Former president of the Barbados Rugby Football Union George Nicholson remains vocal about the need to build a much-needed multisport facility in this country.
Nicholson explained that one of the challenges faced this past weekend was protecting the pitch at Kensington Oval where the fourth annual Rugby Barbados World Seven’s tournament was interrupted several times by the rain.
Manager of the local organising committee for the Rugby Barbados World 7s, Nicholson deemed the international sporting event a success but said the time has come for Barbados to diversify its sports tourism product.
“We need a dedicated multisport facility and I am not just talking about rugby; I am talking about all sports in Barbados. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, we need grass areas, we need central stands, concessions and training facilities, [where] you can mount world-class tournament from that base. But we have to diversify our product, not just sports tourism, but what we are offering in general. Sun, sand and sea is not cutting it anymore.
“This being said, having one pitch this year made for a more manageable tournament. Last year we had 23 teams [and] some teams only had two to three games on the weekend. You don’t want to travel all that way to play one or two games, so we were able to give everybody at least four games for the weekend. The fact that we had to stop to protect the pitch is an issue from a rugby perspective. We understand and appreciate what needs to happen from a sporting facility perspective, but we cannot continue to promote high-level sports when they are so many factors against us,” Nicholson said.
He added: “We have sun, sea and sand which the rest of the Caribbean has but it is a product, it is something that differentiates us. Playing rugby at the mecca of cricket is a big deal. The teams that come here when they walk through the main entrance gate and they look onto the field they are in awe all the time. The facilities are wonderful, they are world-class, but we have to make sure the fans are going to come to support that as well and that is how you build a sports tourism product.”
This year there were four Olympic academy teams from the United States of America including 2019 kings Atlantis from Philadelphia and women’s champions American Rugby Professional Training Centre. Two squads from Canada also participated with Quebec women reaching the final, while there were invitational sides from St. Lucia and the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force.
Despite being satisfied with how the tournament ran, Nicholson believed more could have been done from a marketing standpoint, as the number of participating teams were reduced from 23 to 16 this year.
“… We have tourists getting off the ship, they are walking through a dead space all the way up to Bridgetown. There is no way to tell them what is going on. If we had the ability to have a sign there [on the highway] to say this is going on today or even to be able to present to them along the way that there is something going on. I appreciate it is green space, but everything is not in Bridgetown.
“You can’t have a situation where the tourists only know about one or two things advertised on the ships and what is put up in front of them right inside the port. If they walk past all of that they are looking for something else. That something else cannot simply be duty-free shopping, so we need to be able to present to them things that are going on in Barbados and hopefully that would enable us to attract people to events like this and make them more successful in that regard,” Nicholson explained.
Going forward, Barbados Rugby World 7’s committee intends on improving the product Nicholson said, adding, “We were oversubscribed as of August this year. So, we were starting to turn back teams and then, unfortunately, teams had to pull out. It is not that we have not developed a brand that is sought after or that is recognisable it is circumstances. But it is a lesson going forward and we have to understand from a practical perspective what the practical cut-off date is for accepting registrations and understanding there will be some variables that we can’t control that may affect people’s decision to travel.”