Foster's Fairplay | The JAAA and the way forward
As it seemed likely, the highly respected orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Warren Blake, will be the president of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) for the next four-year cycle. Despite whispers of opposition to a repeat term, there was no showing at the time of asking to topple the Kingston College old boy.
The near-miss politician had assumed the office in 2010 on the sudden passing of the then incumbent, Howard Aris, another product of the North Street institution, from which sterling contribution to the sport has become a brand. Two years later, Dr Blake faced the electorate and secured his own mandate.
Foster's Fairplay will be silent as far as judgement is concerned on the gains or losses accruing to the sport during Dr Blake's tenure. What mostly concerns this columnist are the animated actions, albeit in words only, that spoke to the need for him to be replaced. They came from persons, some close to the seat of power, who felt that the image to carry track and field forward was absent. As to what happened to these dissenting voices, as it drew closer to election time, remains a mystery. They seemed to have disappeared as if they saw no future in making their mark and having it counted. How will that refusal to be a part of a new paradigm affect the nation's most successful sport?
Great strides in track and field had been made before the advent of Dr Blake in the steering role. It all came to fruition at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, adding the Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell, Shelly-Ann Fraser and Melaine Walker golden glory to the exploits of the McKenleys, Wints, Rhodens, Quarries and Otteys of previous years. The groundwork that brought all this honour to the fore was laid by a combination of Aris and his predecessor at the helm, the late Teddy McCook. One is sure that Dr Blake will credit a substantial portion of his readiness to take over to the mentorship and grooming provided by those two stalwarts. However, there can be little doubt he will agree that more needs to be done. The country cannot hope to rest comfortably on the achievements of those named and not put programmes in place to maintain the global impact that has been made. One has only got to look at the continuing demise of the once all-powerful West Indies cricket team for an illustration of the result of neglect.
Track and field, while enjoying the image with which it is now blessed, should be steered clear of that downward and depressing slide. There is one major and almost all-encompassing project that Blake and his new executive is urged to undertake. The performance of Jamaica's junior athletes on the world scene is extremely disappointing. The world renowned Champs is gaining more popularity as it continues to produce athletes of supreme quality at a rate that is satisfying. What is not, is the sustenance of the performances going into the international competition three months after the March/April showcase.
This shortfall on what was promised from the early showing needs to be addressed. The new JAAA regime, hopefully refreshed in certain areas that have come up wanting, has got to create a junior programme to take care of the athletes during the post-Champs period. Funds must be identified and earmarked to meet the attendant cost. No longer can it be left to the schools to meet these expenses, as they are already strapped for funds to carry out other core functions. The old boys and old girls of the schools tend to carry the programmes up to the Penn Relays with little focus on what comes up after.
The approach that is being asked of the JAAA is nothing new and it should include a sector for personal development, as previously existed. Athletes need self-confidence and self-belief, which can only enhance their performances on the track.
All that said, the new Dr Blake team is what the sport has to take it through another four years. It now has to come to the party and dance to the ultimate benefit of the image the country needs to maintain.
The band has started playing.