In Jamaica, if you’re not a footballer, a runner or a cricketer, dog nyam yuh supper. We’ve lauded our CARIFTA track and field team which won 77 medals including 34 gold. That is great, and we are all grateful to the hard working athletes and their coaches who keep the flag flying high (all three colours of it!)

 (CARIFTA swimmers – Gillian Haughton photo)

Our CARIFTA swimmers, who came home from the Bahamas with 32 medals – ten gold, sixteen silver and six bronze, have received much less attention. I’m told the team was met at an airport by a TVJ cameraman. Full stop. The children frequently complain of the limited attention they get from the public.

They did, however, get more attention than the chess team,  which gave us two CARIFTA champions , and an overall third place, or the water polo team, which is in re-building stage, and where our under-15 boys placed second of four teams to win a silver, our under-19 girls came away with the silver against Trinidad and Tobago, and our under-19 boys, were bested by Trinidad and Tobago and Curacao to take bronze.  (CARIFTA water polo teams – Malden Miller photo)

Fact is, in Jamaica, track and field, (men’s) football, (men’s) cricket and to a lesser extent, netball, are the big sports (the reaction to women’s sports is another story -our netballers were excelling for years with little attention, the Reggae Boyz made ONE World Cup, where they failed to advance, and became superstars). But the reality is that there are many other sports which Jamaicans are playing, and playing well, albeit not at the stratospheric level of track and field.

We have youngsters competing  in synchronized swimming, volleyball, tennis, badminton, gymnastics, and the list goes on.

The athletes in many of these sports have to be really determined to compete, especially at the regional and international levels. Family members usually have to underwrite the entire cost of competition including travelling and uniforms. It gets really expensive, really quickly, and many give up.

So why bother? Why not stick with the big four? Actually, there are many reasons why we need to broaden our horizons, and think beyond the popular sports.

Young people should be given the opportunity to explore all their talents, and their potential. A so-so runner may be a dynamite swimmer. A mediocre footballer may be a promising tennis player.

There is potential for scholarships in many of these areas, not just track and field.

We need to see the potential for development in sports generally and expanding the sports we support will allow more young people to excel.

Then, there are the undeniable physical and health benefits. We need to encourage as many young people as possible (and older people, in fact!) to become physically active, whether they are going to become sports stars or not.  Researchers have indicated that 3-6% of pre-school children in the Caribbean are obese, with the figure in Jamaica being 6%.

The scientists reported that overweight and obesity is prevalent in the 10-19 age group with females showing a higher rate than males (18.9% compared to 16%).

Given that obesity and overweight are known risk factors for chronic disease, and inactivity nearly doubles the risk of cardiac disease, anything that will encourage physical activity must be welcome. Exposure to a wide range of sporting activities will allow more children a chance to find an activity with which they are comfortable and which they enjoy.

Other benefits of sports have been well documented, improving social skills, fostering team spirit, teaching kids how to win and lose. Again, the more sports we are able to offer, the more children will be able to benefit.

Veronica Campbell-Brown, Berlin 2009
Veronica Campbell-Brown, Berlin 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not all children can be Usain Bolt or Veronica Campbell-Brown. But that shouldn’t be our only measure of success.

Disclosure: I am not a sportswoman, and never was. Despite my complete lack of coordination, I comfort myself with the thought that I just wasn’t exposed to a wide variety of sports!