All eyes have zoomed in, with laser focus, on Brazil as the most widely viewed and followed sporting event unfolds in the country credited with transforming football into the ‘beautiful game.’ The FIFA World Cup has captured global attention, but concerns are mounting over preparations for the next major spectacle to hit the largest country in South America: The 2016 Olympic Games.
Recently International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates deemed Rio de Janeiro’s efforts “the worst ever.”
Coates added; “The situation is critical on the ground. We have become very concerned. They are not ready in many, many ways. We have to make it happen and that is the IOC’s approach. You can’t walk away from this.”
Saint Lucia finds itself in a similar bind as the island prepares to host the Youth Commonwealth Games in 2017, albeit in less dire straits. In 2011, the country was awarded the games, but three years later improvements and construction of facilities have yet to materialize. Chairman of the Local Organizing Committee for the Games, Richard Peterkin, cut right to the chase in rating their progress.
“We are behind. And as chairman I would happily accept responsibility for that but we are behind in really one or two critical things which I think we can overcome.”
One of the key elements in limbo is the decision to build an athletes village or rent accommodation from hotels. Peterkin believes the former offers long-term benefits to the country.
“Both the government and the organizing committee are very keen that there be some legacy to having had these games in Saint Lucia and one of the legacies is not only that we have either constructed some facilities or refurbished them but more importantly, that we will have, as a result of building an athlete’s village, we will have left facilities which would be used as housing, sold as houses and so it
would increase housing stock in the country after the games.”
The concept is similar to one employed in 2007, during the Cricket World Cup, which hosted matches on the island.
“That’s where the delay has been, because in order for that to happen, since government is footing the bill for the games, government would have had to provide us with the land so that we would then come up with a project, which would be more like a design/construct project, where a developer would come in, build [and complete] in time for the athletes to stay in these homes . . . And then once the games were over, those homes would then be purchased by private people to use as houses. In fact they would have purchased it beforehand but they won’t take possession until after the games.”
Currently, a site has not been selected for the construction project. Finding a location in close proximity to the facilities is an improbability, with the Beausejour Stadium and its counterparts in the north and the George Odlum Stadium in the south. As for the latter, which currently doubles as a hospital, Peterkin stated that he has received assurance the track and field venue will be vacated and restored in time for the first races.
“The latest estimate I got in speaking to the hospital board was that certainly within a year the new hospital would have been completed and moved over. Now we don’t need it until 2017, so there’s ample time for the refurbishing and the minister assured me that funds are being made available in order for that refurbishment to take place. So I’m not overly concerned about that although I understand that a lot of refurbishment will be required because of the deterioration of the actual building. Not the grounds; the track is fine but the buildings are not in great shape.”
Of course with the island continuing to plunge into the depths of a fiscal deficit, cost is critical.
“We had given a budget some years ago of about 12 or 13 million EC. We’d have to revisit that but a lot depends on whether you pay for accommodation in hotels or you build,” stated the LOC chairman.
“If in fact we build a village, the entire thing is designed to be financed independently so that government doesn’t have to put out money to build the village, because you’re selling the units to private people. But if we don’t build a village and we have to rent hotels then there’s a cost there. So it really depends on which plan we end up having to use as to what’s the cost of that.”
Regarding facilities, Peterkin explained that what was needed for 2017 had already been in the pipeline well before talk of the games. These are costs independent of the YCG.
“You then also have to look in terms of the overall cost of the infrastructure that government has to fix in order for us to have those facilities ready. That cost normally does not include in the cost of the games because it is a cost that the government normally has to incur. Government has to spend the money to fix up George Odlum Stadium whether we have the games or not, right? And they have promised to have a swimming pool whether we have the games or not. So normally those costs are not included in the budget for the games. All we include is the actual operating cost of transport and meals, accommodation if you had to use accommodation etc. We should look at having to spend money probably from sometime next year going right through to 2017.”
Peterkin, a partner in accounting firm Grant Thornton, is not oblivious to the financial strife facing fair Helen.
“We know that we’re looking at very tough economic times and the question as to whether we can still afford it is one I had to put to the prime minister last week and his opinion was, as long as there’s legacy then it’s a worthwhile project which could generate some economic growth and activity in terms of building a village, refurbishing facilities etc. So the country remains committed to the games.”
As an experienced sports administrator and International Olympic Committee member, Peterkin is practical about the reality that hosting the games might not be feasible.
“Although it’s something we don’t want, I would think that if for some reason because of just a pure inability to finance, the drop dead date as to a decision to tell the Commonwealth Games we couldn’t do it any longer would probably be end of this year.”
But he remains cautiously optimistic.
“In life you can never say not going to happen. Let’s just say we are still eagerly working towards it happening and there’s nothing that suggests to us it’s impossible at this stage, it’s just got more difficult.”