Patria Kay Aarons: Cash in on Rio Games
The countdown is on in earnest. There are 101 days left to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In a little over three months, Jamaica's productivity and, if history is any indicator, crime will be at an all-time low. We will all be glued to our TV screens to watch our Jamaican athletes take on the world.
The Olympic Games, unlike any other competition, is very personal to us. Every time our athletes race, or jump, or throw, in our minds they represent our very selves. When Shelly-Ann runs, she runs on my behalf. When Alia swims, so do I. The successes and disappointments of every athlete directly affect the mood of not only the Jamaicans living here, but those around the world who carry Jamaica in their hearts.
In 2012, our 50th year of Independence, with a symbolic 50-member team, Jamaica took home 12 medals - four of every colour. We stepped out of those Games ranked 18th in the entire world and the feeling of pride was palpable.
By far my favourite advert from the 2012 Olympic Games in London was one put out by Puma. It made me shed real tears the first time I saw it. A silhouette of the back of Usain Bolt standing tall and proud was draped in the Jamaican flag - a stance that is customary when our athletes medal in their events. Usain was flanked by five simple words that read, "And then Jamaica conquered England." The triumphant trinity of what was accomplished, where it was accomplished, and the significance of the year was what every Jamaican needed to lift our spirits.
There can be no denying the emotional gains from the Olympics.
It warmed my heart to see the people of Port Antonio crowd around a screen in the town square watching the Schools' Challenge Quiz finals last month. It was a clear demonstration that the Half-Way Tree 'Time Square' concept was applicable and workable in any Jamaican community where persons had an interest in a televised event.
I appeal to corporate Jamaica on behalf of rural folk: share the excitement. And I encourage folks to mobilise themselves. Mount screens in small communities, in rural town squares, at bars and community centres. It perhaps is a worthwhile spend from constituency funds to rent speakers and a screen and invite constituents to watch the Games together in a shared space. Let's not just enjoy the races from the solitude of our homes, but let's get together and feel all right.
Both Usain and Asafa Powell have indicated on more than one occasion that this year's Games will mark the end of their competitive athletic careers. At the very least, both have declared that these will be their last Olympic Games - although Bolt recently toyed with the media that he might not quit - and any further competition will be for a short while to satisfy sponsorship commitments.
It marks the end of an era for Jamaica - and a missed opportunity.
Still relying on guesswork and gut feelings, neither of the two political administrations has yet to present a workable or, at least, testable blueprint to monetising Jamaica's sporting success.
Media reports suggest, Jamaica spent £1m on the last Olympic Village in London. What have we to show for it? A media briefing in August 2012 by the then Government left Jamaicans dissatisfied with the outcomes. It also attracted the wrath of the opposition spokespersons both on tourism and youth and culture.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. Beyond the bragging rights, how will this Government ensure that we benefit economically? Rio 2016 will prove doubly difficult. London was a facilitative market heavily populated by Jamaicans and people of Jamaican decent. Brazil is a very different terrain. Looking out for their own interests and safeguarding their own revenue, Brazil is not making it easy or financially favourable for products manufactured in other countries to enter the Olympic Village - and you can't blame them.
So the earning won't come from direct commerce as perhaps was the opportunity in the 2012 Games. We have beaches, Brazil has beaches. We have a vibrant party spirit, so does Brazil. Tropical weather. They have that, too. So the opportunity to translate brand equity into tourist arrivals will also be difficult during the Games.
We have to get more tactical and move past the feel-good in our hearts to the feel-better in our pockets. Making money for Jamaica from the Brazil Olympics is going to take real focus, imagination, and dogged determination. But if the athletes can pull through and do their part, Government shouldn't drop the baton.