ISSA to vote on ethics code
Deepening concerns over multiple issues threatening high-school sports in Jamaica, including possible corruption involving compensation, education and transfer of student athletes, has prompted the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) to formulate a code of ethics, which principals are expected to vote on in June.
"It's a code of ethics that speaks to the role of principal and school and rights and protection of the child," explained ISSA vice-president, Keith Wellington, a day after the 2015 ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships. "... It deals with issues about how student athletes have been treated."
Among the pressing matters reportedly facing ISSA is the question of athletes being paid - by corporations and individuals - while still competing in high school, which could classify them as professionals.
According to ISSA, nothing in its rulebook addresses that issue.
"There is no regulation regarding amateur status," explained Wellington, who is also principal of St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS). "... ISSA has no regulation that speaks to professionalism in high-school sports."
However, if that is allowed to continue, it could severely damage student-athletes' chances of receiving scholarships from overseas universities, especially in the United States, where there are strict rules limiting compensation.
Locally, however, there is heightened concern that high schools are being exposed to too much influence from big spenders who, by entering a monetary bidding war over athletes, could tarnish the essence of high-school competition. In other words, whoever pays best gets the best.
"There is the danger of that happening," admitted Wellington. "It can create an imbalance in the competitiveness of the sport. It also brings the opportunity for students to be taken advantage of, in relation to their futures."
If an unchecked bidding war fully breaks out, some sources estimate, maximum 20 Jamaican high schools will be able to field competitive sporting teams. The rest don't have the resources.
The heavy influence of some corporate sponsors in high schools' athletic programmes, with the stipulation - usually unwritten - that prime athletes are channelled to the companies' interests post-high school, is another issue of concern.
For example, the athlete is influenced to join a particular club which receives support from that brand after he or she leaves school. If the school fails and the athlete goes elsewhere, there's risk the company would pull or reduce sponsorship to that high school.
"(The brand) expects that the coaching staff will push the athlete to a particular camp," Wellington explained. "If that's not done, then it could affect future contracts."
Checks with representatives of several institutions and keen observers of high-school athletics during 'Champs' revealed that Wellington's fears were not isolated.
According to a national track and field coach, high-school athletes are easy prey for high rollers who offer to fill a gap families often cannot.
"When they don't have anything and are offered something, they are tempted to take it," said the coach, who requested anonymity. "Sometimes it's hard to blame them."
More worrisome, according to Wellington, is that deals between student athletes and pitchmen are often struck without knowledge of the schools, which leaves the athletes without additional guidance.
"In many cases, the schools are totally oblivious to what's happening," he said. "It's the parents that are negotiating."
High-school observers believe some corporations have no great interest in the athletes' welfare beyond how well they can promote companies' products.
"What they're looking at is the cream of the crop, so their bottom line can be enhanced," said Wellington, who explained that STETHS has not been contracted by any major athletic- gear company. "It is not necessarily for helping the student."
talent must win
Some 174 high-school principals who make up ISSA are expected to vote to ratify the ethics code, according to Wellington. He declined to list specifics of the code, claiming he's not on the committee formulating it. But sources said it addresses issues like transfer of student athletes, as that is also viewed as a major concern, with some suggesting that maybe a transfer fee, like that which is used for example in professional football, be introduced. That, too, could open the floodgates for the highest bidders.
"You don't want to start something that the school with the deepest pockets always wins, rather than the ones with the best talent," said Wellington.
According to Wellington, ISSA has been working on the code of ethics for the past 18 months to two years. If ratified, the new rules would be implemented in September, the start of the new school year. He believes the issues need urgent attention.
"Where we are, there is a dire need to re-evaluate how we do things and to make the changes," Wellington said. "I don't think we can continue as we are ... I wouldn't say it's a crisis situation, but it's important."