Work on St Lucia`s thirty million-dollar National Stadium in Vieux Fort is nearing completion. On several evenings recently, the Chinese team responsible for building and outfitting the stadium could be seen trying out the sports palace`s lighting system. The gigantic sets of bright-white floodlights mounted on four tall masts lit up not only the St Urbain site where the stadium itself is located, but the whole valley between Morne Beausejour, Beane Field and Aupicon. Curious passersby noticing the dramatically changed landscape caused a line of parked vehicles and a nearby rumshop did a roaring trade.
A few lucky people were allowed to enter the well-guarded construction site and reportedly had the pre-opening, hands-on experience of a lifetime.
“I did a whole lap around that big track”, laughed Paula, a mother and tour guide from Vieux Fort. “I must have sat on each and every one of those seats. I admired the field, I walked all around everywhere, I cheered, I did everything! It was marvellous. They played some kind of Chinese music over the sound system, and with the breeze and those lights on, it really was magic! My husband got to see the control room, where they switch those big lights on and off, and they explained to him all how it works. And my daughter was so excited! She kept saying, `Mummy, mummy, I`ve been one of the first persons to run on this track! I`ll always be one of the first, even after all the famous sportsmen and sportswomen have come and competed here!` I`m very happy I got the chance to see inside of there. I think it looks very impressive, and it makes me feel like I`m part of history already.”
Twenty-seven months of hard work have gone into the stadium site, since the official sod-turning ceremony in April of 2000. The National Stadium is a gift from the People`s Republic of China to the government of St Lucia, and Chinese construction company COVEC has been in charge of the project. However, local engineering staff and building workers have been used where possible. Site preparation work was also done by a local company. This ran into some problems in late 2000, when the subsoil proved unexpectedly different to that anticipated, but the delay was limited to a mere few months. Once the Chinese took over, building continued almost uninterrupted, even on weekends and holidays. The high tempo in fact caused some friction earlier this year, when local labourers complained about the work pressure and temporarily downed tools, but the discontent later appeared to have been resolved.
The National Stadium is located on 30 acres of land. It contains 8,000 covered seats, with another 7,000 scheduled to be constructed at a later date by the St Lucia government. It further has an all-weather track and a standard international-size football field, both of which can be lit up to simulate full daylight conditions. A large parking lot lies to one side of the stadium, where it is overlooked by five larger-than-life Olympic rings. The design on the outside wall of the stadium is an abstract rendition of people holding hands - a reminder of the unification which sports achieves.