Foster's Fairplay | Coaches deserve better
The Rio Olympics athletes celebration and awards package was announced by Minister of Culture, Gender Affairs, Entertainment and Sports Olivia Grange last week. It was rolled out as a three-day event, most appropriately slotted into the National Heroes weekend and would have its climax in western Jamaica, of which the Jamaica National 5K Run/Walk was a constituent.
The first affair - a reception for the athletes - hosted by the prime minister, happened on the lawns of Jamaica House last Friday. Then the actual presentation of tributes and prize monies took place at the Rio Sports Gala on Saturday at the National Indoor Sports Centre. The culmination of the celebratory activities took place at the Melia Braco Village in Trelawny.
One is not sure how coincidental this is, as the athletes function mirrors the prestige of the Merritone Reunion weekend's 26th anniversary, taking place simultaneously at the resort venue, formerly known as the Grand Lido.
Also announced at the press conference was the Government's intention to recognise and pay homage to four of the country's most outstanding athletes in recent times by commissioning statues in their honour.
Those named for this lifetime tribute were Veronica Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the worldwide acknowledged legend in his time, Usain Bolt.
There was an outcry from certain quarters that triple world record-holder Powell was not deserving of this accolade. Looking at his lack of success by not having a single gold medal at global events after a multiplicity of making final rounds, the youngest of a family of sprinters was even called a failure.
Another situation coming out of the minister's address was the cash incentives afforded all participants in the Rio spectrum, which included the often disrespected Paralympians. The range of amounts presented was from US$10,000 for individual gold medallists through to US$2,500 each to those who merely made the team, but not a final, to the lowest on the cash rung, an amount of US$1000 to coaches and officials.
Foster's Fairplay will not dignify the suggestion that Powell should not have a lasting monument to his performances by dwelling on it. Not to so reward him should be considered the closest thing to track and field vulgarity, if such a distasteful word can be borrowed from other less-than-decent exploits.
To even contemplate omitting the man whose pioneering role in the nation's sprinting prowess is so significant and seminal in charting the way to 9:58 (Bolt's current world record) is in stark conflict with sanity.
Where this column has a real issue with the minister is the bottom-of-the-ladder allotment to the coaches - a meagre US$1,000. It is indicative of a perception that those professionals do not really matter. Officials, for the most part, if not all, have their nine-to-five. They do not - and there is opening for dissent here - seek to remunerate themselves for the time they take off to represent their country.
Coaches are different. This is what they do, at home or on overseas assignments. Untold and unrewarded are the sacrifices they make to hone that primary-school-recruited talent and nurture and escort it to national focus and attention, that can lead to the professional level.
At that stage, that unfortunate coach and the important developmental role played are sometimes forgotten, as the new players and the now well-tuned athlete reaps all the benefits. Thankfully, the hitherto sidelined coaches are now 'smelling the roses'. They share the high-school training facilities with adult coaching sessions as they seek to have a slice of the bigger cake.
In all this, Foster's Fairplay is not speaking to the Rio contingent of coaches, a portion of whom have already seen the light and have stepped up a notch. The argument is an overall assessment of the thinking from above, that it is an arena where athletes alone rule supreme and those who prepare them to get the ultimate recognition are of little or no moment.
Perish that thought. Coaches deserve and must get greater respect. A paltry US$1,000 cannot cut it.