Where will boys, girls play?

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ON THE GREEN: Boys from Guerreros FC Soccer School practice football at Nelson Mandela Park, St Clair Avenue, Port of Spain on Monday. Photo by Sureash Cholai

COLM de Freitas, owner Capital Sports Facility Ltd, which developed a widely-criticised proposal to transform of Nelson Mandela Park to a multi-sport facility, suggests its dismissal was a regressive step for the city.

Newsday spoke with de Freitas briefly by phone on Monday. He declined to answer specific questions, saying, “I think enough has been put in the public domain already and it’s pretty clear the proposal won’t go forward” but added that a “no-comment” response can give the wrong impression. He said his comments have already twisted by a journalist “to sensationalise a story.”

He did, however, issue a statement quoting the park’s namesake, saying “there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

De Freitas, who is also a member of the Queen’s Park Cricket Club, located opposite to the Nelson Mandela Park, said it was unfortunate children are not invited to public consultations nor asked to sign online petitions.

In a lengthy statement, he criticised the condition of existing grounds for youth athletes to train on and noted the prominent use artificial turf around the world.

“There are very few if any (I couldn’t find one) countries that don’t heavily use artificial turf for all sports, youth to adult, grassroots to elite, for obvious reasons,” he said.

“With land at a premium, modern 3G artificial turf fields allow for safe, regular matches, leagues and tournaments – grassroots to elite. With less cost, water, chemicals and maintenance compare to grass fields.”

De Freitas suggested the proposal was unsolicited, saying, “I have made several unsolicited proposals to various entities here in Trinidad–both to public and private entities.

“These were all pre-Covid,” he told Newsday.

“I and the many other youth sport enthusiasts are clear some kind of provision is needed for football and other youth team sports to allow them somewhere to play.

“So we have been trying for some time to be able to provide fields dedicated to youth sports. I thought NM Park was perfectly suited based in the existing sports already there and the underutilization of the park especially on the weekend which is prime youth sports times.

He relayed the corporation’s position that “any response to an unsolicited proposal would have to go through public consultation and if it passed that stage then an open public RFP (request for proposal) tender process would be initiated.

“The public didn’t agree so it didn’t pass the consultation phase, now we look for somewhere else for young boys and girls to play.

“This is a desperate need for all youth boy and girl footballers.”

Capital Sports Facility’s document highlighted the proposal as “A PPP (private-public partnership) solution for sport based, public health, people centred revitalization of Port of Spain.”

It reads, “We have tailored a (PPP) solution providing sporting and public health benefit for a wide cross section of the Port Spain (sic) Public.

The proposal highlights what it views as a shortage of multi-sport fields in the area.

“Heavy rains restricts (sic) availability of grass fields in rainy season and fields becoming unplayable in dry season.”

It said the park is currently underutilised with “only 3-4 popular windows of use.

“More use not possible due to grass maintenance.

“No safe spaces nor programs to allow kids & young players to live a healthy life learning & playing the games they love; Caribbean/International Youth Sport Tournaments hosted at facility with Forex benefits airlines, hotels and POS Businesses.”

It included three artificial turfs to be used for football, hockey and rugby, separated by temporary dividers and nets, with “real world examples of urban turf facilities,” citing Paris, London, Munich, Los Angeles and other massive, developed cities.

The proposal sought to attract a sports club as the “anchor tenant,” and have Harvard Football Club, located opposite to the park as the “second anchor tenant.”

It would have included, “grassroots, school and at-risk programs; extra slots available to private rental; (an) online schedule and booking system; live reports on public and rental usage data; base rental model on existing tennis and basketball system.”

After confirmation that the proposal had collapsed, de Freitas addressed “everyone against the use of Nelson Mandela Park for youth sport in combination with the existing public users.”

He challenged them to include, in their (online) petition’s signature, a short comment to the “thousands of youth players who not only have been without team sport for almost 18 months but now also still have nowhere to play games and tournaments whenever we do start back up.

“Maybe suggest where they can play,” he said.

A petition was created after the public consultation to “Save Nelson Mandela Park,” which, as of Monday evening, gathered almost 4,500 of its 5,000 target signatures.

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