It was bound to happen
It is rather unfortunate that much of the talk after Champs has been Michael O’Hara’s seminal moment when he lifted his running gear to show the much-talked-about 'Be Extraordinary', words that happen to be a Digicel slogan. Ambush marketing was on everyone’s lips because it looked to all and sundry that O'Hara was using the opportunity to 'big up' Digicel, with which he has recently signed on as brand ambassador. Nothing would be wrong with this under normal circumstances, but this was an event where LIME was the telecommunications sponsor and wouldn’t want Digicel to get any mileage at all. This one act has caused so much controversy and discussion that the actual performances have largely been ignored in the media and on sports discussion programs. The irony shouldn’t be lost on anyone that Michael O'Hara was arguably the biggest star at Champs. In any other year, he would have been the toast of everyone for his four gold medals, and yet it was his act that has caused most of us not to be talking about the actual performances. The Calabar standout has since claimed that he didn’t do it because of his new association with Digicel. He says that he just wanted to show the world how extraordinary he was. It's not easily believable. It does look too coincidental that a youngster will happen to wear a shirt with Digicel colours, a Digicel slogan, within the same time it's announced he is a Digicel brand ambassador! To then say that his actions weren’t influenced by Digicel is difficult to accept. Here is one case where, if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's illogical to think it’s a dog. I have met very few people who believe there isn’t some link between OHara’s actions and his Digicel links. Who can blame them? Assuming that Digicel was behind this, then, depending on one’s perspective, this could either be the marketing coup of the year on Digicel’s part, for which it must be commended, or the company stooped to some unethical levels which it should not have gone and should be condemned. Whichever view you take, I'm prepared to see this in a different light. The dynamics are changing and we should have seen this coming. It was going to happen sooner or later. Last week, I wrote how Champs was arguably the biggest event on our social calendar. I'm not restricting it merely to sports, because Champs has now long outgrown being just an athletics festival and is now a bona fide cultural item. I wrote how the 'big man' benefits from purchasing mass tickets and selling them on the black market. Everyone now wants a piece of the pie. O'Hara’s and Jaheel Hyde’s link with the two telecommunication companies should come as no surprise. The rivals know that there is mileage to get from Champs. Champs is too big an event for events of the kind not to have taken place eventually. At Champs time, ISSA makes money, the media houses make money, the sponsors get mileage. It was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Even if we accept Ohara’s story that he did it on his own, Digicel can't deny that the act would have done them a world of good. LIME would have spent millions to get the visibility that Champs offers. Digicel got that visibility by spending nothing. It's probably unfortunate, but this is business, not a gathering of church members. Finally, we are now seeing companies going after the athletes. I'm happy for that. For too long everybody else benefited financially from Champs except the real stars themselves, the athletes who are the main products. Many among us want to behave as if the sole purpose of school is for children to pursue academic excellence, and yet, quite strangely, we bomb-rush the stadium every year to see the athletes perform. If nothing else, we are now realising how important sport is, and by extension how important the athletes are. We have always used the cliché, sports is a business. The events over last weekend have brought that home in no uncertain manner. In time, we will see OHara’s act for what it was: the day when we accepted that athletes have a value that far exceeds their ability to run, jump and throw.
- Orville Higgins is a journalist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org