The Jamaican government has, disappointingly, again succumbed to the lure of populism and bandwaggonism (to coin a particularly apt word). Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller declared proudly in Parliament that “help is on the way” for Jamaican Olympic swimmer Alia Atkinson who has been making the country proud, but who has said she needs help to continue.
Newsflash Madam Prime Minister! Many other athletes are in that position and nothing has been heard from you or your government about them. Andre Lowe of the Gleaner did an excellent article here on the woes some of our athletes have gone through in their bid to keep going.
In fact, one of the athletes he wrote about, Jason Morgan, had been the subject of a series of articles by Paul Reid of the Jamaica Observer and a blog post by me in the months leading up to the Olympics.
This is not a problem unique to Jamaica. Indeed, CNN recently highlighted the financial plight of the much ballyhooed American Olympians, who receive NO government support.
We have to chart our own way, however. If we talk about sports development and sports as a business
(and if we’re not we should be) we have to take the development of our athletes seriously. Cheering when they do us proud and then walking away again can no longer be a sufficient or acceptable response. (Shout-out here to sports management expert Carole Beckford who speaks and blogs about these very issues)
My producer asked the (effective) Minister of Sports for a comment and we were told that the government “was looking at the issue.” Really. And now, months on, the “looking” hasn’t manage to produce either a statement of intent, or anything to suggest that a structured, considered proposal is being developed.
Let’s be clear, athletes do get some assistance, but it appears ad hoc. The Jamaica Athletic Administrative Association (JAAA) says it does assist athletes, but cannot provide as much assistance as they want. Olympians Juliet Cuthbert and Grace Jackson have both said they think more can be done. Cuthbert suggests monthly stipends, for example to help defray expenses, and Jackson told me that she had submitted a detailed proposal to the JAAA which had not been acted on. She said it was being examined again, and perhaps if she runs for and wins the Presidency of the organisation, she could help effect change.
The point is that a structured programme of assistance is necessary. Bring together the various avenues of financial assistance, determine the basis on which an athlete at different levels will get assistance, and publish the criteria. You do not want any accusations of favouritism and cronyism.
These athletes deliver real value to the country. The waves of inspiration, joy and patriotism evoked every time the Olympics and World Championships roll around cannot be replicated.
Let’s do what we can to ride those waves of patriotism. Let’s look beyond one excellent athlete who happens to be in the public spotlight at the moment and for once, show some real vision.