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ON REFLECTION: Stadium fix long overdue

Ricky Jordan

ON REFLECTION: Stadium fix long overdue

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No time can be wrong to fix our 43-year-old National Stadium, which has long been condemned by organizations and individuals alike.
Remember when Usain Bolt set a blistering world 200 metres junior record here in 2003 but the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) had difficulty ratifying it?
That was five years before he would make Olympic glory in Beijing, and back then the IAAF was berating our Stadium’s poor design.
Since then, it has been deemed obsolete by FIFA, world football’s governing body, which, in 2008, stated that stadia were no longer constructed like ours; while international track cycling was stopped on its outdated velodrome; and world champion hurdler Ryan Brathwaite vowed not to use its athletics track.
So when some in our highly educated society seek to make a political football out of an issue which is so close to Barbadians’ hearts, I stand in amazement since, beyond a doubt, the Stadium has long outlived its usefulness.
It matters not who was or is in power; nor should a rundown establishment like the island’s main multi-sport facility be gifted with a state-of-the-art Mondo track while rusting stands remain shaking in the wind.
What is of concern is the priority given to sport and the safety of participants and spectators.
There was a time when at least four sporting disciplines were played and practised there: track and field, football, cricket and cycling; while musical entertainment of nearly every genre – calypso, gospel, spouge, the Caribbean segment of the Richard Stoute Teen Talent contest, and the genesis of Crop Over masquerade – was hosted there.
At different points, athletes suffered varying injuries and a mishap occurred when a makeshift stage collapsed during Kadooment; but remedial work, including a track replacement in the mid-1980s, some structural repairs and removal of asbestos roofing, continued to be little more than piecemeal.  
Now, amidst economic challenges, the country has no choice but to halt all sporting activities there and proceed with what could well be a rescue act on this overused facility, whose stability must be a source of concern to any right-thinking Barbadian who has a son, daughter, niece or in-law who has attended any event there in recent years.
I wrote in this space two years ago that continued use of the Stadium’s obsolete stands is a source of risk to life and limb, and that continued running on its track, which was last repaired in 1999 to host the Central American & Caribbean (CAC) Senior Championships, was guaranteed to cause injury to athletes.
The track, as predicted, was given highest priority, but again I ask: of what benefit is a newly laid track if thousands of spectators remain at risk?
That is why it was good to hear from the Minister of Sport himself in the dying stages of the Estimates Debate last Friday that “we did not just dig up the Stadium”.
Clearly, a project of thorough refurbishment, replete with engineering work, is being undertaken at this time, and should be commended.
No politician on either side of the divide should be casting blame, since Barbadians, for the most part, have come to realize that sport and entertainment have not been genuine priorities for any government; unless, of course it is King Cricket for which we rebuilt the Mecca at a cost of over $150 million in 2006.
Most administrations have capitalized on, rather than assisted, the success of athletes and cultural practitioners.
The current refurbishment, though a tremendous setback to regional athletes and a host of sporting organizations, should serve to emphasize how essential are the areas of sport and culture.
I’m therefore thankful that no tragedy occurred during persistent use of the old track and stands, and look forward to the day when the Stadium will be reopened and when sport will be respected as a profession for many.
On reading the comments of DJ King Bubba who said he would “not be wasting time” with some Bajan artistes since his radio station is “international”, I shook my head in disappointment.
Which audience doesn’t want local music? The thousands who flock to Bushy Park annually for local soca, those voting for NexCyx online, those who helped Cover Drive top the British charts, those drawn to Bubba’s station by Li’l Rick, the millions who would go anywhere to see Rihanna?
It’s not about anyone’s “business”. If Barbados is to survive in a creative global economy, then its music must be a priority for listenership and collection of royalties. Will SLAM or other local stations remain guilty of this dereliction?
• Ricky Jordan is an Associate Editor of THE NATION.