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We could lose more athletes, says Bailey-Cole

Published:Thursday | July 23, 2015 | 12:00 AMLeighton Levy
Kemar Bailey-Cole of Racers Track Club.

In the wake of news that three Jamaican athletes have made requests to represent Bahrain, Commonwealth Games 100-metre champion Kemar Bailey-Cole is calling on the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association, (JAAA) corporate Jamaica and the Government to do more for its athletes.

Olympic and World Championship silver medallist Shericka Williams and emerging sprinters Andrew Fisher and Kemarley Brown are reportedly in the final stages of completing the process of representing Bahrain at the next Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil, next year, in a move that is seen as being mainly about securing financial security in a sport where pickings are slim for all but a few elite athletes.

Citing the challenges that athletes like him face on a daily basis, Bailey-Cole believes that if more is not done Jamaica could stand to lose more of its elite athletes to countries willing to pay for their talents.

"We are not getting the support from our association and many of us are living off small contracts," he said.

Using British athletics as an example, the World Championships sprint relay gold medallist said under that system athletes get paid according to their performance levels. British athletes, he said, are ranked in different categories and are paid accordingly, but at least they are getting money that help them to offset expenses.

But not only are the country's athletes not getting help from the JAAA, corporate Jamaica, he says, largely turns a blind eye to athletes like him.

Bailey-Cole has won relay gold medals at the Olympics and World Championships, and despite injury worries won gold at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2014. Despite his success, efforts by his agent in reaching out to corporate Jamaica have been rebuffed.

That leaves athletes like Bailey-Cole who live off those small contracts struggling to support their families, pay for coaching, expensive medical treatment, rent and nutrition, as well as taxes.

The JAAA, however, is only able to do so much and no more, as they have to work within a 'limited fiscal space'. "We would love to do much more," said JAAA General Secretary Garth Gayle. "But we are 95 per cent volunteers working with a limited financial budget."

Gayle explains that a budget is allocated to a fund to assist athletes in need and they meet more than half the demand each year. In some instances they are able to assist athletes in need for up to a year. "We try to do our best within a tight fiscal space," Gayle acknowledged.

He revealed that within the JAAA executive there is an athlete's welfare committee that is headed by Olympian Michael Frater. That committee reviews applications for assistance and then makes their recommendations to the board, who then decides who gets what.

Meantime, athletes requesting permission to represent other countries could be seen as becoming a trend, JAAA president, Dr Warren Blake, said earlier this week. For athletes like Bailey-Cole, that trend could become a snowball. "Other athletes are afraid to talk but many would jump at similar opportunities," he said.