"What about south?"
This question is directed to the Minister of Sports and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe from Gunness Persad, head coach of Simplex Athletics Club and Sherwin Joseph, owner, manager and coach of Maximising Athletic Potential (MAP) Sporting Club.
Both clubs are based in south Trinidad and their coaches have been trying for some time now, to draw attention to the dilapidated state of the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella.
A visit by Guardian Media Sports to the facility two weeks ago revealed a torn-up track, inaccessible stands, faulty gym equipment, and no lights - not the conditions that budding or current national athletes should have to prepare for local, regional and international competition under.
But, that is the reality that athletes in the southern part of the country have to face daily at the venue named after late national long-distance runner Mannie Ramjohn, who was born in San Fernando.
Persad has been fixated on the upgrade of the facility for several years as he hopes to see the return of meets which had stopped even before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
"I'm very disturbed about it," said Persad, who has been involved in track and field for 62 years and coaching since 1974. "Since 2018, I have been complaining and writing letters to get the track repair. In 2020, they gave us a little hope that they would repair the track for us by May,Êbut nothing happened.
"On radio and TV, the minister saidÊthat she would like the government to make more use of the stadium in Tobago, in Grande for example so parents can come and see their children perform and see the mixture between education and sport.
"Same thing, I want to see what happen down in the south. Parents here, want to see their children run at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium," said Persad.
Only Tuesday, the Sports Minister visited several sporting areas in East Trinidad including the Surrey Village Community Centre in Lopinot, Sherwood Park, Carib Homes (Arima) and the Mausica Community Centre.Ê
Joseph, a former Carifta silver medallist (1993), former national secondary schools 400m champion, and former national junior 400m champion, would greatly appreciate some level of repair to the track.
"The finish line area as well as the starting line area, areÊin aÊdilapidated condition. Because of those areas on the track, we can't do anything in terms of track meets," said Joseph, who has been coaching for the past 15 years. I host two major track meets in the southern area, which is the MAP Juvenile and MAP Invitational. We have athletes from across the region participate in our meets. The athletes and coaches in this twin-island state look forward to this meet at the Mannie Ramjohn Stadium.
He pointed out that everybody looked forward to the Southern Games but with the unavailability of Guaracara Park, people look forward to the track meets at Mannie Ramjohn Stadium. And now we have several meetings that can't take place at the venue because of the condition of the track.
He said, "We're looking for the minimum right now, we're asking to repair the finish line and at the starting line for the 100 metres. That's all we are asking for right now. As well asÊthe stands we need the stands where can have proper accommodationsÊfor patrons."
Persad confirmed that the stands are closed and they have not been given an explanation as to why. However, he hopes that their plight will reach Minister Cudjoe and it will be given the same attention as other parts of the country. He said, "We were asking for the track to be prepared because so far this year we have cancelled five Games carded for south - the MAP two Games, Southern Classic, Stallion Invitational meet and the South Volunteer Games."
Persad, the 2019 T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC) Alexander B Chapman Award recipient, shared that his club Simplex, whose headÊoffice is based in Gasparillo, has suffered the effects of not having a proper training facility available. Due to no lights, he has had to have training sessions early afternoons (3.30 pm to 6 pm), primarily for children so the working athletes are not being considered.
"My club had about 120 athletes and since the COVID come and we start back, we've gone to nought. We have 28-30 athletes because they can't come to train. After all, the stadium has had no lights for the longest while, over 10 years now. Stallion would take up their training, the bigger ones who are working, they would come and train but no lights in the stadium. Nothing is being done to fix it."
He revealed that, "Schools from as far as Cedros, Point Fortin, La Brea, Mayaro, and Guayaguayare, all the schools in the south come here and I'm always amazed when they come down for outings, you see the joy in the parentsÊcoming to see the children perform but when they closed down the stadium, no track, nothing could happen. I've been appealing over the years to get the track repaired but it's falling on deaf eyes."
However, he has a recommendation for the Sports Minister, "The minister is very fortunate to have as her special advisor Mr Ephraim Serrette. He is one of T&T's most efficient sports administrators. He took the NAAAs (National Association of Athletics Administration) and raised the esteem of the NAAAs that we've been respected. I would like her to make use of him, use his capabilities, use his success in the past, he is very efficient."
To which Joseph pointed out, "Track and field is one of the main sports that put this country on the map anytime you have an athlete on the world stage whether it's Olympics or World Championships, Carifta Games, NACAC Games, Pan Am Games, every single athlete going on a team will have to make a standard,Êa world standard and international standard to qualify they are not just going on a plane ride because somebody like them or somebody picks them or feeling sorry for them, they have to make a standard and a qualificationÊstandard."
He said further, "How many other sports have made the qualification standards over the years? I'm not knocking anybody but this is the kind of treatment we're getting as athletes but what we need to understand as well youths, the juvenile which is under-9 to under-13 or U-15, this is the nursery of the sport. If you don't have a nursery, you don't have anything to look forward to. And if you destroy your nursery then this means you have no more track and field. It's as simple as that. That's a no-brainer."
On the topic of young athletes, Persad had three features at the recent Carifta Games in Khareem Solomon, Kyah La Fortune and Andrew Steele, who he coached at age 10 before he migrated.
Persad said, "Everybody wants to be boasting about the Carifta results but we could have gotten better if we had the facility.
"This track here since 2014, they are not upgrading the track so we could never get faster. Look at-in Jamaica every two, three, five years, they upgrade the track. Why is there no upgrade, here?"
He continued, "The track is in a bad state. Our athletes here running but our track is dead. How are they going to perform and achieve theÊstandards? Once they get a good track they will improve on their standards. The only place that you can do long jump and field events is at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, nothing here. We have the space here for the long jump pit, throwing area forÊshot-put, we have space here for javelin but since the stadium was built, they haven't upgraded one thing. Look at the gym, it's in aÊstate. I was an athlete before. I've seenÊgovernments close down Guaracara Park, Point, and Palo Seco so we have no Games in the south, no place to train. There used to be the Point Fortin Games, the Palo Seco Games, Southern Games, we have nothing and they not even fixingÊMannie Ramjohn Stadium.