With the sporting circuit rapidly developing particularly being a prime focus of our sporting bodies, the needs and wishes of our athletes are also on the rise and rightly so.
Firstly, everybody prefers better facilities and not just something that appears acceptable to the eye but one that really makes the individual want to show up and put in the work.
It’s the same as when you have to choose which restaurant, shopping mall, supermarket, electronics store or office to go to. You want a location that has a bit of a wow effect, it inspires you and makes you want to engage and even stay longer.
Naturally if there are better facilities available, athletes will want to train and play there. But more importantly, they want to play somewhere that is well taken care of so that they can focus on the competition and not on how bad or uncomfortable the facility is.
Providing high-quality playing surfaces is half the battle. The other half is small stuff, like providing clean and athlete-friendly locker rooms with functioning bathrooms, well equipped training and meeting rooms. And having efficient and available officials on hand at all times is a must.
You don’t need one or two security officials who are not keen to cooperate with requests, are always lacking information or sometimes unwilling to provide support when required. If you’ve had the opportunity to use some of the facilities on local soil you will know that these are some of the issues that local athletes and officials sadly face one too many times.
There are the good ones but they are scarce. When you do encounter the positive ones you are left wishing they are on site everyday at every venue. I really do feel for the venue managers who attempt to make the best of limited resources.
Something as simple as having the designated personnel switch on the floodlights for training on time and not ten minutes later is just as important as ensuring the lockers rooms are opened and then secured so that team personnel or athletes don't have to be running around the venue in search of the “person with the key”.
I’ve experienced instances in the past where both our national teams and visiting teams showed up for training and were left waiting outside the locker room or made to stand in the dark because the lights eventually came on at 6.30 pm instead of 6.15 pm.
And yes it may happen in other countries too. I recall in 2009 preparing for a CONCACAF Final round World Cup qualifier in El Salvador, our national men's team showed up to the training venue two nights before the match and the entire squad was forced to wait outside for over 20 minutes before the gates were opened because stadium personnel was absent and then one guy eventually took his precious time to walk from the far end of the pitch.
That surely was a bit of gamesmanship by the hosts but can you imagine when our own athletes have to encounter these things on home soil? These simple things make a difference and can play on the mind. Nobody likes having to constantly avoid pigeon droppings stuck on the walkways or seating areas in the stands.
The provision of adequate facilities and equipment along with ongoing maintenance is just as important as providing the right incentives for athletes to benefit from after they have won medals. Matter of fact, the opportunity for them to feel important because they are able to utilise a first class facility is sometimes more than enough incentive for the individual.
In many countries, particularly those that we compete against most times, sporting bodies, teams, colleges etc. go the distance when it comes to providing A-class facilities as this most times is a major factor in their recruitment. The quality of a facility and the environment plays a big part in where an athlete decides to show up.
Unfortunately here it is the other way around there due to the limited options the athlete is most times left with no choice but to use a facility regardless of its features or lack thereof.
I must make mention of the welcoming environment provided to the senior footballer at the St James Police Barracks last week. From proper change rooms to a comfortable dining space for the after sessions meals, it was something the players looked forward to each day.
The old-school way of thinking that back in the 70s and 80s, athletes made do with dirt tracks and cold water showers simply will not cut it in these times. Let’s face it, not even natural talent and rooms with a television is enough to help us push past Caribbean opponents as easily as we might have two decades ago.
The style and size of modern facilities is a discussion for another time as research shows that you do not need something grand in order to achieve results. But consistent maintenance is a must. Without it, forget the idea of construction.
Professional athletes are earning millions of dollars playing games in unbelievable facilities around the world Some of these new facilities are built to resemble mini-malls and in return, offer other amenities in addition to the sporting event taking place.
We aren’t quite there yet and that’s not a problem. While due to a result of the current demands, structures are being built larger and fancier each year in the bigger destinations.
Listen, many of our top teams, athletes and officials have experienced state of the art facilities in various corners of the globe. They know what it means to feel the difference.
For us in T&T in these current times, we need to manage wisely while improving our operations in order to make the best of what we already have, especially where the construction of stadiums is greatly being affected by today’s economy. Focus, has to be on maintenance and operations.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation.