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Government to direct policy draft for protection of student athletes

Published:Thursday | April 16, 2015 | 12:00 AMShayne Fairman
Neita-Headley

Concerned, yet planning ahead, Natalie Neita-Headley, minister with responsibility for sport, says it is only fitting that stakeholders develop policies and legal framework now to protect student athletes, while ensuring continued development through corporate sponsorship/support.

Her comments came following the ban by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) - that governs the world renowned Penn Relays - which prevents Michael O'Hara and Jaheel Hyde from representing their respective schools, Calabar High and Wolmer's Boys', at next week's Penn Relays.

The PIAA deems both athletes have been recipients of benefits, owing to their athletic potential and performance, which are not available to all students on their schools' team.

The two are contracted brand ambassadors to rivalling telecommunications firms Digicel and LIME.

Speaking at Tuesday evening's launch of the 2015 Jamaica International Invitational Meet (JII), at the Half-Way Tree Transport Centre in St Andrew, Neita-Headley says ministerial intervention is "necessary at this time".

"Our athletes continue to make us (Jamaica) proud and I want to take this opportunity to say to all of them, a grateful nation salutes you," she highlighted, of the recently concluded ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships.

"It is for this reason, ladies and gentlemen, as minister with responsibility for sport, I don't often get involved in the everyday workings and operations of our sporting federations and organisations.

"I tend to be more engaged in the policy, the framework that guides sport development, but I feel it is necessary at this time to intervene in the recent impasse that has occurred with our two high-school students - with Michael O'Hara and Jaheel Hyde - as it relates to their appearances in the Penn Relays," she continued.

Protecting athletes

"Coming out of this, I expect and intend to work with ISSA, to work with the JAAA and other governing bodies in sport, to ensure that we develop policies to protect our student athletes," she stressed.

"And while it's important to balance both, I dare say I want to continue to encourage our sponsors to support our student athletes, but how we support, where we support, who we support is going to be critical as we go forward," warned Neita-Headley.

She added that sponsorship must not come at the expense of the career development of any student athlete.

"It's important to note, also, that whilst the sponsors are to be thanked wholeheartedly for having taken this process from being just relaxation and competition, they have given our young people that competitive edge by giving so much towards the development of sport.

"But I want to ensure that we do it in such a way that our athletes are protected, their futures are protected, while the sponsors are able to contribute in a meaningful way to their development and to sport in general," the minister underlined.