Alden’s making a splash

When the 50 metre Olympic swimming is installed it will be the envy of the Caribbean and boost an already thriving swimming program.

That’s the expectation but things are still not finalised because millions have to be raised first. At least the Government is prepared to pay half of the costs.

Minister of Sport and Education Alden McLaughlin has high hopes for the pool and Cayman swimming achievements when it is finally built beside the Lions Aquatic Centre. He also plans to develop pools strategically around Grand Cayman.

‘We’ve been working in conjunction with the Cayman Islands Amateur Swimming Association for some time now,’ said McLaughlin. ‘They’ve actually got the master plans for a 50m pool which will be on the other side of where the existing 25m pool is. The plan is to use the 25m as a warm down pool and also learner swimmers.

‘It’s estimated that we have a $7.5 million project. We gave them some initial money to go ahead with the plan, about $300,000. I also pledged them that Government would put up half of the cost of the facility and we’re still working through that because they’ve still got to find the balance of the money through private sector sponsorship.

‘In fact, the plans for the new high school at John Grey are predicated on the basis that they’re going to have a proper pool there. We’re not putting a pool at the new John Grey. So it’s very important to my overall vision for the development of that learning and sporting complex. I haven’t spoken to them for some time now so I’m not sure where they are.

‘The cost of maintenance of the new school will not be horrendous, as is being speculated, but they will not be insignificant. But we also have the benefit of the economies of scale because we’re going to have two other 25m pools, one in West Bay at the Gutter Smith School and the one at Clifton Harvest School in Frank Sound.

‘So I think we’ll be able to justify the maintenance of these because we’ll have a sufficient number of pools being used by a sufficient number of people to warrant the expenditure and the maintenance costs.’

McLaughlin is enthused by Cayman’s swimming achievements. Under technical director Dominic Ross, the youth program has really made a splash. Of the three Olympians already qualified for the Beijing Games in August, two are swimmers, brothers Shaune and Brett Fraser. The other is sprinter Cydonie Mothersill.

‘Swimming has probably been the most successful sport we’ve been involved in and we have the benefit of mass participation. We have more kids and young people who want to swim than we have the facilities to do it.

‘We’re surrounded by the sea and when I was growing up everyone learned to swim, just like learning to walk. I think we can do better in swimming on an international stage perhaps than any other sport. So by putting these pools in schools and giving them access to them will make a huge difference. It’ll be interesting to see in five years from now where Cayman is with swimming if primary and high school kids have access to it.

‘My vision about these things transcends district boundaries. It’s about giving people in the Cayman Islands the best possible opportunity and amenities we can afford. My view about these things is not always in accord with the parochial views that district representatives have. But I try to use my charm and persuasion to convince them!’

The Truman Bodden track and football pitch will will open soon and West Bay will also be well served with facilities at the Ed Bush complex almost complete. McLaughlin is pleased that after so long it is almost there.

‘We have a practice field that that’s in very good shape and we can actually improve that. It’s a natural turf field. And in the past Ed Bush was used for league games, not for just knocking around the ball. Using artificial turf there, there’ll be less issues with wear and tear. Subjecting to what the football association has to say about that, I’d be quite easy with what they want.

‘Obviously, we don’t want it to be used unsupervised because a lot of money has gone into it. I wouldn’t like to see people just messing about. Both the Ed Bush and the Annexe are going to be open to the general public, it’s just a question of making sure the facilities are managed properly.

‘The Annexe was used constantly, even during the day people would come off the cruise ships and play games. Just about any time of the day or night it was being used which was a big issue with the parents, teachers and children at George Town Primary.

‘We’re resolving those issues by moving George Town Primary as well. They’ll have their own facilities along the way. But these things take time. It’s not a case of just waving a magic wand. I wish it did. Everybody wants everything done yesterday. Unfortunately, most people are not prepared to put up with the inconvenience.

‘But the football association has been hugely supportive. They’ve been working with us on developing these facilities. I can’t really complain about them. Everybody has a right to be impatient because it’s dragging on much longer than any of us would like. One thing I’ve learned in this business is that it takes longer than they tell you and costs more than they tell you.’

McLaughlin agrees that the reopening of the Annexe will be a welcome relief for sports lovers, football fans especially, even though the pitch was not ideal.

‘The Annexe was a field from hell. Everything I have done in relation to that was in conjunction with or on the advice of the football association. Their advice was to shut the Annexe and Ed Bush down. Ed Bush was unplayable after Ivan and the Annexe was barely playable too. Nobody was playing at the Truman Bodden anyhow.

‘The Annexe is really the workplace of football in Cayman. Regardless of what you do, it’s where everybody wants to play the game. There’s a certain ambience about it, in large part because of the close proximity of the stands to the field. It has been inconvenient but you haven’t heard any squawks from the football people. What I’ve been doing was based on their advice. It has been inconvenient to go North Side, but the wait is just about over. In another month, we’ll be playing at Annexe and Ed Bush.’

Swimming has so much potential for Cayman Photos: Ron Shillingford

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