Thu | Oct 1, 2020

Setting the stage - Facility hailed for its significance in Independence celebrations and sporting success

Published:Thursday | August 6, 2020 | 12:00 AMDaniel Wheeler/Staff Reporter
An aerial shot of the National Stadium and Stadium East taken during the final day of activities at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships on Saturday, March 30, 2019.

Whether it was the standard of excellence set by track and field greats, past and present, or Jamaica’s landmark achievement in football, experienced sports administrator Mike Fennell believes that the National Stadium has been instrumental in charting the country’s success in the international sporting arena.

As Jamaica celebrates its 58th anniversary of Independence, the venue also celebrates a significant role in the milestone.

While originally constructed for the 1962 Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, the stars were aligned for the venue to host the ceremony making Jamaica’s independence official.

Since then, Jamaica’s legends of track and field have competed there, as well as current and future stars. It is the home of the Jamaica national football team affectionately known as ‘The Office’, where the senior men’s team made history in November 1997, securing a place in the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

FENNELL’S REFLECTION

Fennell, who competed at the 1962 CAC Games in water polo, reflected on how impactful it was to have a facility similar to other countries in that era.

“It was difficult to perceive that we would have similar structures here in Jamaica, and this was not only just Jamaica, but for the whole Caribbean. It broke completely new ground and certainly, at the time, we were all in awe as to what we had, which was a huge development,” Fennell told The Gleaner. “Seeing a real stadium that reflected what was happening in other parts of the world was just an enormous development.”

When Jamaica was awarded the opportunity to host the CAC Games in 1959, one of the persons who engineered the idea for a stadium to be built was noted sports administrator Sir Hebert MacDonald. One of the entrances to the grandstand is named after the former Jamaica Olympic Association president. His daughter, Kay Moody, reflected on how important her father’s vision was to get the project completed.

“As an avid sportsman, Sir Herbert understood the need for a permanent venue for athletic events,” she said. “So the idea for a National Stadium and Arena was formed by a handful of visionaries, who followed through – often against challenges – to build what has become an indelible landmark.”

The grounds surrounding the stadium have changed since its opening, with the addition of the National Arena in 1963, which allowed for the hosting of the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, and further development with the opening of the National Indoor Sports Complex, in 2003, in time for the World Netball Championships.

SHAPING THE FUTURE

Looking back, not even Fennell realised how significant the stadium would be to Jamaica’s sporting history.

“To be honest, we did not see how important that would be to the future development of sport which took place subsequently... in hindsight, one would question and seriously wonder where would we be if we did not have a stadium at that time, in terms of our own sports development, which, of course, has been meteoric,” he said. “So all of those things are of great magnitudes in terms of what transpired since then.”

Plans are in the works for the stadium to be renovated, with Minister of Sport Olivia Grange awaiting financial approval before the project can commence.

“The proposal for the renovations to the National Stadium was submitted for the consideration of the Public Investment Committee in March of this year. The commencement of the renovation work will be dependent on the availability of funds to proceed,” Grange said. With an eye towards the future, Moody and Fennell agree that the stadium must be preserved, and improved, to continue Jamaica’s sporting legacy for both athletes and fans.

“It is of the utmost importance that the stadium continues to have a place in everyone’s life, whether as a participant or as a spectator. Its preservation and upkeep can only bring further fame and international acclaim to Jamaica,” Moody said.

“It is very important, if we are to look at the next 10, 15, 20 years, that we modernise the stadium so that it is relevant to the demands of today’s sport and other events, and this is critical to us moving forward from here,” Fennell added.

daniel.wheeler@gleanerjm.com