Editorial: That Champs moral faux pas
This newspaper endorses and holds to the principle that robust - aggressive even - competition is good for markets and, ultimately, consumers. Indeed, it is a critical tenet of capitalism, which is the most effective and efficient form of economic organisation.
But competition and capitalism, like democracy, of which they are handmaidens, are not without rules. They work best when underpinned by moral precepts, not least of which is the concept of fair play: this idea of operating by, and within, the rules. The value, when that happens, is not only to business, but the wider society.
It is against this backdrop that we are concerned by, and comment upon, Saturday's action at the annual Boys and Girls' Athletic Championships, by Michael O'Hara, the Calabar High School athlete, which many people characterise as ambush marketing on behalf of the telecommunications company, Digicel, to the detriment of their competitor, LIME. LIME is a sponsor of the competition organised by the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA). Digicel is not.
O'Hara is a fine young runner, who won four gold medals at this year's games in the senior boys' category: the 100 and 200 metres races, the 110 metres hurdles, and the 4x100 relay. He ignited controversy after his victory in the 200 metres race when he peeled off his shirt to display a vest in his school colours but emblazoned with the words: 'Be Extraordinary', which happens to be the tag line for Digicel advertising. Digicel's name or logo appeared nowhere on O'Hara's clothing. Soon after, though, the company formally named him a Digicel 'brand ambassador'.
That development came on the back of ISSA's complaint a day earlier of unauthorised persons and companies sharing copyright names, images and videos from Champs, "giving the impression they are in partnership with the organisers", in response to which a Digicel official confirmed that it had posted highlights on its social media network. Digicel insisted it had done nothing wrong.
That position was reiterated by the company's head of marketing, Peter Lloyd, in the aftermath of O'Hara's action. He said: "We did not do anything that was illegal. Everything that we did was a celebration of Michael O'Hara, who embodies our brand promise, which happens to be 'Be Extraordinary'."
We made no judgement of the legality, or otherwise, of the Digicel-O'Hara behaviour. We, however, believe there are moral questions, involving values and attitudes, worthy of discussion in this matter, especially given that it centres on a student at a competition among schools. First, Champs, for all the passion it ignites, is a competition not of professional athletes. Fundamentally, it is a school-based event, an extra-curricular activity promoted and engaged in by high schools, aimed at developing well-rounded students and, in the end, model citizens.
Champs, in that context, helps students appreciate that competition is also about discipline, fair play and operating within the rules - not bending them for an advantage.
If, in displaying the Digicel tag line, Michael O'Hara acted of his own volition, or because he was induced to do so, it was a display of poor judgement that, at the very least, skirted the line of behaviour of a kind that is not in Jamaica's interest to encourage in its young people. But Michael O'Hara is young. He - and others - have time to learn, hopefully, the right lessons.