Patria-Kaye Aarons | Ministry of Sport – biggest Jamaican 'wagonist|
The 2016 Olympics has ended and the world knows Jamaica's name. Now that we've won our many medals and the euphoria lingers, the talk now is about leveraging the success of our athletes.
It's time we ask a pertinent, and perhaps uncomfortable question. Have we done enough for our athletes to ride on their coat-tails? The athletes did their part, but what did our Government do to get them there? What has our Ministry of Sport, past and present, really done for our athletes or the development of sport in general?
These are questions I've had long before the Olympics, but not wanting to be a Debbie-downer, I decided to leave them alone. However, the track guard is changing. The veterans are leaving the competitive arena this year. We will most likely lose VCB, Shelly-Ann, Usain, and Asafa; and those four were, in part, responsible for eight of our 11 medals. So what next?
Will we simply sit, in years to come, and reminisce about the good old days? Or will we reinvent ourselves and reinvest in a new wave of athletics. Twenty-eight sports were contested in the 2016 Olympics, and Jamaica participated in only four. We fielded athletes in track and field, and one each in diving, swimming and gymnastics.
The last three, to be fair, we can't really claim as Jamaican successes. Those athletes got there on their own, with little or no help from Jamaica. We are happy to claim them as ours, but have no idea how they got there. We did the same with the equestrian last year. Much like the deadbeat dad who is proud of his big son.
The National Sports Policy was published back in March 2013. It is a lengthy, detailed file with what seems a clear direction. The vision: "To transform Jamaica into one of the most engaged and successful sporting nations in the world." It aims to have Jamaica continue to win the most medals in any international event in which we compete.
Mission accomplished for track, but for how long? And what of other sports?
When last have our officials sighted an athlete with potential and said, "What does he need to get better?" And provided that thing. When last has someone taken up the list of Olympic sports and said, "Let's put some effort and energy into developing a new sport," and actively made an effort to do so?
The only talk we hear of is, "How can Government and the country benefit from the success of our athletes?" This is all after the athletes have attained their success through great personal and financial sacrifice. Other than attending the Games and cheering the athletes on and appearing in the photo ops, what are we doing to secure Jamaica's place in sport history?
Jamaica can't begin to repay Usain what we are indebted to him for the attention, exposure and visitors he alone has brought to this island. His insistence on shooting commercials here has given work to local film crews and has attracted global eyes to Jamaica's beauty.
ALTERNATIVES AND OUTLETS
So many track athletes from other countries have confessed to coming to Jamaica to train with Usain under Glen Mills, or admitted to wanting to do so in the future. It's flattering but should also be seen for the threat it is. Once these foreign athletes learn what we do, they are coming for our medals. And then what?
According to the 2013 National Sport Policy, an interim impact assessment is to be undertaken in 2017. A revised policy is to be drafted in 2020, yet the first policy still has not been executed, let alone produced any meaningful results.
What's the sense of these fat documents that only gather dust on shelves?
The Economic Growth Council shouldn't only be focused on attracting investors to build hotels. We have only so much beachfront. What we do have are 2.7 million people who excel at whatever they touch. The 2.7 million people who right now, if they don't get viable alternatives and outlets, are turning to crime faster that corporate Jamaica can employ them.
Our athletes have done well for us. Develop swimming so that the next Alia can be attractive to Speedo. Develop trampoline so that criminals can stop scaling walls and jump for a different kind of living. Develop shot put so little boys who stone green mangoes can grow up to make their mummies proud.
I challenge our government officials to stop being bandwagonist to Jamaican athletes. Instead, chart a course for the future. Think bigger. Think beyond your term in office. We may be leading in the sprints now, but if we don't take action, the world will leave us in their dust, and we would only have ourselves to blame.