Rio or similar cities, but it does have an opportunity here to learn from prior chapters in this dynamic.
There is a long way to go with the implementation of the master plan. But if a vision can be pursued that creates lasting value for the future while learning from the mis-steps of other nations in the past, then it’s game on!