Orville Higgins | Be careful when drawing lines, JAAA
The president of the JAAA, Dr Warren Blake, was in the Observer earlier this week saying that the organisation will now toughen its stance on those who wish to switch allegiance from Jamaica to compete for another country.
Under IAAF rules, athletes are allowed to compete for another country after sitting out a period of 12 months once their country of origin doesn't object. If their country of origin objects, the athletes would then need to sit out for three years before representing the new country. Dr Blake and his executive never objected before. Now he is singing a different tune.
"Previously we allowed the athletes, if they wanted. The executive is (now) of the view that we should object in the future and make them wait the mandatory three years ... ."
The about-turn by the JAAA executive is curious. Why would it have a problem making it as easy as possible for athletes who want to make the switch? The case at hand is that, of 400m runner Shericka Williams. At the last World Championships, Jamaica had four females in the 400m final, and Shericka Williams was not among them. The four were Christine Day, Stephanie McPherson, Shericka Jackson, and Novlene Williams-Mills. This same quartet handed Jamaica the gold medal in the 4x400m relay.
Shericka Williams is now 30 years old and the likelihood of getting a spot as an individual in the 400m for Jamaica is getting more and more remote. She is not competing at the same level that saw her running an impressive 49.69 to win silver in the 2008 Olympics or 49.32 to do same at the World Championships a year later. She has not competed in the flat 400 for Jamaica since the World Championships in Daegu in 2011. Subsequent to that, she had applied to the JAAA to switch allegiance to Bahrain, a wish to which JAAA originally never raised any objection.
The Observer carried a story two days ago that Bahrain had had a change of heart regarding Shericka Williams, which is surprising. To make matters even more interesting, Dr Blake himself said, "I don't know the details of the situation, but our understanding is that she was not among those athletes who were granted a transfer of allegiance by the IAAF. I am not certain why."
The plot is apparently thickening. So now, virtually out of the blue, the JAAA has decided that it will start objecting to athletes who want to represent another country.
I sought answers. I spoke to the JAAA president on my radio show on KLAS ESPN Sports FM Wednesday. He seemed unsure why his executive (he was keen to say it wasn't necessarily him) had taken that decision. He did bring up the point that some of the athletes who wanted to transfer allegiance wouldn't be living in Bahrain but would still stay here. He said it as if he somehow felt that that was an immoral position for them to take. He didn't elaborate on that point, however, despite my best efforts to get him to.
Dr Blake did ask a great question of me, though. He asked, "Where would we draw the line?" He raised the point that the JAAA could not just, willy-nilly, not object to athletes who wanted to represent other countries because this could lead to a mass exodus of our best talent. He asked, what if Bolt, for example, wanted to switch allegiance. What should the JAAA do? I told him that the JAAA should let him go, if that's the case, but Dr Blake (or his executive) didn't agree. He reminded us that a certain African country had about 18 people who had switched over to Bahrain, which had raised serious questions over the credibility of the sport.
His concern is understandable, even though I don't agree with the position he takes. No federation would willingly agree to any scheme that could see their best talent being taken away from them in that way. Dr Blake has a duty to preserve our track and field standing, and I can see where he is coming from when he is a little reluctant to not object to our top athletes going off to compete for another country.
The case of Shericka is different, however. She hasn't represented Jamaica in her pet event as an individual for years. Surely, an exception can be made for athletes like her. To Dr Blake's question of where we should draw the line, my advice to him is this: For athletes who have not represented Jamaica in a time span of, say, two years, in their pet event, allow them to go if they want. They have a family to feed, and it's unfair to object to them going if they can't make our national team. Not allowing them to go is counterproductive and does no good to anyone really.
The JAAA needs to rethink this one.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.