Fund the athletes, but entertainers more
A few nights ago, one local television station carried the story of local track and field athletes begging for help in their day-to-day living. It was, on the surface, a touching story, made even more dramatic when we saw the thick-set Jason Morgan literally crying. The story must have struck a nerve.
Within days, after that emotional outpouring, we are now seeing where the Government has now decided to "facilitate the provision of additional resources for athlete development and welfare fund". The money, said to be in the region of $40 million, will now ensure that Jamaica's athletes will be fitted with health-insurance coverage to a scale that was never there before. Additional assistance, we are told, will also be provided.
The money was originally intended for a massive celebration for our athletes that just returned from the World Championships in Beijing. It's only fair to mention here that the business of a homecoming celebration for our athletes follows no particular pattern. It's done, apparently according to how the Government feels at the end of these global track meets.
Already, the cynics among us feel that this move by the Government is being made with one eye on the upcoming general election, which is largely expected before year end. Those who are of that mindset feel that the Government is merely capitalising on the euphoria generated by our athletes and feel that they will earn some marks from the common man if the Government is seen to be "doing something" for those who made us proud in China.
Right in the midst of all this we are now hearing that the Trelawny Multi-Purpose Stadium will now be rebranded with the venue to be named after Usain Bolt. Bolt is, without question, Jamaica's favourite citizen, and if the Government is indeed pandering to the masses, they could not have gone about it any better way.
Now as one who has been involved in sports all my life, I can never begrudge anything that is given to athletes. I know as well as anyone how difficult the process is from fledgling talent to international success. I know how important it is for them to get any support they can get.
worth their while
What I am struggling with is the belief by some that because you are an international athlete, you are entitled to any money from the public coffers. No one forced anyone to become an athlete. That is a conscious decision that each athlete makes. The good ones will always earn enough money on the circuit to make it worth their while. It's the average ones, the ones that are second and third tier at the global level, who are struggling and asking for assistance.
Why should these second-tier athletes be entitled to anything from Government that other professionals don't get? Are athletes more important in the scheme of things than teachers and policemen and nurses? Professionals all need help in their formative years, the same way athletes do, but other professionals, by and large, have to foot their own bills until their talents are recognised and appreciated enough for them to earn from. Why should athletes be seen and treated any differently?
Whenever that question is asked, the answer always comes back to the argument that the athletes help to advertise Jamaica. We are told that their performance markets us in a huge way and that it is only fair for them to benefit somehow. That, plus the feel-good factor they provide and the sense of patriotism they instill in all of us.
All of this may be true, but if so, we must be consistent. Our musicians, I would argue, do just as much, if not more, than our athletes in putting Jamaica "on the map". Our reggae practitioners have for years and years ensured that Jamaica remains one of the best-known cultures in the world. We depend heavily on tourism for survival, and I would argue that more tourists are keen on coming to Jamaica because of our exploits in music than our abilities in athletics. So where is the money donated to them?
The next Bob Marley may be forced to still be hustling bag juice because no producer is prepared to spend the time and effort to hone his career. And as to the feel-good factor? I would argue that more Jamaicans, more often, feel good about 'skanking' to Beres and Assassin and 'gun-fingering' to Bounty Killer than they do to our athletes.
Our athletes make us feel good every two years or so at these global meets; these reggae acts make us feel good every night! So, sure, do what we can for our athletes, but I'm not convinced that they deserve this massive injection of funds more than anybody else.
- Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.