Editorial | JAAA arbitrary and vindictive
If what the president, Warren Blake, signals holds true, we sense that the JAAA, the administrative body for track and field athletics in Jamaica, is, in the aftermath of the Shericka Williams case, about to become arbitrary and vindictive with Jamaican athletes who want to switch allegiance and perform for other countries.
That, apparently, wasn't, in the past, a problem. The JAAA didn't object. In the future, however, according to Dr Blake, the association intends to hold them to the minutiae of the rules or a competition sit-out of at least three years. Or, as some might frame it, have the perceived 'defecting' athlete sweat.
Ms Williams, in the context of Jamaica, is a second-tier athlete - a 400 metres runner who was good enough to gain a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and to repeat that feat in the World Championships a year later, but who lacks the consistency or charisma to be a major star. She is now 30 and heading to the end of her career.
In 2015, she apparently sought a no-objection certificate from Jamaica to switch allegiance to the rich Gulf emirate of Bahrain, which, in recent years, has been attracting good, if second-tier, or ageing athletes from other countries, to fast-track their own development. It is a practice not limited to Bahrain; others in the Gulf region have done it, as well as others in Asia and northern Europe.
For the athletes who make this transfer, it usually guarantees them economic support and places in national teams that were not assured in their previous countries.
But under the rules of the IAAF, the international governing body for athletics, an athlete would normally be ineligible to turn out for his new country "no earlier than three years following the date of acquisition of new citizenship" and pursuant to the athlete's application to the IAAF for a change of national status. This three-year restriction, however, may be reduced to 12 months with the agreement of the members concerned.
AGREEMENT GONE BAD
For some reason, which was not made public, whatever arrangement Ms Williams had with Bahrain seems to have fallen through, or the IAAF was unsatisfied with what was done. In the event, two other Jamaicans appear to be on course to making the switch.
Dr Blake, however, says that going forward, the JAAA will raise a priori objections to this change-of-status efforts by Jamaican athletes "and make them wait the mandatory three years", which he sees as "fulfilling the regulations laid down by the IAAF". We believe he misreads the IAAF's intent.
The IAAF, of course, has an interest in limiting the ability of rich countries merely poaching talent from poor ones, hence the three-year outside limit for transfers. At the same time, it is not intent on preventing rational decision-making in the interests of all parties, including athletes, hence the possibility of a one-year transfer period, if the parties agree. Indeed, three years out of competition for an athlete, especially an ageing one like Ms Williams, can be like a career-ending lifetime.
Further, while we understand nationalist sentiment and appreciate that Jamaica has a stake in athletes to whose development it has contributed, it seems cynical to block their search for fame and fortune elsewhere if they can't make the cut in the domestic set-up. Which is how Dr Blake appears - cynical. Individual cases must be treated on their merit.