Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Editorial: Wary of overreach, Mrs Neita-Headley

Published:Monday | April 20, 2015 | 4:00 AM

We, too, were appalled by Michael O'Hara's ambush-marketing tactic at the recent Boys and Girls' Athletics Championship, but more at those who may have induced the young sprinter, with perhaps limited appreciation of the ways of commerce and sanctity of contracts, to engage in such behaviour.

But young Mr O'Hara and his parents, and advisers, like those of that other talented schoolboy athlete, would have appreciated that by becoming pitchmen for corporate entities and being paid for their efforts, they were wandering out of the zones for amateurs and into the realm of professionalism.

It ought not to have been beyond them, too, that by so doing they would be ineligible for participation in school-based competitions in the United States, like the Penn Relays, and were foreclosing on options for scholarships to American universities.

But those are the choices they made, which must be respected. In any event, Messrs O'Hara and Jaheel Hyde are legally adults, thus entitled, in their own right, to enter such agreements.

It is against that backdrop that we note the de facto sports minister, Natalie Neita-Headley's, statement about an intent to work with Jamaica's high-school sports governing body, as well as the national body for athletics, "to develop policies to protect our athletes", apparently from the blandishment of corporate sponsors. She made the point specifically in the context of the two young athletes' ineligibility for the Penn Relays.

While we appreciate the minister's sentiment and her view that corporate sponsorship should not come at the expense of the "career development" of young athletes, Mrs Neita-Headley must be careful of overreach, either by herself, the Government more broadly, or by sporting bodies.

In Jamaica, like in many other countries of the world, organised amateur sporting events, like Champs, are possible because of corporate sponsorship. In these arrangements, the funding goes to the organisers of the event, rather than the participants. In that regard, the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association and similar bodies can declare their competitions as open only to amateurs, a status which must be clearly defined.

If athletes like Messrs O'Hara and Hyde step outside those guidelines, so as to establish themselves as professionals, that must be their choice. They ought not to be compelled by actions that would amount to restraint on trade to do otherwise.

The best the Government and institutions can do is to provide student athletes and their guardians and advisers with appropriate information, such as eligibility rules and options. But an overbearing State must not impose itself on the final decision.