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Not against switching ... But Neita-Headley says athletic body should guard against talent drain

Published:Wednesday | August 5, 2015 | 8:00 AMLivingston Scott
Major players gather during the announcement of a $28m sponsorship deal between LIME/FLOW and the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) at Terra Nova All Suites hotel yesterday morning. They are (from left) Ludlow Watts, treasurer, JAAA, Dr. Warren Blake, president, JAAA, Natalie Neita-Headley, Minister withour Portfolio with responsibility for sports and Stephen Miller, sponsorship and events manager, LIME/Flow.

Natalie Neita-Headley, minister without portfolio with responsibility for sports, is not against the practice of athletes switching allegiance, reasoning that people are going to take advantage of opportunities to improve themselves and their families.

While she is not against the switch, Neita-Headley - while in attendance at a press conference to launch LIME-Flow's $28 million sponsorship of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Associa-tion (JAAA) - warned that the country must protect against a

certain level of talent drain.

Over the past few months, up to five Jamaica athletes have declared their intentions to represent other nations, which has caused some public backlash.

However, Neita-Headley said because of Jamaica's rich talent in athletics and other sports, some local talents would have limited chances to represent the country, especially at major championships like the Olympics or World Championships.

"When we send footballers off after they bad up the (local) Premier League and they get signed to an English club, Jamaicans are happy because an opportunity has been created for a young athlete," the minister said.

"I am not happy for anyone to just leave our shores, but where opportunities arise and persons can take advantage of that opportunity, we should," she noted.

"I don't want to stifle our young people, to tell them that 12 of you are qualified to run, but you will never make it to an Olympics because you can't go below 9.7 or 9.8. But opportunities like that exist elsewhere and we must be able to look deeper than the surface.

"When the footballers leave, we are happy to let them go to find a new club. Sometimes our teachers leave or our nurses have to leave. So what I'm saying in the case of the athlete is that the JAAA uses this wisdom as to how and when we can do this so that we don't have a drain on our talent pool," she stressed.

In most, if not all, the recent cases where Jamaican athletes have switched allegiance, they have been offered lucrative payment packages in return for their service. However, Neita-Headley insisted that there is a process to handle these defections and the JAAA still has a say in whether an athlete stays or leaves.

"We have to understand there is a process. We have to sign off on these athletes. It's not like they can just get up and leave. The JAAA has to sign off, and in some cases, they have to wait from one to three years to compete for that country. So it's not like you can leave today and compete tomorrow," she pointed out. "But these offerings are probably more lucrative packages than we can afford.

"Our talent is sometimes too much for our little country to manage and so we can't sway our athletes to stay here full time and don't do anything else," Neita-Headley argued.

"It's impossible to pay them full time. We are grateful to those who are willing to stay and make the sacrifice and we are putting all in place for them to be able to stay. But even in that period, there are others who will find opportunities elsewhere. The JAAA decides on who goes and when because we don't want there to be a talent drain," she reiterated.