Eyes on CARIFTA Swim Championship 2021

Saint Lucia has been awarded the 2021 edition of the CARIFTA Swimming Championship; the results for the bid were announced last year during the 34th edition of the CARIFTA congress in Barbados over the Easter weekend. The annual championship brings together close to 500 young athletes from age 11-17 in an atmosphere of impactful competition, personal development and new Caribbean friendships.

This year, Barbados was on schedule to host the 35th edition of the championship, on April 11th – 14th, but due to the COVID-19 virus which has infected close to 3,240,038, with 228,877 deaths reported worldwide, the Caribbean region has not been spared. The championship has been put on hold (more details on Back Page).

On the other side of the coin, the 36th edition of the CARIFTA Swimming Championship is scheduled to take place in Saint Lucia from Saturday 3rd – Monday 5th April 2021 and in this case, it’s not about weather permitting, but whether COVID – 19 would be a thing of the past or if the government of the day can afford to build a National Aquatic Centre in time for the championship with its current economy at its worst ebb.

The Saint Lucia Aquatic Federation (SLAF) says they’re optimistic that all will proceed as planned.

It will be the first time that SLAF will be hosting an event of such magnitude: in the past they have hosted the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Swimming Championship; the Goodwill Championship and the RHAC Caribbean Invitational.

(l-r) SLOC President Fortuna Belrose; National Aquatic Centre Sod Turning ceremony which took place in July of 2015. (Photo: Anthony De Beauville)

It must also be noted, if this event takes place as planned, it will be the second time in the history of Saint Lucia that they will be hosting a sporting event under the banner of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) which was founded in 1972.

With 346 days to go to the Opening Ceremony from today’s date Saturday 2nd May, the SLAF is steering right down the barrel of a gun, a similar barrel to that of the Saint Lucia Olympic Committee (SLOC)  in 2016 – 2017 when it was their turn to host the Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG).

For the record, Saint Lucia was awarded the 2017 Games in November 2011 but preparations were hit by doubts over venues and financial concerns, particularly over the lack of a stadium to host athletics and to include a 50 metre swimming pool. The other sporting disciplines were beach volleyball, cricket, cycling, netball, swimming and tennis.

At the time, the George Odlum Stadium (GOS) had been pressed into service to house the St Jude Hospital which was destroyed by fire five months after hosting the CARIFTA Games; eleven years later it’s still unlikely that St Jude will be able to vacate the site with so much tug o’ war going on.

Saint Lucia’s decision to pull out was announced during the Commonwealth Games Federation’s General Assembly in a video message from then Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony.

If Saint Lucia had hosted those games in 2017, it would have been the first Commonwealth Games event to be held in the Caribbean in over 50 years, with Commonwealth athletes last participating in the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica.

At the end of it all, the Bahamas was awarded the 2017 games.

(l-r) SLAF President Eddie Hazell with the Association for the Year 2019 award; Saint Lucia OECS swim team 2019. (Photo: Anthony DE Beauville/SLAF)

One could just imagine what the SLAF President, Eddie Hazell would have said when Saint Lucia won the bid/ bragging rights to host the 2021 games. Any right thinking national sports federation president would have jubilantly thanked the executives and members representing the various countries for the confidence placed in the hosting country. Hazell would have also thanked his executive for the solid and moral support and technical advice that they provided during the bidding process.

This is how it goes at events likes these, where leaders of national sports federations turn to a certain breed of politicians to make it happen.

Still on the CYG 2017, by the look of things this may well be the second time swimming will be left in the dark in terms of a lack of a National Aquatic Centre to host a major event. For the Commonwealth Youth Games and according to Saint Lucia Olympic Committee President, Fortuna Belrose, in 2015, “A 50-metre swimming pool is to be constructed adjacent to the Beausejour Cricket Stadium at a cost of just over $4 million (£2.6 million/€3.4 million), funded by the Taiwanese Government.”

Interestingly, Tuesday 7th July of that year saw the Sod Turning for the $12m new National Aquatic Centre (NAC) that was ear marked on lands adjacent to the BCG’s electronic scoreboard. At the time of the Sod Turning ceremony, there was still 745 days to go before the CYG.

With less than a year to go some people remain tight lipped as to where the new National Aquatic Centre is earmarked for. What is so secretive about the construction of a national sporting facility for the nation’s youth?

I did not have to go far as the Little Sparrow whispered; the NAC will be built in Beausejour closest to the Indoor Practice Facility (IPF) adjacent to the National Tennis Centre (NTC). What makes it even more interesting; two tennis courts will very likely be compromised to construct the NAC. Yes, you read right.

With local tennis on a rise at present especially with grassroots programmes, will the Saint Lucia Tennis Association under the watchful eyes of president – Stephen Mc Namara allow the demolition of two tennis courts to accommodate a swimming facility? And let’s not forget, the tennis facility is a gift given to Saint Lucia by the People’s Republic of China (Taiwan).

The Little Sparrow also reminded Sportlight, that Covid -19 is still a major threat to Saint Lucia’s fragile economy; and also, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season is predicted to be more active than usual, according to an outlook released by the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project. Sixteen named storms, eight hurricanes, four of which will become major hurricanes with winds of 115 mph plus. So, where does the priority rest now?

All of the above raises questions as to whether the swimming fraternity will get another slap in the face.

Anthony De Beauville is The VOICE Publishing Company’s multi-award winning sports journalist. He works closely with a number of sports federations including the Department of Youth Development and Sports, the Saint Lucia Olympic Committee and other organizations.

He covers and contributes articles highlighting the areas of international, regional, national, community based clubs and schools sporting activities. There is never an off day as he stays busy... Read full bio...

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