A galaxy of stars - Jamaicans list sporting feats as the country’s top achievements since 1962
Merlene Ottey, Michael Holding, Lindy Delapenha, Deon Hemmings, and the list could go on and on of the sporting greats who have emerged from Jamaica since Independence, and their achievements on the world stage have caused Jamaicans to rate sporting feats as the country's greatest achievement since the country moved from being a British colony.
A just-concluded Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll found that one in every four Jamaicans believes the sporting feats outrank infrastructure/roads (17 per cent) and education (11 per cent) as the greatest achievements since 1962.
"It is not surprising," said long-serving sports administrator Mike Fennell, as he responded to the findings of the poll which was conducted islandwide from June 9 to 11 with 1,500 respondents and a sampling error of plus or minus two per cent margin.
"Sports play a key role in uniting the country as well promoting good physical and health habits," said Fennell.
"On the international scene, a lot has been achieved over the period. Many persons would only be thinking of the current success but there are many high points over the decades, starting with the 1962 Central American and Caribbean Games which cause us to have the National Stadium complex," said Fennell, who at 27 years old captained Jamaica's water polo team.
1973 clash increased euphoria
Fennell, who stepped down as president of the Jamaica Olympic Association in June after 40 years of service, argued that the hosting of the 1966 Commonwealth Games and the 1973 mega boxing clash between Joe Frazier and George Foreman greatly increased the euphoria around sports in Jamaica in its entirety.
The 2002 World Junior Championships in Athletics held in Kingston and widely credited with exposing then 15-year-old sprint sensation Usain Bolt to the world was also referenced as a high point by Fennell.
"These were all remarkable, high-profile events that we successfully hosted with limited facilities and resources. At the individual level, we've had so many heroes, from Donald Quarrie to Mike McCallum, and now the fantastic Usain Bolt.
"Nationally, we've had a broadening of the sports landscape across the island, particularly in athletics, cricket and football. Boys and Girls' Champs have also taken on new dimensions as people continue to realise how integral sports are for human development," added Fennell.
He argued that the sporting feats which continue to leave international audiences in awe while evoking national pride wouldn't be possible without the high-quality local coaching and support services.
But Fennell argued that while more than 50 years has seen significant improvements to sporting infrastructure, the country is still woefully short in this regard.
"We're short of facilities for recreation and practising, not just for competing or world events. For a country that has done very well at sports, we don't have good-quality fields for cricket, football, netball, badminton. It has always been a struggle, the government has tried to have some input but it can be far better.
"The individual sports associations that are responsible for each of the sports have endeavoured but are desperately short of resources, which hamper their progress. In spite of all that, we must be thankful for what we've achieved, which is quite a lot," said Fennell.