MINISTER with responsibility for sports Natalie Neita-Headley says the failure so far to install lights at Jamaica's premier cricket venue Sabina Park has to be viewed in the context of Government's need to balance its priorities.
The Jamaican government has been criticised for not installing lights at Sabina Park, either prior to the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup or since.
The country spent over US$100 million for its part in hosting the tournament.
Well in excess of US$60 million went into construction work at the new Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium in Florence Hall as well as the historic Sabina Park, but six years after the World Cup, Jamaica remains the only leading Caribbean cricketing nation without the facilities required for international cricket at nights.
Speaking to the Jamaica Observer last Saturday, Neita-Headley said a phased upgrade of the island's cricket facilities was envisioned by former Prime Minister PJ Patterson with preparations for the World Cup close to completion.
"It was the vision of former Prime Minister the Honourable PJ Patterson, based on the support we had at the time, of having the stadium upgraded in one phase and the lights in another phase. For me, that's good thinking and visionary. The first phase was done and we have the responsibility to complete the second phase. I can't speak to disappointments and regrets," she said.
When pressed about the six-year gap since 2007, the minister noted that Governments, led by both the ruling People's National Party and the current Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, had to make choices based on competing demands. She urged all stakeholders to look beyond the shortcomings and "move forward".
"We are a growing nation and we are a fairly young nation... 50 years of Independence. We have had many priorities, (and) many of them have taken greater focus primarily because they have been involved in our education, health, national security... our social safety nets. I can't really say we regret anything. We are where we are and we have to move forward," added the minister without portfolio.
With the inaugural Caribbean Premier League (CPL) scheduled to be staged from July to August and Jamaica a likely franchise holder, the absence of lights at Sabina and at the Trelawny Stadium is a vexed issue in cricket circles.
Both the Jamaica Cricket Association (JCA) and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) announced recently that feverish talks are being held to secure funds to put in the necessary infrastructure ahead of the CPL's start.
WICB presidential candidate Whycliffe 'Dave' Cameron warily remarked that the Government's failure to install lights at Sabina was "unfortunate".
He suggested that the resources were stretched by constructing the Trelawny complex, which is located on the island's north coast tourist resort belt, midway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, but which has been underutilised and inadequately maintained.
"It is unfortunate (that lights were not installed)... but you have to say the Government went over and beyond what was required to assist in what was a successful World Cup, from the WICB perspective.
"The Government had their priorities and felt a stadium in the west was important hence the Trelawny Stadium, and in the end didn't have the resources to put in lights. In hindsight, some would say we should have put in lights," he told the Observer at the recent CPL launch in Barbados.
However, Cameron, the current WICB vice-president, mirrored the outlook of Neita-Headley that all interested parties should turn attention to the future and insisted that the upgrade of Sabina Park will fall in line with the renewed development in the heart of Kingston.
"We are the only major stadium without lights (in the region), but it is good that we are now coming to the party because with lights we can do so much more at Sabina Park.
"With the whole redevelopment of downtown Kingston it also fits nicely with what is envisioned. Sabina can become a major venue for major events, not just cricket," said Cameron.