The lighting issues at the Hasely Crawford Stadium (HCS) country’s major stadium are expected to be resolved in time for the Carifta Games trials, scheduled to commence on 3 March. In fact, the country’s major stadium should be back to full functionality by the end of February.
This is the word coming from a booking clerk attached to the HCS.
“Repairs to the lights at the stadium will take at least three weeks,” the clerk said, explaining that works have been stalled somewhat because a fuse needed for the repair process to be completed has to be imported. “The lights should be up and ready for Carifta [trials] and the Sagicor National Championships.”
Wired868 had been reliably informed that the lighting issues would have been resolved this week, with the venue set to host marquee Carnival events such as “Machel Monday” and the International Soca Monarch competition on 5 and 9 February respectively.
Workmen handling the lighting repairs at the HCS will have it all to do to get the venue back to 100% functionality—or as near as possible to that—when the National Association of Athletics Administrations of Trinidad and Tobago (NAAATT) holds its trials for the Commonwealth Games on 17 and 18 February. The Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) must submit its final list of athletes for the Commonwealth Games on 6 March and the NAAATT will certainly want that event to go off without a hitch.
That was not the case last year during the recently concluded Russia 2018 World Cup campaign. Then, the 22,000 capacity HCS venue was unable to host this country’s last two home qualifiers against Honduras and the USA.
Explaining the genesis of the problem at the HCS, a Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) employee—Wired868 will refer to him as GN—had this to say:
“The problem is the electricity, not the lights. They have been down since August when the transformer blew but we expect them to be back up soon.”
Prior to two World Cup qualifiers in November 2015 and March 2016, the HCS suffered two power outages. And in January last year, there was also an outage in the dying moments of a TT Pro League match between Club Sando and W Connection.
The facility has remained largely unused for the past several months and the burden of hosting the just completed CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 World Cup qualifying tournament fell squarely on the Ato Boldon Stadium (ABS) in Couva.
Fortunately for the organisers, the weather was kind and the 16-matches-in-11-days tournament went off without a hitch. But the ABS too has had its problems, one of the light towers there having given up the ghost during Trinidad and Tobago’s Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier against Honduras in September last year.
For a couple years, sportsmen and women simply have not seen the light at the Larry Gomes in Malabar and the Mannie Ramjohn in Marabella, which certainly limits their ability to host events such as the just concluded CONCACAF tournament.
Trying to remain optimistic, GN suggested that SPORTT should be able to commence works on the Larry Gomes and Mannie Ramjohn facilities once the budget for the 2019 fiscal year is revealed by the Government later this year. However, he also noted that October is a busy period for the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) and he was doubtful that any major repair works would be possible at those two venues at that time.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, GN said that it is the HCS’ north towers that need attention but the south towers at the Stadium are working perfectly well. However, neither GN nor the booking clerk was willing to offer an estimate of the cost of the lighting repairs at the HCS. And Wired868’s efforts to reach HCS facility manager Stephen Spence for a comment bore no fruit.
However, a former SPORTT employee—who might be referred to as Fabian—suggested that it would cost just over TT$1M to remedy the lighting issues at Larry Gomes and Mannie Ramjohn. He was, however, unable to tell Wired868 the estimated cost of the repairs to the towers at HCS necessary to get the facility again back up to international standard.
Asked to explain the cause of the recurrent problems at the national stadia over the past several months, Fabian pointed the finger directly at Government. The money for ensuring proper lighting at the different national stadia, he explained, comes under SPORTT’s recurrent expenditure budgetary head, which also covers general maintenance and upkeep of facilities, provision of office supplies, payments to athletes and payment of salaries of employees.
According to Fabian, the GoRTT allocation to the organisation is being cut every year. That means that SPORTT is being asked to make a woefully inadequate sum of money stretch to impossible lengths.
“There is no way you can get 40% of the allocation you requested,” he noted, “and maintain an international level. The number of facilities is increasing but the allocation is going down. […]
“When you build these international stadia, you have to understand that the cost doesn’t end there.”
The business model currently being used by SPORTT, he pointed out, is not really workable—“disastrous,” he said—and certainly not sustainable.
“Lots of sporting clubs want to use the [national stadia],” he told Wired868. “However, when approached to work out a method of payment, they don’t want to pay.”
And there is little or no reduction in expenses.
“Facilities are getting wear and tear and no revenue is coming in from sporting clubs and facilities,” he continued, identifying the Pro League and athletic clubs as getting a “free pass” in so far as the use of the national stadia is concerned.
Repeating that SPORTT’s government allocation continues to diminish every year, he noted that the organisation has no serious, sustainable, year-round revenue streams to supplement the funds it receives from Government; clubs and other sporting organisations are not required to pay for the use of the national stadia—whether it be for practice or for some other event.
With no World Cup qualifiers on the horizon and all Carnival events soon out of the way, he wonders for how much longer the GoRTT can be expected to shoulder the financial responsibility for freeloaders.
If he had his way, Fabian revealed, Pro League clubs in particular—and sporting clubs in general—would be required to take care of their internal expenses and not be able simply to look to Government for monthly subventions.
Late last year, that stance was largely endorsed by Pro League coaches Angus Eve, Earl Jean, Keith Jeffrey and Derek King when the quartet spoke to Wired868 about the daunting financial problems facing the local professional league.
And bad as the money problems are, the personnel problem seems likely to make things worse. SPORTT has been leaking expertise in recent months, a mass exodus still taking place. To ring in the New Year, seven employees—including four from the Projects Department—were told that their contracts would not be renewed while an additional seven were told they were surplus to requirements last month.
Before that, former CEO Adam Montserin, Anthony Blake (facility manager), Jeewan Kowlessar (internal auditor) and Mellie Price (project administrator) were last year among several more persons relieved of their responsibilities.
Meinolf Meier, an engineer who owns the German company Agentur M which specializes in the installation of sport surfaces, is certain that the multiple firings are bound to be bad for the company and, by extension, for the country. Meier told Wired868 that a harmonious relationship between a country’s fixed assets—sports facilities and grounds—and its mobile assets—athletes and administrators—is essential for a sports community to flourish,
“When I am on site, I am nothing without these people […],” Meier said. “If you treat people badly, they will not do a good job.”
He insists that, with all the chopping and changing at the state body, one cannot expect any real stability and proper maintenance inevitably suffers.
Meier knows something about the subject. Through 2014-2016, he has provided consultancy services at several of the stadia in Trinidad and overseen the installation of a FIBA certified mobile basketball court in Shaw Park, Tobago. He has also worked in tandem with Trevor Hewitt’s Advanced Professional Technologies (APT) company in overseeing the installation of the drainage systems and the resurfacing of the synthetic running tracks at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar and the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
The resurfacing of the ABS track was also included in the package. But, despite promises made by Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Darryl Smith to have repair work on the track carried out in 2017, Wired868 understands that money woes have at best postponed, at worst completely scuttled all plans for any such upgrade.
Meier, who claims that APT still owes him just under TT$300,000 for installation works he carried out on the HCS training track in November 2016, is of the view that the current general level of sport maintenance in the country is nowhere near satisfactory.
“Maintenance for a grand stand is different from maintenance for sports surfaces,” he said, citing first-hand knowledge of the sorry state of the HCS track after Carnival events. “I cannot do construction on grand stand; my [expertise] is sport surfaces.”
“When we did the installation [at the Larry Gomes Stadium] in Malabar, I was told there was maintenance for cleaning the stands but there was no maintenance for sport surfaces.”
And stepping away briefly from his area of expertise, Meier wondered about Government’s financial priorities.
“I have seldom seen a country in the world where money is burned like this,” said Meier. “When I see big stadia going up and I cannot be paid, I am going mad […]. Why do you need this big new stadium in Diego Martin?”
Unable to shed any light on that issue, Wired868 was merely able to assure that the activity at the HCS and all the other stadia will be continuously monitored. The hope is that the nation’s sportsmen and sportswomen will soon once again hear those magical words “Lights, camera, action!”