Shortage of funds, not land inhibiting UG's expansion

Stabroek News
September 30, 2001

Dear Editor,

The new and surprising revelations that FIFA's financial contribution to the GOAL project in Guyana is to fall so short of what was originally promised, has certainly doused the ardour of Guyanese hopes and expectations about a new national football stadium. Naturally, this disappointment will steal the focus of attention. But it is hoped that the new trust and statements of blame will not be allowed to totally displace the positive factors that still remain. These exist in the very visit of FIFA President Sepp Blatter to Guyana, FIFA's preparedness to put their financial grant into stadium construction, and the part played by the University of Guyana.

The agreement by the University to lease land belonging to its estate for the building of the stadium represents an important contribution by the institution to the nation's public life, to national football and sport in general, and to social development in this country. The scope and details of the lease agreement will alter, but UG is urged to remain involved and committed to the project, and arguments to the contrary are to be resisted.

The institution responded in a manner befitting a national university, to a call from the Minister of Sport to make land available. It is true that the UG location is not the only possible one, but different lots were examined and the one behind Turkeyen was found most suitable. A site several miles outside of the city could well prove counter-productive. Stadia of this nature are usually built, not in a city's central business district, but in an accessible area close to the edge of a nucleus of population.

Neither is this move a hindrance to the future development of the university. On the contrary, some members of the university community accept it as a positive factor for the expansion of UG, as well as of the national sport programme.

It has been argued that UG is giving up land that it needs for its own expansion, including large lecture theatres. While the need for lecture room space is indeed urgent, it is not a matter of a choice between lecture rooms and stadium. Leasing this land does not mean no space will be left for new buildings; and certainly, withholding the land will not mean the immediate building of lecture theatres, which will still require capital.

The stadium is to occupy part of an area of 15 acres out of Turkeyen's total acreage of 140. It took UG some 30 years before a mere half of this land space was occupied. Since 1990, UG has seen only 9 new buildings, 6 of which came out of one project: the IDB loan, which was also responsible for most of the extensions to already existing buildings. Given this pace of development, UG is not about to run out of space in a hurry. Turkeyen has considerably more land area than UWI's Cave Hill Campus, yet the latter has been outstripping UG in capital development with several new buildings over the same period, and has not yet exhausted its acreage. UG lacks the necessary capital funds to even begin to fill its available land space. In addition, there is land available to the immediate west of the campus, which has already been earmarked for negotiating future expansion.

Moreover, the inhibitions to UG expansion to date have not come from any problem of land space, nor from a problem of developmental planning, but from a naked lack of funds. This is what will hinder expansion and will cause UG not to run out of space in the foreseeable future. UG's land use plans include an area for staff housing and for the relevant building of such sporting facilities as a stadium, an all?weather track, a gymnasium and a swimming pool. None of these have come close to realization. While this proposed stadium will not belong to UG, it is a part of the lease agreement that UG will negotiate effective use of and access to the facilities. This is the closest the university has come so far to any use of modern sports facilities, and this, far from being a hindrance, will initiate and accelerate a proper sports programme at Turkeyen.

As it happens, the significant reduction in the size of the FIFA funding actually works to give UG more scope to negotiate for the uses of and the access it will have to the new facility. Particularly now, with this development, UG should seize the opportunity to strengthen its part and share of the project.

Other institutions have already out-paced UG in this regard. The largest universities in the USA have their own stadia, many have access to facilities, and in the Caribbean, the new St George's University staged a coup by having the West Indies Cricket Academy. UG cannot afford to pass up this opportunity and continue to be outrun by other institutions who are not afraid to grasp advantageous opportunities.

It has also been argued that a stadium in such close proximity to the academic premises, poses a security and an environmental risk. The problem of public access to the campus may easily be solved by proper fencing. Yet, the great irony is that the public already have easy access to the campus through the squatting area that developed on the south-western corner of university land. Some 15 acres have already been lost to squatters who calmly took over land, which was lying there unused. These squatters have had direct access to the academic premises for many years. There remains a real danger of the land in the southeastern corner that is marked off for the stadium, being invaded in similar fashion by squatters, if it remains undeveloped.

The environmental risk may also be minimized by proper fencing. But in addition, it is a part of the deal between UG and the GFF, that an Environmental Impact Assessment will be conducted before any building takes place. Those who have taken positions against this project have been forecasting the probable negative effects without any recognition of what might be beneficial.

The necessity of a stadium

FIFA has made reference to a policy of not building stadia, yet they have agreed to their funds going towards a stadium here. Within the limitations, this represents a positive gain, since it resembles some relaxation of a stated policy. Yet, FIFA has programmes through which it can put money into the development of football in poor countries. Mr Jack Warner and the GFF can seek to redeem themselves by exploring these avenues and using whatever diplomatic channels exist to tap available resources for an improvement in the FIFA funding.

It is well worth attempting this because those who regard this as a lost cause and those who opposed the venture in the first place might not be aware just how badly Guyana needs this facility. The Georgetown Football Club (GFC) is so far the football capital of Guyana. But this premier soccer venue is severely limited in space, seating accommodation, toilet facilities, changing rooms and other requirements. The Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC) is the best venue approaching international standards, but it is very closely protected by its managers and is not always available for football.

I have competed in both football and hockey at First Division level in this country and it is unbelievable how appalling the physical conditions are in contrast to other countries in which I have played. GCC has the best surface for both hockey and football, GFC puts up a bold fight to maintain a cultured field, and the Mackenzie Sports Club ground, though treated, remains rough. Other venues are uniformly crude. I have played on hard sand in Linden, in mud, water and bush in Georgetown, and the general norm is that venues have no changing rooms.

Where playing surfaces are concerned, Guyana is at a disadvantage against other teams. Guyana plays a lot in wet conditions; well, so does England because of snow and rain, but the surfaces abroad are hard, even, and much better drained. Visiting teams will outplay Guyana on wet grounds because, while Guyana will try to slog it out through water and mud, foreign teams avoid this. They are used to better surfaces where ball control and ground passes are better. But when the ground is heavy, they play the ball through the air, use long passes, avoid square passing and depend on build-up from the wings, scoring from high passes aimed at the heads of strikers in the box.

In athletics, I have won events in both track and field a few years ago when the university had organised athletics, but I have seen no track in Guyana, except at the GCC, on which competitors do not risk serious injury in an all-out effort to win. On Guyana' s rough, uneven grass surfaces, athletes are disadvantaged against foreigners who train on cinders, en-tout-cas and the most recent super tracks such as the one in Atlanta. Hockey players know little of the latest astro turf.

I do not have enough information to be able to say how culpable GFF President Colin Klass is in the scale of misunderstandings, but the great value of his current place in FIFA and his closeness to the top administration, including Mr Warner and now Mr Blatter, is to be recognised. Mr Klass seems to be on the same upward climb through the corridors of power that Mr Warner made years ago. This has been of great benefit to football in Trinidad. Mr Klass is in a position now to seek similar gains for Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Al Creighton