Jamaica too good for Carifta Games?
A few months ago, netball president Marva Bernard made the announcement that maybe Jamaica had outgrown the regional netball competition and that the JNA may well have to look at other tournaments to send our teams.
Her argument was that taking part in the Caribbean tournament does not help our netballers because the standard of the competition was low and we don't benefit from playing with inferior opponents. Ms Bernard did get some criticism from some quarters, but the argument had its merits. We win virtually every time we play in the region in netball, whether at the youth or senior levels, usually by huge margins, and one could understand the JNA's position.
The more I think about it, the more I feel that maybe similar sentiments should be echoed about our participation in the Carifta Games. The Carifta Games was a wonderful idea when it was first conceptualised more than four decades ago. Any arena that puts together the best young athletes from the region would have been welcomed at the time. But like with everything else in life, maybe we do need a rethink.
Jamaica has now won the Carifta Games well over 30 years straight. Once a Carifta tournament is staged, the only question is how many medals Jamaica will win and whether or not we will better the previous year's haul. A cursory look at the facts will tell you of Jamaica's dominance. Apart from topping the medal standings perennially, we dominate the record books, too. We hold 10 of the 21 Under-20 men's records. We hold or share 11 of the 17 women's Under-20 records.
We pile up medal after medal. Maybe the time has come to ask, to what end? The athletes will all tell you that a Carifta medal doesn't have nearly the same value as a medal at Champs. To many of them, Carifta is an anticlimax of their season. They will go for the plane ride or the thrill of travelling to another country, and there's nothing wrong with that, but as far as performances go, the Carifta Games doesn't have the same prestige for them.
Added to this is the quality of the meet itself in terms of the logistics. I have spoken to athletes who tell me that the difference in the logistics between Champs and the Carifta Games is like cheese to chalk, and that they end up feeling disappointed. They complain about a lot of things, including events going off on time, the track judges' understanding of the rules, and a whole host of other matters. We have listened to the commentators on this meet, we have seen the camera work, and the whole package looks like people 'trying a thing'.
Every good track meet thrives on potential match-ups and the anticipation that builds to see two or three athletes meeting up in an event. This is how it is in the Olympics and the Worlds, and the international youth tournaments. This is not the case with Carifta. Nobody in each island seems to know, or care, who are the the top competitors in the other islands. Without this pre-match hype between the top athletes around the region, the Carifta Games doesn't become the proving ground that it should be, but a meet where athletes just turn up and compete with little fanfare.
Something has to change. I am not suggesting that we scrap Carifta altogether, or stop sending Jamaicans there. I just feel, however, that we need to make some adjustments. One way is to build up the pre-Carifta rivalry. The organisers need to find a way to let all of us know who are the best in the top events in the Caribbean and create an atmosphere where the meet is billed that way.
I also feel that some of our best athletes, especially in the sprints, have nothing to gain from going to Carifta. They are not stimulated or motivated to do well at Carifta, especially if they had a great Champs. A Michael O'Hara, for example, would have gone to Carifta and reasoned that whatever he did, he would have already had an outstanding season.
The other thing organisers could do is to get help from Jamaicans every year to help with the logistics and, indeed, the on-air coverage. People like Bruce James and Hubert Lawrence are among the best track minds in the world, and there is no reason why they should be in Jamaica twiddling their thumbs while some novices 'try a thing'. We need to find a way to make Carifta a better meet. Right now, it's become routine and boring.
- Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host on KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.