Student athletes not being exploited
Having made a deliberate attempt to look beyond the sensational and emotional outpouring surrounding the recent reports that track and field coaches within the Jamaican high-school system are signing endorsement deals on the behalf of student athletes for what is reported to be several thousands of United States (US) dollars below market value, I have come to the conclusion that this is all a non-issue.
Even before the president of the Jamaica Athletics Admi-nistrative Association (JAAA), Dr Warren Blake, came out and dismissed as a fallacy the notion that high-school student athletes can fetch endorsement deals worth between $50,000 and $150,000 US dollars on the open market, I was always sceptical about those numbers.
What initially inflamed the mob on this issue was the notion that these student athletes are being exploited because they are not getting anywhere near what they are worth on the open market.
With the validity of that market price now thrown into question, the point of contention then evolved to revolve around the spurious assumption that these contracts are being nefariously signed without the knowledge and consent of the legal guardians of the students, which in most cases are the parents.
Instructively, to date we have heard no parent of any student or any of the students themselves making any complaints about these contracts, and them being the victims of exploitation.
Anyone who is even vaguely familiar with what happens in our track and field at the high-school level knows that the vast majority of the parents of student athletes are totally trusting of the coaches of their children.
In many cases, these students were scouted and recruited by these very same coaches via the parents, invariably a bond of trust is developed over time amongst the athletes, the parents and the coaches which makes it highly unlikely that these kind of agreements would be reached without the knowledge and/or consent of the parents.
It is important that in assessing and analysing this still relatively new and evolving phenomenon in local high-school sports in Jamaica, that we take our noses out of the sky and face the Jamaican reality with prudent honesty. We all know the socioeconomic circumstances from which the majority of our talented and outstanding young athletes emerge. Generally, they are from poor, often single-parent backgrounds, and face the typical struggles of most poor Jamaican households, where it is a struggle financially even to send the children to school.
What has been happening from as far back as 2003, according to the initial report, is that some of these poor and needy student athletes have found a way to benefit financially from their athletic talent, which has enabled these students to complete their schooling and survive from day to day.
maintain amateur status
It is again, I think, fair to assume that based on the relative low-profile nature of these agreements, that most of these athletes and, indeed, their coaches are not prepared to formally go professional and in the process give up the benefits of their amateur status, which includes the possibility of being awarded scholarships to US colleges and universities, or competing at Champs and the Carifta Games and the Penn Relays, etc.
We can stand or sit here and deny the reality of what obtains in Jamaica all we want. We can even be moral until we are blue in the face.
The fundamental issue is that when all is said and done, and as is being suggested that the likes of the Inter-Secondary Schools' Sports Association (ISSA), the JAAA and, of course, the Government get involved, with the so-called streamlining and regulation of this practice, things will not be the way they used to be.
Ultimately, at least one door of assistance to several of our outstanding young athletes right now, and in the future, will be closed.