FOR some time, urban areas including Kingston and Montego Bay have been the main hub for sports in Jamaica. However, several sports stakeholders are expecting a significant boost in central and southern areas in the coming years, following the opening of the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000.
The 23-kilometre four-lane highway, which was opened on September 14, significantly reduces travel time and costs from Kingston to points in Clarendon, Mandeville, and other points west. It will also give motorists travelling in the southern section of the country an option to bypass Porus, which is often congested.
Treasure Beach FC of St Elizabeth are expected to make their Jamaica Premier League debut later this month and the club's chairman, Jason Henzell, says they will save thousands on transportation costs, while playing away games will be more manageable for his players and staff.
"It has made a remarkable difference to traversing between Treasure Beach and Kingston, cutting out Toll Gate and Porus, particularly if you're stuck behind a truck or if it's raining," Henzell said.
"We have 13 away games, mostly in Kingston and St Catherine, so it will make life a lot easier, particularly when you arrive on the same day as the game — you don't want the players to be battered and bruised along the way."
Henzell, who is also the chairman of BREDS, Treasure Beach Foundation, says Treasure Beach Sports Park and Academy is also expected to host more sporting events in the coming years.
"We pride ourselves on developing annual events," he said. "This Heroes' Weekend, [for example], we'll have a fishing tournament, so when you make access easier it makes the destination more appealing."
Kirkvine Sports Club, in Manchester, has hosted several top sporting events over the years and its chairman, Clive Miller, is expecting more to come.
"We usually have three to four events per month," he said. "With the opening up [of the highway] other companies and clubs [would] want to use the venue because it's a very good venue, and therefore we expect an increase... twofold for the initial stages."
Miller says renovations are already underway and he hopes to get assistance from the Government in making the venue top class.
"We have plans to do improvements on the track," he said. "We have space for two football fields and we're renovating them as we speak.
"We'd welcome any development that will impact sports in the parish. We have not started any discussion but once the opportunity arises, I would welcome it."
Mandeville is the home of Manchester Club, which was built in 1865 and is the oldest-operating golf course in the Western Hemisphere. President of Jamaica Golf Association, Peter Chin believes the highway is a win, not just for the sports but for tourism on the island.
"When I go elsewhere around the world [I] see people having all kinds of things where they turn into attraction so I don't see why we can't do that [with Manchester Club]," he said. "[Also,] more players from Kingston would go to Mandeville and play — and that's what all clubs want. For sure, Mandeville could open the doors for more interest."
President of Jamaica Basketball Association (JABA) Paulton Gordon believes his wish of spreading the sport's popularity across Jamaica can come true with the highway's opening.
"It will enhance what we are trying to do," Gordon reasoned. "We realise that the areas of growth in basketball is certainly the urban areas, and if we can connect the urban points, the more we'll have a focal point for the sport to spread in a more rapid way across the regions.
"The highway opens up a door for us to engage central and further west. Currently, we have a central team [Central Celtics] playing in the NBL [National Basketball League] and they are composed of players from Manchester, St Elizabeth and Clarendon, and they have to come into Kingston once per week. It makes it a lot easier."
Gordon, though, did acknowledge that identifying a suitable venue would be a challenge, as major upgrades would be needed.
"That will be difficult in the short to medium term, and we'd have to lean on our partners SDF [Sports Development Foundation] to fast-track something of that nature," he said. "It's something we'll look at next year because we want to showcase the sport on different parts of the island."
President of Netball Jamaica Tricia Robinson is also optimistic that it will lead to greater results for the sport.
"With the improvement in the logistics it bodes well for the sport, allowing an easier flow of access for our members and potential members, as well as having more development sessions," she said.
Vernamfield in Clarendon has been a popular site for motor racing events on the island. Director of KenT Racing Kenneth Timol, who is responsible for the events held at Vernamfield, says the highway will help to improve the popularity of the sport.
"Persons would avoid travelling along the old roads, especially during this time of the year when we get a lot of rain," Timol said. "Persons who would actually come out to motorsports events would have a nice sports car that they'd want to drive to the event but didn't, because of the conditions of the roads. Now, that is not something to worry about.
"Even if it's a three to five per cent increase of persons coming out because the road conditions is no longer a factor in getting to Vernamfield, then that will contribute to the development of motorsports in that region."
Timol says members of the various communities will be able to earn, not just those involved on the track.
"I can easily estimate over $10 million is spent [on food] on a race weekend," he said. "Vendors are coming back and expanding their business. For instance, they'll come with one jerk pan then come back to the next event with three or four. The garages and mechanics get more work so it's not just benefiting us, but the entire area is seeing the perks."
Travel costs will also be significantly less, at least for the next two months, as motorists will not pay toll charges until December 31, 2023.