Stadium fiasco

Stabroek News
October 2, 2001

Just over two years to the day after Guyanese were led to believe that a football stadium would be constructed compliments of the international football federation FIFA, the hopes of the country have been brutally dashed and much embarrassment caused.

This much is clear so far. On September 19, 1999 during a visit here FIFA Vice-President Austin `Jack' Warner said Guyana would be one of five countries to benefit from US$100M for the establishment of stadia. The other four countries were listed as Belize, Nicaragua, the Bahamas and St Lucia. He did not say how much specifically would be allocated to Guyana but said "it will be surely more than one million (US)" and added "the stadium will not be as big as you would find in other countries but it will be much better than what you have here now". Warner was also quoted in a Stabroek News report of September 20, 1999 as saying that "it is a pilot project for capital development for countries who need assistance. It is the first time that FIFA is giving money for stadia as normally we do not give money for capital development and it is distinct and apart from the annual grant FIFA is giving to countries". It was also disclosed by Warner that this was the brainchild of FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

Two years later the prerequisites for the fruition of this project were realised and land under the control of the University of Guyana was released and a turning-of-the-sod ceremony for the stadium to be officiated over by Blatter was organised for last Tuesday.

Then came the bombshell. First in private in a meeting comprising President Bharrat Jagdeo, Sports Minister Gail Teixeira, Blatter and Warner and then later in the full glare of the public. Blatter declared that FIFA does not build stadia, it is the responsibility of governments. This was in direct contradiction of Warner's statement that this FIFA pilot project for stadia was Blatter's brainchild.

Far from presiding over a ceremony for a stadium, Blatter also said that he was of the opinion that the land was for a "training centre" towards which FIFA would put US$400,000 and not the luxurious sum of US$20M which had been expected. His concept of a training centre was aeons removed from a stadium. Embarrassingly, the sod ceremony was put off.

In an interview with the Sunday Stabroek, Teixeira has since refuted Warner's position. She is adamant that Warner had promised her and the National Sports Commission that US$20M would be made available for the stadium. She says that she accepted the word of the FIFA Vice-President and added `I'm used to dealing with some level of openness. It was a matter of trust and gentlemanliness". Further, she said the word stadium had been used by Warner in official correspondence and the training centre was a separate programme from the stadium project.

It was, perhaps, too good to be true. Why would FIFA dole out US$20M to a country of 750,000 people with no breathtaking football record or world cup prospects for a stadium? It would be of great interest to determine whether these five minnows of football - Guyana, Belize, Nicaragua, St Lucia and the Bahamas get anywhere near the US$100M pledged by Warner on behalf of FIFA. If Guyana is only getting US$1M. What pray will be built in these other places with US$99M? With the exception of Nicaragua, these countries have smaller populations than Guyana.

The Minister of Sport must bear primary responsibility for this fiasco. On his promise of the stadium in 1999, the minister should have elicited from Mr Warner fail-safe documentation governing the project. His verbal pledge should have been backed up by a written proposal, followed by a memorandum of understanding between FIFA and the government establishing their respective responsibilities and finally a contract. If any of these stages was pursued by the minister there is so far no evidence to establish it. On the face of it, there was clearly a declaration of support for a stadium but nothing that FIFA or Mr Warner could be held to. Relying on the word of a gentleman is just not good enough in the conduct of government business.

The government should lodge a strong protest with FIFA over this debacle and seek firm assurances over any phased construction of a stadium and the commitments that would be made towards it. A complaint should also be lodged with CONCACAF and we must now be extremely careful in any deliberations with FIFA, CONCACAF and their varied officers. The exact role of the Guyana Football Federation in this confusion should also be ascertained. The minister has already called for it to be more open and transparent in its dealings.

The lesson from this confusion might help us to refocus on what will likely be the greatest sports administration challenge that the country has ever faced - playing host to games in the 2007 cricket World Cup. It may seem far away but given the tortoise-like pace at which things move here we had better get cracking now. We should be in a position very soon to offer three or four international cricket sites with adequate seating. Bourda, where our prestige match-ups should be scheduled, will require expanded seating accommodation, superior drainage and a range of other facilities. A lot of planning, commitments and money will have to be poured into this and we could certainly do without more FIFA-type promises.