Fri | Feb 23, 2018

Our athletes need help - JAAA boss

Published:Tuesday | January 9, 2018 | 12:00 AMAndrÈ Lowe/Sports Editor
Yanique Thompson in action during a heat of the 100m hurdles at the IAAF World Championships in London, England, last August.

With his administration spending over $19 million towards athlete welfare during the last fiscal year, President of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA), Dr Warren Blake is calling for the Government's assistance in helping the country's less-supported athletes in their preparation and development.

The spend contributed to the JAAA's total expenditure of $305 million for the period; this against a gross operating income of $249 million, which represented a $55 million net deficit on the association's books as at September last year.

It should be noted that incoming revenue flow from sponsorship payments and a short-term bank loan in anticipation of additional payments has since reduced that figure, but Blake is hoping that the Government will lighten their burden by again offering welfare support.

In 2015, the Government committed $40 million towards athlete welfare during their preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. However, despite promising to continue this subvention, no subsequent support for the JAAA's welfare programme has been forthcoming.

"This year, we spent far more on athletes' welfare than we have in the past, and we looked at the reason for this. In the lead-up to Rio 2016, the Government had put in place an athlete support programme, which unfortunately wasn't continued this year," Blake lamented.

"I think it's absolutely necessary that the Government come back and give us some support and inject some cash into the programme because if that doesn't happen, then it means that people like Yanique Thompson, who came fourth (100m hurdles semi-finals at the 2017 World Championships) will not be able to train full-time," Blake told The Gleaner. "There are others like her who can qualify, but they need that support."

"The Government expressed a wish to continue the programme, but the funds were not forthcoming. We had athletes who needed support, and in today's world, you will not become a good athlete unless you can basically train full-time, because being a top-class athlete is a full time endeavour. After having the support (ahead of) Rio and the funds wasn't forthcoming from Government (last year), we had to dig into our reserves and utilise some money that we had set aside to finish our building and use that to help the athletes instead," Blake added.

BIGGER SPEND

Last year's spend was also considerably more than the $5 million to $8 million that the JAAA usually forked out on a yearly basis prior to 2015-2016. This, Blake explained, was due to the increasing number of athletes, who are achieving world-standard marks.

"The teams have been getting bigger. When we have more athletes making standards, we try to give them the best opportunity. We don't just send people who we think are medal prospects, we send people who we think can benefit from the exposure, but that puts a burden on the resources," said Blake.

Close to 60 athletes benefited from the JAAA assistance programme last year.

During the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with the Government's support, tier 1 athletes - those without a contract, who had achieved World Championship and Olympic qualifying standards, were given a monthly stipend of US$600 (approximately $70,000) to offset their training expenses. Blake said the JAAA has had to lower that amount so that more athletes could benefit last year.

Sports Minister Olivia 'Babsy' Grange was locked in a marathon Cabinet meeting last night and could not respond in time.

It should be noted that the government currently spends $60 million a year on implementing the Jamaican Athletes' Insurance Plan (JAIP), which provides group health, life and personal accident coverage for beneficiaries aged seven to 75. It covers athletes drawn from 28 of the 40 local sports associations and is being funded by the Sports Development Foundation, the National Health Fund, the Tourism Enhancement Fund, and the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education Fund.