By Neto Baptiste
Minister of Sports Daryll Matthew has debunked claims that football’s world governing body, FIFA, has put a dollar figure on the amount of funding they are willing to invest into the upgrading and/or refurbishing of the Antigua Recreation Grounds (ARG).
Speaking on the Good Morning Jojo Sports Show on Tuesday, Matthew said talks are still in their initial stages and, once a master plan is completed, talks with FIFA should advance.
“I am hearing all sorts of numbers being called in terms of six million, 10 million, and that’s far from the truth … we have not discussed numbers with them, and deliberately so, because I am never comfortable discussing numbers unless I have some basis upon which I present those numbers,” he said.
“We have someone now who is putting together a master plan for the redesign and the reconstruction of the Antigua Recreation Grounds, after which it would be priced and budgeted, and then we will make a formal presentation. What the president of FIFA has indicated is that it is a project that is very interesting to them, that they see an opportunity for them to participate with us,” he added.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino and CONCACAF head Victor Montagliani visited the ARG during a stop here in early August after which they had talks with Matthew on a possible partnership.
Matthew also revealed that work is set to commence on the removal of the condemned WIOC (double decker) stand.
“There is going to be heavy equipment coming in, cranes will have to be used, so it’s not that you just take a big ball and swing and knock it down. It has to come down in a particularly structured way. We have asked them to salvage all the wood from the seats so that we can repurpose that; and so that is something that will take a little time as well,” the minister said.
“The long and short of it is that the area has to be cordoned off for safety purposes. We have been told that the demolition should take about eight weeks because the foundation, as well, has to be dug up and the contractors who are being provided through the West Indies Oil Company and the expertise that they have, they are pretty much, basically, ready to go. We are looking to relocate the vendors who are there,” he added.
The minister however assured that the demolition of the famed WIOC stand should not significantly impact the staging of the football association’s Premier Division matches scheduled to start in October.
“As it relates to the construction of anything inside the Antigua Recreation Grounds and the potential disruption to football activities, I believe it is something that will be minimal and, in fact, this morning [Tuesday] I spoke to Batow [Everton Gonsalves] and Rohan Hector [General Secretary] about it, and once the structural engineers are ready, I would like to invite them into a meeting with the football association to see how the demolition of the double-decker can take place without much disruption,” Mathew said.
“I imagine the heavy equipment would come from the parking lot side of the stand as opposed to the on-the-field side,” he added.
Vendors who play their trade under the WIOC stand, according to Matthew, will be relocated just outside the grounds in a vacant lot next to the Government Printery.