DAZZLING GLOBAL STARS, WEAK SUPPORT STRUCTURE
Phenomenal Jamaica failing to use its sporting capital wisely
Adrian Frater, News Editor
Despite being, arguably, the chief architect of one of Jamaica's most significant sporting accomplishments - the nation's historic qualification for the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France, Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) boss, Captain Horace Burrell, does not believe enough is being done to maximise the nation's mammoth global presence.
"The simple answer is no," said Captain Burrell, when asked if Jamaica is spending the sporting capital it has earned through its athletes. "One of the challenges we have is a lack of finances ... . I would hope to see the day come when a percentage of the Tourism Enhancement Fund is made available to develop our sporting infrastructure."
There is no question that, despite being a small-island nation of fewer than three million people, Jamaica is a global power on the international stage, thanks to the tireless exploits of iconic superstars like sporting legends Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, among others.
It was, therefore, no surprise that, after Jamaica's phenomenal exploits at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, where the athletes garnered five individual gold medals and one relay gold medal, the highly respected Lamine Diack, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, went public with his praise of Jamaica's culture of sporting excellence.
However, while Jamaica continues to make bold strides globally through the achievements of the sporting stars, the shoddy state of the supporting infrastructure is negatively impacting the nation's capacity to generate significant earnings in related areas.
"There is no question that sports draws the passion of the Jamaica people and provides inspiration and hope," said Burrell. "We don't have oil ... we don't have gold and we don't have diamonds, but what we have is a magnificent sporting product which, if managed properly, has the capacity to bring us untold wealth."
Jamaica's failure to maximise the opportunities created by the exploits of its sportsmen and women to further develop sports is not lost on former Reggae Boyz coach and hero of the 1998 World Cup, Theodore 'Tappa' Whitmore.
"We are not doing enough to move sports in Jamaica," said Whitmore. "Our facilities are not keeping pace with what is happening in the wider world ... . It is a shame that so many years have passed since 1998, yet the only thing we can use to measure where we want to go in football is still France '98."
Despite the global opulence of its athletes, the nation lacks the capacity to generate the top dollars that would come from staging major events. Even so, Captain Burrell believes sports is ready to upstage other sectors on which the country has depended for growth.
The captain wants to see any plans to prepare the country to tap into global sports, which is a multibillion-dollar industry, undertaken immediately.
Budget for Growth
"I want to see the day when a certain percentage of our Budget is put towards the creation of sound sporting infrastructure ... Jamaica is more known for its sporting prowess and sporting achievements than anything else." He said further, "I believe the money is here, but it needs to be redirected ... the same way we build schools, we could also look at creating sporting infrastructure ... if we plan wisely, we could create a major industry out of sports. I know the prime minister has a passion for sports and I believe that she just needs to put her (foot) down and make sure that sports gets its due reward for what it has done for this country."
In Montego Bay, the nation's premier tourism destination, the St James Parish Council recently announced plans to venture into sports tourism with a view to making Montego Bay the sporting capital of the Caribbean.
"We have some of the world's best golf courses, world-class hotels and wonderful climate to start with," said Montego Bay's mayor, Councillor Glendon Harris, while speaking at the recent launch of the Caribbean Cup Football Tournament in Montego Bay. "Our aim now is to become the top sports-tourism destination in the entire Caribbean."