Sun | Jan 21, 2018

Tony Becca | Government pays its way, and more

Published:Sunday | September 4, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange (left) greeting Jamaica Paralympic athletes Shane Hudson (right), Dana-Gaye Weller (centre) and Alphanso Cunningham at a recent Jamaica Paralympic Association press conference at the Jamaica Olympic Association office in Kingston.

The Rio Olympics is now history, and once again the accomplishments of the Jamaica's athletes, especially double sprint champions, Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson, have left many, as usual, calling on the Government to do all sorts of thing, including funding a museum, erecting a statue, and providing money regularly for the athletes.

This is the call from the people, and it is a reasonable one, especially considering what the athletes have done, or what sportsmen and sportswomen have done for this country.

And although, because of Bolt and company, it may be greater now, it has been so for a long, long time. Jamaica's name has been ringing around the world since the coming of men and women like George Headley, Herb McKenley, Donald Quarrie, Michael McCallum, Merlene Ottey and Deon Hemmings to name a few.


Government's effort


While it is true, and while the honour and the treatment of the athletes are well deserved, it is important that we make note of the Government's effort to play its part and that we ignore all talk of the Government doing nothing and only "jumping on the bandwagon".

It is true that I once said the same thing of the Government, but that was when I was much younger.

"When I was a child, I spoke (or wrote) as a child, I understood as a child ..."

The older I became, however, the more knowledgeable, I believe, I became, and that was because of my involvement in sports, in games like table tennis, cricket, and football, and in national affairs, like the Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year award, the now forgotten Hall of Fame, the National Council on Sports (NCS), and the Institute of Sports.

Because of all those involvement, I knew of the Government's love for sports and their efforts to help in whatever way they could. Apart from handing out hard cash, their assistance included waivers on duty and things like that.

I had heard of Norman Manley's love for sports, and I knew of Michael Manley's love for it, especially when he set up a short-lived ministry dedicated entirely to sports in the 1970s, and when he assigned four people with the task of working out how much it would cost to prepare a national team to qualify for the World Cup of football.

I also know of Edward Seaga's love for sports, especially for football, and also of the love for sports by P. J. Patterson and by Portia Simpson-Miller, one for cricket especially, and the other for football, in particular.

In fact, I remember when Seaga and Simpson-Miller were the ministers in charge of sports before they became the country's prime ministers.

Yes, as far as I am concerned, the many governments of Jamaica loved sports, and that is still the case. They know the importance of sports to the people, they spend some of the people's money, and some of their own, on sports, and they encourage the private sector to spend some of their money on sports.

The problem is that the Government sometimes spends its money without going through the proper channels.

In 1993 or thereabouts, the Jamaica Football Federation, through captain Horace Burrell, came to the NCS and asked for money to fund the France 1998 World Cup football campaign.


Sporting disciplines


The JFF got the money, the Government asked the country to "band its waist for the time being", and Jamaica created history by qualifying for the first time for the World Cup.

Jamaica does well in supporting sports. There are some 30-odd sporting disciplines in Jamaica , and each and every one of them depends on the public purse for funding.

The associations stage regional tournaments, most of them stage international tournaments, and the Government sometimes hears about these tournaments at the last minute, when the associations fail to get private-sector assistance and the hand goes out for financial help.

They also travel to overseas events almost daily, with the Government sometimes getting involved, also at the last moment.

All the talk about "bandwagon jumping" is nonsense.

Apart from private-sector funding, where do all the schools, the hundreds of them, get money to stage sport days, to have meets all over the island, and to put on competitions for all the many sports at the various age groups all over the island?

How do they travel? Where do they stay? And what do they eat on these occasions?

And where do the many, many clubs around the country get the money to participate in the many sports right around the island?

And how were things like the Central American and Caribbean Games, the Commonwealth Games, the Sunshine Showdown, the Johnny Walker World Championship, the Manley Games and other international events, like Test cricket, staged down the years?

I am sure no other country of comparable size and economy ever even attempted these kind of things.


Insurance scheme


Right now, some athletes get a little money from the Government, an insurance scheme is on the way, and most athletes, at least the good and promising ones, get help whenever they ask for it.

Maybe past governments were guilty of lack of support, but it is silly to talk about recent governments being "wagonists" when they spend as much as they can from the little they have.

The Government pays the salaries of hundreds of sports officers through the Institute of Sports and also provides many playing fields around the country, and the Sports Development Foundation is like a "feeding tree" for people in sports.

The Government cannot afford to spend more money on sports, not in the present climate, and not when there are troubling things to look about.

What the Government needs to do is to try and change Jamaica socially, and if it wants to spend more on the deserving athletes, and on sports generally, it needs to invest in making money, more money, from sports.

Right now, however, a request for a statue, and only of Bolt, is perfectly understandable.