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A THORNY ISSUE: For safety’s sake


ANDI THORNHILL

A THORNY ISSUE: For safety’s sake

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GOVERNMENT MINISTERS Stephen Lashley and Ronald Jones are on point with recent utterances relating to sports.

Minister of Sports Lashley took the right decision to close the stands at the National Stadium to the public.

The belated revelation that a couple primary school athletes were injured by falling debris from a stand during NAPSAC must be the main reason that has influenced the minister’s decision.

In his own words: “It’s something we had to do. I could not sit any longer as minister and just hope and pray that a patron isn’t seriously injured while attending an event at the National Stadium.”

Safety of patrons must be treated as a priority at all venues and I don’t believe  the Government was left with any choice but to agree with Lashley once he shared his decision with fellow members of Cabinet.

It is an open secret that the Stadium in general has been in a state of disrepair for ages but the issues only seem to resurface this busy time of the year when there’s athletics and football for the first six months and Crop Over events that follow soon after.

Lest we forget, the governing body for international football, FIFA, once condemned the facility and we weren’t able to play international matches until they were satisfied that suitable efforts were taken to safeguard the safety of patrons.

And when last have we hosted the CARIFTA Games, which began in Barbados in 1972, or any other major track and field meet?

We simply can’t because the Stadium has been given a failing grade in this respect.

The Stadium was opened in 1970 and has, arguably, outlived its usefulness as an international venue and is very poor in comparison to others built in the region in more recent times.

Ideally, the wear and tear is very visible, but in the interest of accommodating local activities the authorities responsible for the upkeep of the Stadium have continued to do remedial work at various stages to keep things going.

However, enough is enough and Minister Lashley has taken a tough decision which may have come at a peak time but it’s the only sensible one he could take with the safety of patrons in mind and notwithstanding the level of liability the state would face if serious or fatal injuries were suffered by patrons on account of faults relating to the stands.

Not only that, I can only imagine the amounts of “I told you so” we would hear if something tragic occurs during an event.

Therefore, the old adage of prevention being better than cure makes any affirmative action at this time the right one.

Organisations and individuals who do business with the Stadium will have to work in concert with the authorities in respect of how they will accommodate spectators participating in their activities. I don’t see that being a major headache considering, too, that there isn’t a choice.

In fact, another function at the Stadium last Sunday forced the Barbados Football Association to revert to its own, incompleted Astro Turf facility at Wildey to play its Premier League games. So, they have an alternative which they used two years ago when the Stadium was unavailable to all because of the relaying of the track.

I believe some organisations can also look at making arrangements to use the Usain Bolt Sports Complex at Paradise Park until the Stadium is ready for full use again.

The best solution is to have a new Stadium but we know financial constraints at the moment will delay this reality indefinitely so we simply have to work with what we have.

I am also happy with the recent remarks by Minister of Education Jones about granting scholarships through the state to outstanding athletes similar to what is done for academics.

He said that because of tight purse strings he can only make three scholarships available at this time and I think that’ fair. At least it is a start and it shows intent to recognise sports as a key pillar in the process of national development.

Very often sportsmen have been made to feel that their significant contributions to the island through their endeavours have not had the recognition nor reward granted to others from other fields. This observation can only serve to demotivate and demoralise individuals who aspire to achieve individual and national glory.

Jones’ announcement should go a long way in appeasing those who believe that sportsmen are often placed on the backburner.

We await more specifics from the minister about the proposed scholarships but taking him at his word he is on the right track.

So too Lashley, but we all know that action speaks much louder than words.

Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist. Email:[email protected]

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