Super, but superfluous

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The Province and its partners officially opened the new provincial training centre in St. Johns Thursday. And while the talking heads stood around and congratulated one another for this garish accomplishment, countless rural Newfoundland and Labrador communities are still going without. Ask yourself how many small towns in this province are crying out for some government funding to build or upgrade a community centre, tennis court, arena, softball or soccer pitch. The amount is staggering. I can name five off the top of my head where the facilities are in such utterly deplorable condition and the funds are so tight, the towns can only safely operate them a few months of the year. And here we are, living up to the inside-the-overpass mentality and building a completely unnecessary piece of infrastructure inside a city that already houses a glut nay a plethora of existing sports and recreation facilities. And only a 10-minute walk from another mulit-million dollar provincial training centre opened less than six years ago, the Field House at MUN. Aside from the Field House, theres the Mews Centre, the Y, countless gym chains, an endless amount of school gymnasiums and more ball fields, soccer pitches and ice rinks than you can shake an angry old man stick at. Im not saying the facility described in its public unveiling and naming today as a commitment to excellence, and a step up for sport in this province (pfft!) isnt spectacular. For $8 million it should be damn near utopia for the athletes who use it. But the reality is, we dont need it. And the more I stop to think about it, it looks more and more like an excuse to prop up forgive the pun rugby as a provincial sport. I ask you all, where in this province is rugby regularly played? Only within the confines of the greater St. Johns area. Period. And even then, there are still and always will be more hockey, baseball, softball, soccer, and even lawn bowling fans in the capital city. But lo and behold, the Swilers Rugby Complex, already a fine looking spot, now looks a thousand times better than was it was before. But on whose dime? The province threw $2.8 million at the project, the government chipped in another $2.5, and the city anted up for $1.3. The rest, $1.23, came from the Swilers themselves and Sport Newfoundland and Labrador. The question then becomes whether the Swilers extension quite a significant one was paid for by taxpayers or strictly by the club itself. One would hope its the latter. If my tax dollars are going to pay for something sports oriented, it should go where its needed. Not to the pre-privileged. Calling it a provincial training centre causes my blood to boil. The province is not St. Johns. The province is the island of Newfoundland and the territory of Labrador. Geographically speaking, this is as much of a provincial training centre as The Rooms is a provincial museum. Given the distance from, well, everywhere in the province to St. Johns, wouldnt it have made much more sense to put it in a location that was a little more accessible and equidistant? Im sure Gander or Grand Falls-Windsor or some other town in Central Newfoundland would have been just as good a home for the facility. The fat cats had other things in mind. But none of this really comes as a surprise to me. This sort of townie mentality is expected, almost second nature to our government. A press release was churned out by the spin doctors a while back announcing the recipients of the Premiers Athletic Awards. Of the 95 awards and subsequent grants ranging from $500 to $1,500 depending on the athletes level of competition and required training 64 were handed out to athletes who reside in, or within driving distance of, town. The rest were divvied out like snack crackers at fat farm few and far between. Marystown (pop 5,800) and Stephenville (8,000) for example, each had three athletes recognized. Corner Brook came up big in the outside-the-overpass lottery nabbing four honours (pop 20,083). The grossest insult was seeing the entire 294,330 square kilometres that is Labrador receive two grants. Both to residents of Labrador City, which represents a third of the Big Lands population. And one of them was awarded to an athlete who trains and lives outside the province for most of the year. Having grown up here in St. Johns, Im painfully aware that a third of the provinces population lives on the Northeast Avalon and almost half on the peninsula of privilege alone. And having worked in the media for the last three years, its clear theres more government dollars from most any department spent in and around the capital. So if this province is fortunate enough to be home to another Olympic medalist or national champion, its almost a certainty he or she will be residents of the Northeast Avalon region. That is, after all, where all our governments resources for elite athletes seem to wind up. And you wonder why there is a divide between town and da Bay. Like everything in government, the way these grants and awards are handed out should be based on regions. Not to where there are more elite level athletes. That's flawed logic and doesn't encourage anything good around the bay. It sends the message, forget about where you come from, you can't succeed there. Come to Sin John's. How can athletes from more remote and rural areas earn a chance to even try out for teams, or train at this new white elephant on Crosbie Road, if the supports arent put in place for them?

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  • Jonathan
    July 27, 2010 - 13:55

    It is about time someone put the truth out there about the funding or lack there of that rural Newfoundland receives. This is just what St. Johns needed - Another Mile One Stadium that no one will know what to do with in 5 years.