ISSA 'ambushed' with marketing ploy at Champs
Dr Walton Small, president of the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), organisers of the just-concluded GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletic Championships, admitted grave concern over the involvement of student athletes in guerilla marketing and promised stiff penalties in the future.
Small was speaking in reference to the Class One boys' 200m post-race celebrations of Calabar titan Michael O'Hara, who, after crossing the line in first place, shed his official Calabar team kit, revealing a green, red and white singlet with the words 'Be Extraordinary' - the tagline of telecommunications company Digicel, which shortly afterwards welcomed the 18-year-old as its newest brand ambassador.
Digicel is a direct competitor to LIME, an official sponsor of the championships.
Small admitted that ISSA was caught out by the marketing ploy, but warned that it would be looking at discouraging a repeat in an effort to protect sponsors and student athletes.
The Wolmer's Boys' School principal said that tough penalties - possibly ranging from points deductions to bans for athletes involved - may be implemented going forward, noting that the organisation would be seeking legal advice and that he would be meeting with Jamaica Athletics Admi-nistrative Association (JAAA) president, Dr Warren Blake, to discuss the matter on a wider scale.
"I have to confess that this is something that we will have to get expert advice on," Small said. "ISSA, as an organisation, will have to sit and look at this to make sure that corporate Jamaica does not infringe on the rights of the students and schools, and really what we saw in this case was something entirely new for us.
"Champs is getting bigger and better and the corporate giants will want to use it as a platform for marketing. We are very concerned, though, and we are seeing it for the first time where there is heavy ambush marketing and students are now being used.
"This is something that will have consequences for the students and the schools. It can affect students going to college overseas and we have to be very careful," added Small, referring to US collegiate rules, which stipulate that students with certain financial support are not eligible for athletic scholarships.
"We must warn as a first step and it could mean that the athlete could be sanctioned by losing points and the athlete might not be able to represent the country," Small said.
"This is going to force us at ISSA to look into our rules, educate our members and stakeholders, and be vigilant against any breaches," he outlined.
"This is a schoolboy and schoolgirl championships. You are here to represent your school. This is not about the individual and, therefore, we have to be mindful and have to make sure that corporate Jamaica does not exploit the students in any way. We know that in the amateur circles, there can be immediate sanctions. We will be meeting with the JAAA on Monday (today) to look at the rules that we must put in place to ensure that it doesn't happen," Small added.
The O'Hara endorsement represents Digicel's latest investment in Jamaican athletics. In addition to its foray into the local development circuit with the Digicel Grand Prix series, the company also sponsors the MVP Grassroots Clinic, along with standouts such as Javon Francis, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Usain Bolt.