Yesterday, I blogged the statement from the RJR Newscentre, for which I work, regarding a TVJ tape and an interview with Olympians Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson. The attorney representing Asafa and Sherone, Milton Samuda, is also the Chairman of TVJ, for which I work. Here is the statement he issued a short while ago.
MILTON J. SAMUDA
JULY 26, 2013
News has circulated widely concerning the interview held on Monday July 22, 2013. It is important that the facts be placed in the public domain.
It must first be understood that the journalists were told up front that the questions in the interview would be restricted. That was the basis on which the journalists agreed to participate. I did not select the journalists who participated.
It is standard procedure for those preparing for a hearing to be advised to restrict public statements to matters which will not arise in that hearing. The fact that other questions were posed was the basis on which the journalists were asked for the tapes so as to remove those questions and the answers. I made the request on the basis of the restoration of trust and the fulfilment of their agreement. The journalists acted honourably and complied with my request.
At no time were the tapes “seized” or “confiscated” and certainly no “equipment” was.
Consequently one media house did in fact carry a story and we are satisfied that at no time did we try to suggest to any media house what to publish or carry.
I do believe in and fully support freedom of the press but I also appreciate that that freedom is based on integrity and the honouring of one’s word. Freedom of the press should not be pursued at the expense of honour. I applaud the forthright treatment of the matter by TVJ News, clearly demonstrating the fierce independence of that newsroom.
I do not tolerate conflict of interest, but it cannot be that those of us who hold several different positions in society are ipso facto prevented from acting decisively in any.
Throughout, I acted as one of the Attorneys-at-Law for Miss Simpson and Mr. Powell. My primary duty was and is to protect their interests.
As the process continues, we will disclose the appropriate information when required.”
It wasn’t a good day – it started with news that US star athlete Tyson Gay had failed a drug test and had withdrawn from the upcoming World Championships. Most track and field fans I know genuinely admire Tyson and the news was a blow. He comes across as a class act, and continued to do so, even in confirming the positive test of his A sample.
You get the picture. The point is, Asafa and Tyson are primarily the ones featured in the headlines. And rightly so – from a journalistic perspective, that is.
Jamaica is now a track and field brand. Asafa and Gay are strong brands of their own. Drug cheating is something that has brought track and field low before. It decimated cycling. To have two of the biggest stars on track right now test positive – and to have the news break on the same day – is a huge story. To have five Jamaicans at one time test positive is also a big story. No journalist worth his or her salt would ignore either.
Sure, the story will unfold, explanations will be forthcoming, and there will be developments. We don’t know yet what happened, either in Tyson’s case, or in the cases of our own athletes. That will come. We hope for the best.
But right now, the headlines will be painful to read. We had better get used to it. That’s the nature of news. Local OR foreign.
But let us be clear about one thing. Any attempt to try to distance ourselves from VCB by saying she trained overseas and does not belong to our local athletic training camps is ill-advised.
Veronica is one of our most visible standard-bearers. She carried our flag during the 2008 Olympics. We made no distinction then. UNESCO appointed her a Goodwill Ambassador for Sports. We made no distinction then. Over the years we rooted for her. Her grace, determination, doggedness and sheer hard work won our hearts. We screamed ourselves silly over her all her victories, such as her gold medals in Athens and Beijing. We made no distinction then.
It’s natural that we are all shocked and concerned right now. The implications of her positive test are tremendous, both for this incredible athlete and for Jamaica. The reactions so far, as expected, are mixed.
Some of her fans are declaring support.
“I really fail to believe that VCB knowingly did this. There must be some reasonable explanation.” – Facebook user
“My faith in Veronica Campbell-Brown will not allow for me to believe that she knowingly took Diuretics to hide any performance-enhancing drugs in her system.” – Gleaner website
Others suggest we wait quietly as the story develops.
“I believe we should wait to hear from VCB and stop speculating.” – Facebook
But others have started to comment along these lines.
“Why is it the overseas athletes are the ones testing positive?”- Facebook
“She should have stayed in Jamaica and trained like Bolt… the American influence???” – Gleaner website
If a son or daughter comes home accused of doing something, depending on our
personality, we might immediately lash out, quietly assess the situation or refuse to believe the accusation. What we don’t do is say ”Bwoy, him used to spend all him time next door you know, so a nuh really fi mi pickney.”
I am really hoping that it is just a few, disgruntled Jamaicans who are upset that the Government of Jamaica has decided to award cash gifts to our Olympians and Paralympians.
Each individual gold medalist will receive $1m (per gold medal), silver medalists – $750,000, bronze medalists – $500,000, relay gold is worth $600,000, relay silver – $400,000, relay bronze – $360,000, and finalists will receive $350,000. Other participants and support staff will also receive cash gifts.
I support this move 100%. I wish we could give more. But here’s what some of the critics are saying.
We have other things we should be spending money on.
Sure, we will always have other things to spend money on. Should we instead be spending the money on education? Sanitation? Cleaning gullies and drains? I guess it comes down to how much value you attach to the athletes’ performance. I attach tremendous importance to education. Put simplistically, it uplifts people and improves their chance of a better quality of life. But I can’t even begin to value the euphoric feeling I – AND MOST OF YOU- received from our athletes’ performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the World Championships in Berlin and Daegu and the 2012 London Olympics.
It was a feeling that finally, after being beaten down and depressed for years because of our corruption, political
violence, lack-lustre economy, and crime, crime, crime, we had a reason to hold our heads high. We could wear our national colours, the black, green and gold, and proclaim that we were proud to be Jamaicans! Sure there are other bright spots, but very few like the last two Olympics.
Personally, I always receive a jolt of personal inspiration in watching our athletes perform and excel. I can’t value any of that, but heck, a couple hundred thousand Jamaican dollars is at least a start. And just a reminder here – many of these athletes operate for much of the year outside Jamaica. A million Jamaican dollars (the highest incentive) is just a little more than US$11,000.
Some people point to the value of the free tourism exposure Jamaica received all over the world. But even if not even one additional tourist visited Jamaica as a result of the Olympics and Paralympics, I would still say the money is well deserved.
They are competing for themselves
This is almost too nonsensical to comment on. Sure, they benefit personally, but they could benefit running for any country. We have athletes who would be able to jump ship at the drop of a hat. They stay with Jamaica out of love and patriotism. At the end of a race, what do they reach for first? Jamaica’s national flag. What is played when they are on that podium? Jamaica’s national anthem. What do the commentators say when they take the track? “The Jamaicans!” What do English, Japanese and other nationalities do to show their support? Wear Jamaican colours. Nuff said.
We ought to give them houses and land instead?
I disagree with this. I just think money is a lot more neutral and more useful. Property can be a hassle, and you then you have to try to ascertain what is a suitable location, and a suitable house. Do they all get houses or land in the same location? Who says they want land? Does an athlete living overseas want property in Jamaica? Maybe or maybe not. But why bother? Everybody can use money.
Bolt/Asafa/Shell-Ann/Veronica are rich enough – we don’t need to give them anything
Are you kidding me? Wow, that’s a great message to send. “You’re doing so well, we’ll just ignore you when we’re handing out incentives for doing well.” Folks, that is called reverse discrimination. It would be guaranteed to engender resentment and is a non-starter. Forget that.
Are we going to give all our other athletes cash gifts as well?
I certainly think we should maintain this for any athlete excelling at the highest levels of international competition although the exact sums to be given out would probably vary. I think it is a great incentive for athletes, many of whom struggle to remain in competition and have tremendous financial difficulties. If we are serious about developing sports why not show it by tangible, financial contributions to our athletes?
Why should we give them anything at all?
This is where I would ask my fellow Jamaicans to bury the mean-spiritedness and pettiness, please. Let me remind the people who have clearly forgotten, as I said before, many athletes struggle to remain in international competition once they leave college. Many give up. Those who have the grit, the core strength, the resilience and determination to keep going are among a tiny cadre of elite athletes. See my interview with Olympian Jason Morgan here. Lack of sponsorship and expensive training gear are just some of the things that they have to deal with. Yes, many get SOME financial assistance, but they will tell you that it is hardly ever enough to cover costs. One bad injury can end a season, and perhaps a career. Medical costs are ridiculous.
But you know how I would sum up why I think these cash gifts are well-deserved? They are one small way of saying THANK YOU from a grateful nation.
Blake, with the somewhat petulant tone we’ve been hearing from athletes finding themselves burnt by the social media space they thought they owned, states that he is addressing the explanation to his “true fans.”
“ …my nails grow VERY fast for some reason. Almost as fast as I can run! Many years ago, long before this beast nickname came about, so long ago that I can’t even remember when or why, I got it into my head that if I cut them during competition I won’t run well. It is my superstition. There are many things we athletes do to alleviate the huge pressures
that come with competing. Some of them just don’t make any sense. But we do them anyway! This is what I do. Soon after competition I cut them and look pretty “normal” again.
I know who I am. I know what my values are. And I know how proud I feel to have represented my country at the highest level and to the best of my ability. I am who I think I am. I am not who other people think I am supposed to be.
So I would like to thank my true fans and sponsors for accepting me for who I am and I will continue to do my best for you.”
Although he didn’t address it there, Blake is also being criticized by some for his cartoonish “beast” poses, when he claws at the air and grimaces, that he clearly thinks enhance the Beast nickname he was given because of the ferocity with which he approaches training. There are many Jamaicans who think the poses look silly and that Blake would be better off dropping them, along with cutting his nails.
There are some similarities with the criticisms of the gold medal winning African American gymnast Gabby Douglas, by fellow black African Americans who thought her hair didn’t look good, and say she needs to realize that she is “reppng” for all black women on the international stage.
So why do we care? And does commenting on Blake’s nails or Douglas’s hair make people any less “true fans’?
Douglas’s issue is wrapped up in the complicated relationship black women have with their hair, if we are honest. We haven’t gotten over the hair thing. But she is a little removed from us. It’s easier to look at the Douglas story and shake our heads at the critics’ pettiness.
Blake, now, he’s close to home. He belongs to us. Are we who criticize him also being petty?
Let’s be honest. Many Jamaicans have long felt that there hasn’t been enough attention to grooming our athletes for the international spotlight, to ensure that they shine off track, as well as on. Some of what you’re seeing is a reflection of that. Is Blake making a fool of himself? Will he become an object of international ridicule? Is he representing himself, and yes, Jamaica in the best possible light? There are genuine concerns about that, and expressing them, Mr. Blake, doesn’t necessarily mean that the Jamaicans who do so do not fully appreciate your tremendous talent and achievements on the track.
Of course, there is another element. There have always been, and will always be, petty, spiteful people who make mean-spirited comments about anyone in the public spotlight. Social media has now given these people a direct line to the athletes or anyone else they want to “dis.”
Yohan Blake et al. need to learn to differentiate between well-intentioned criticism, whether you agree with it or not, and spiteful, snide comments, which our mothers used to tell us, quite rightly, to ignore.
The criticisms, for instance, of Yohan Blake’s and Usain Bolt’s behavior during the national anthem while on the medal podium at the World Championships last year was the kind of criticism that they should have, and clearly did, take on board. Bear in mind that even then, there was a set of people telling critics to “leave de yute dem alone” and suggesting that people who had achieved at that level should not be criticized for such behavior. That’s rubbish, and “true fans” like that are the ones Blake should be ignoring.
He might also want to think carefully about his antics in front of the international press. Sure, Usain’s
antics are celebrated by all the world, and people everywhere are doing the Bolt pose. Will they follow suit with Blake? They might. But they might not. He needs to remember how fickle the international press can be, and carefully consider the persona he wants the public, and potential sponsors, to see. There may be a thin line between playful, which is how Bolt is generally seen, and ridiculous.
My opinion? I can see Blake putting out a line of Beast tee-shirts etc with all the Beast grimaces, and I can see them taking off. I wouldn’t buy them, but they wouldn’t be aimed at me. I don’t like the fingernails, and to those who say they never noticed them, that’s a little ridiculous when he brandishes them in front of his face during photo shoots. You can’t escape them. But I don’t argue with people’s superstitions. If he says that’s what he needs to do when he is in competition, I have nothing more to say. After all, I have superstitions of my own. And although I don’t like them, I can shrug and move on.
His poses etc.also look a little silly to me, but I don’t really care, and again, I’m not the demographic he’s aiming for. His comments to reporters about coming from Mars also sound juvenile. Having said all that, he is a grown man and has a management team. As a Jamaican, I mainly ask that he shows respect for the national symbols and understands time and place, and what behavior is appropriate when.
From a business point of view, I would hope that Blake and his management team are seriously assessing the public reaction to his image and comments, and making sure they are working for him. After all, that’s how you build a brand.
If the performances of gold medalists Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser of Jamaica, Kirani James of
Grenada and Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago in the London Olympics excited your interest in Caribbean athletics, or if you have been a long-time fan, you really should check out Black Meteors – The Caribbean in International Track and Field.
Black Meteors is published by Ian Randle Publishers, and written by Basil Ince, a former athlete and administrator, diplomat and academic, who marries his interests in this thoroughly attractive and engaging book about Caribbean sportsmen and women.
The layout and format of the book are excellent, with easy-to-read text, and a large number of photographs of athletes ranging from the pioneers like Lennox Miller and Arthur Wint of Jamaica, to more recent athletes such as Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago and Javier Sotomayor of Cuba, and current stars like Yohan Blake and superstar sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica, among many, many more.
And therein lies one of the biggest and most welcome differences between this book and many others. The author states that:
“throughout the book the word Caribbean refers to all Caribbean peoples, English speaking and non-English speaking.”
Ince approaches that issue of what is a “Caribbean” athlete in an entirely natural way, that makes not just geographical sense, given the breadth of talent displayed throughout the region, but also allows the author to introduce readers to some athletes who may not as well known to them as others.
The other important aspect of Ince’s approach to the book was the effortless story-telling which brings to life, not just the athletes and their successes, but the socio-political backdrop to their sporting careers.
One example is his discussion of the evolution of women’s participation in the Olympics, from the days when women were not allowed to participate at all, to the performances of the great Merlene Ottey of Jamaica (who is still competing at over 50 years old) and Deon Hemmings, the first Caribbean woman to win Olympic gold in 1996.
Another example is the exploration of the impact of the Cuban revolution on the performance of Cuban athletes, which laid the groundwork for athletes like Alberto Juantorena, winner of the 800 m and 400m gold medals in Montreal, and the struggles of the track and field programme given the US economic embargo of the
But Ince also spends time discussing current issues and athletes, including Jamaica’s success in Beijing.
If you have any interest at all in track and field, this will be an excellent addition to your library.
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.
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.
I remember vividly where I was when Danny McFarlane won his silver medal in the 400 m hurdles in the 2004 Olympics – inside the bookshop at the University of the West Indies, where everybody in the store gathered around the mounted TV cheering ourselves silly as Danny did that little awkward looking hop over the hurdles, one by one, until he dashed across the finish line in second place.
The reason I remember so clearly is that we were there with an American, who while indulgent, was clearly a little bemused at this show of national solidarity for a single athlete.
It was the same thing when we watched Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz playing Japan in the 1998 World Cup.
I work in a newsroom and cannot remember a time before or since when the phone stayed silent for over an hour.
But that’s what it means to be Jamaican. One athlete can inspire such pride that we start a local newscast declaring that this is “Deon Hemmings Day”, as CVM did after Hemmings became the first Jamaican woman ever to win Olympic gold in 1996.
Although I am a little concerned about the over-hyped expectations for these Games as I said in my post here, the truth is that sports at this level brings out the best in us.
For the next two and a half weeks everything will recede in importance, the usual troika of issues making the newscasts – crime, the economy and politics – all that will fade into insignificance as we stay glued to the TV and discuss the merits and demerits of the various athletes participating.
Even in the sports in which we are not traditionally strong, we’ll be glued to the TVs, watching the sheer beauty and strength of those who have trained for years to have their moment in the sun.
We’ll go around wearing our national colours, and smiling at strangers -unusual in urbanised Kingston!
It’s hard for a citizen of a large developed country like the US to understand the immense pride we feel when we see little Jamaica up there with the best in the world. As Miss Lou would say “we heart swell big.”
It shows us that we can be world class, that despite the disastrous failures we have had in some areas, our lackluster economy, the distressing crime levels, the havoc our politicians have wreaked over the years, that we are still the stuff of which excellence is made. Simply put, our athletes give us hope, and inspire us to achieve in our own lives. For that, I thank them.
Olympic fever is now at a level never before seen in Jamaica.
That’s great and how it should be. The Olympics Games are, as far as I’m concerned, the greatest show on earth (sorry, football fans!)
The problem I am having, though, is the unrealistic expectations. It is understandable on one level. After all, our athletes gave Jamaica’s best ever performance at the Beijing Olympics, at a level that electrified the world –led by the wonderful, colourful, charismatic record breaker Usain Bolt.
Then came the World Championships in Berlin and Daegu, and we cemented our place on the world stage – and painted targets on our backs. The loud-mouthed American Justin Gatlin has been talking about taking down the Jamaicans.
It’s all part of the hype and the trash talking that goes along with most sports. If we’re honest, it’s part of the fun.
But all the media hype about gold gold gold is having a more dangerous effect. It’s raising expectations, which were probably unrealistic to begin with. All that talk of gold is making us think nothing else is worth cheering for.
I watched to my shock, Jamaicans in Half Way Tree watching races at the World Championships, walk off without making a comment or cracking a smile if Jamaicans didn’t stop the clock in first place. Only gold is worth cheering for apparently. It’s not a new attitude, though I think it’s getting worse. I remember being perplexed some years ago to hear a radio announcer grudgingly congratulate a relay team although they “only” got a bronze.
We are a country of 2.5 million or thereabouts, with a PHENOMENAL record of achievement.
We have won over 50 Olympic medals so far, almost all in track and field (special big up to David Weller – Olympic bronze in cycling, Moscow, 1980).
I checked the medal table for the Beijing Olympics.
Jamaica came in 14th IN ALL with our 11 medals, six of which were gold. The nations that placed higher? Largely economic powerhouses and developed countries – China, USA, Russia, Great Britain and N. Ireland, Germany, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Italy, France, Ukraine, the Netherlands and Kenya.
But that doesn’t mean that we will always do that well, either in terms of total medals or in their colours. The London 2012 Olympics will see 205 countries sending over 10,000 athletes to participate in 26 sports, with 39 disciplines, and 300 events.
Do the math. How many athletes will actually be able to make the finals of their events, and then medal on top of that? This is elite sports at its best. Which is why we need to temper our expectations. Cheer on our athletes, of course!
But this ridiculous Jamaican attitude many of us have that only gold medals count has got to change. For any athlete, making an Olympic team means you’re among the best in the world. We need to recognize that and applaud all those who are in London wearing our black, gold and green, whether they make the finals or not, whether they medal or not.
Then we need to give an extra loud cheer to anyone who makes it to the finals of their events. Stop for a moment. These are the best of the best, now competing among themselves. To actually get a medal? That’s a dream come true.
What does a bronze medal mean? That you are third best in the world! Silver – second in the world! Cause for celebration indeed!
To say it takes hard work and determination to even make it to the Olympics sounds too inadequate to describe what all these athletes have gone through. National record holder in the discus thrower Jason Morgan, spoke to me about that, and you can read my post on him here.
Unrealistic expectations only burden people, and that includes athletes. So want to help them? Back off with the constant calls for gold, which, with the best will in the world, they may not be able to deliver.
Of course we all want to see our athletes win as many gold medals as possible. We want them to perform at their best and fulfil their potential. We’ll be disappointed if realistic hopes and expectations are not fulfilled. But that’s the key word. Realistic. All I’m asking is that we be realistic and temper our expectations.