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May 14, 2004
In a move that surprised no one, Mayaguez beat out Guatemala City this past weekend for the rights to host the Central American-Caribbean Games in 2010. With many of the participating countries too economically strapped to bear the burden of hosting the regional event, Puerto Rico was a logical choice.
In the past I've spoken out against Puerto Rico hosting big sporting events like the CAC Games. Putting a multisport event like this together requires a lot of work, money and time and usually requires the construction of a lot of sports facilities the island doesn't need. The host city inevitably ends up sinking a lot of tax dollars into stadiums that later become white elephants. Those same tax dollars would be better spent improving the infrastructure.
In this case, however, Mayaguez is really going to benefit from hosting a CAC Games in six years. In fact, the whole west coast of Puerto Rico stands a lot to gain. Mayaguez's director of sports and recreation, Nelson Velez, estimates Mayaguez will need to spend around $63.5 to $70 million to get ready. The economists working on the project say the region stands to gain some $112 million.
Some of the benefits will be tough to quantify. Already, the west coast's infrastructure can't support the tourism boom out there. The area, from Guajataca to Guayanilla, has an estimated 9,000 beds for visitors. The residents of Rincon can't flush their toilets because the water supply can't support all the new construction. A CAC Games, which brings in close to 4,000 athletes from 32 countries and at least 250,000 fans, will serve as a catalyst for improvement to infrastructure.
As for sports facilities, Eric Labrador, the consultant to the project, already has a checklist. The area lacks a stadium big enough to host soccer and the games' opening and closing ceremonies. Labrador said the organizing committee's idea is to either refurbish Isidoro Garcia ballpark or construct a track and surround it with some permanent bleachers but mostly removable seating. Labrador argues the seating could be stored and used for other major sporting events around the island.
Mayaguez would also benefit from a new aquatics facility (the west coast's only Olympic size pool belongs to the university) and many of the rest of the facilities are already there.
Critics will be asking the obvious question: Why not host the games in San Juan or in Ponce where the venues already exist? San Juan hosted the CAC Games back in 1966 and Ponce did it in 1993.
It's true, either city could host the event again in a heartbeat, although Ponce lacks the hotel capacity the west coast has. But more than this, the Mayaguez area and tourism in general will take a giant leap forward by hosting the CAC Games.
Islanders bring in Hugo Maradona
His last name alone will no doubt attract even more fans to Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium to watch the 0-6-2 Islanders, but the team's management insists it's no publicity stunt: they're looking to Hugo Maradona to provide the coaching spark the expansion team needs to finally win a match.
Coaches usually bear the brunt for a team's losing performance, but canning Brazilian Vitor Hugo Barros eight matches into the season was cold and cruel.
Said team franchise holder Andres Guillemard: "People say that it's OK to have a losing record because we're an expansion team. But we're not going to be satisfied with that. We want to win and we're willing to try everything we can to do so."
It would have made more sense to bring in a coach with United Soccer League experience. By choosing Diego Maradona's brother, the Islanders get novel publicity. Maradona is the best known name in the sport and Hugo Maradona also enjoyed an impressive playing career. But like Vitor Hugo, Maradona is new to coaching professional soccer with his only previous coaching experience being at the amateur level. Those who follow sports know there's often a great leap between having been a good player and being a great coach.
Islanders GM Gustavo Schodlbauer cautioned the media that Hugo Maradona's presence won't assure a visit to Puerto Rico from Diego.
"Diego is prohibited from entering the United States and he is still under psychiatric care at home," said Schodlbauer.
Schodlbauer defended the coaching change because he said it would be impossible at this point to make any player changes.
"Given how difficult it is to get visas for the players, it would be very difficult," said Schodlbauer, who added Haitian forward Clide Geffard and Honduran Ricardo Alcerro, to the lineup this past week. Alcerro brings A-league experience. He played last season with Cincinnati.
Schodlbauer said the team's five South American players were still trying to adapt to the A-league's style of play.
"In South America soccer is a very offensive game but in the United States, the players come out to destroy and then to create [offense]," said Schodlbauer. "Our players have had to work very hard to get used to the style and we can't change them now. What we would look for would be any players who can complement the existing ones."
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.