Paul Wright | Corporate commitment needed for 'lesser' sports
The RJRGLEANER Sports Foundation National Sportsman and Sports-woman Awards last weekend was a fitting showcase for Jamaica's athletes, those who, through dedication, talent and sacrifice, brought not only glory and financial reward for themselves, but also unmitigated joy and pride to a nation anxious for reasons to celebrate.
Congratulations are in order for the winners Alia Atkinson, Sportswoman of the Year 2017, and Omar McLeod, Sportsman of the Year 2017. Based on the published criteria for selection, it was obvious that McLeod and Atkinson were the justified front-runners and the announcement of their victory came as no real surprise. Sports need heroes and heroines, and awards ceremonies like these showcase those who are worthy of celebration and praise.
In track and field, the retirement of the people's favourite, the iconic Usain Bolt, has left a void that yearns to be filled. The on-and-off-the-field performances and persona of Omar McLeod ensures us adoring fans that there is indeed a worthy replacement in Omar. He has promised to remain fit and focused, and those traits, along with his obvious talent, will ensure that at least for another four years, Jamaica's name and reputation as the sprint capital of the world will remain intact, no matter how fast Christian Coleman or any other young and upcoming sprinter runs in preseason.
On the night, not only track and field and swimming were the sports showcased and honoured. The so-called 'minor' sports also came in for praise and recognition. The guest speaker, Don Wehby, the CEO of the GraceKennedy Group, a long-time supporter and sponsor of several sporting associations, reminded the audience, and indeed the nation, of the importance of the continued corporate involvement in the nurturing and development of our young and upcoming athletic stars.
REAL, TANGIBLE SUPPORT
Too often we see where corporate bodies seem to be only interested in proven 'winners' - athletes who, by virtue of their performance on the international stage, have already attracted kit sponsors and generous 'appearance fees' at different venues around the world. What the CEO of GraceKennedy Group was suggesting is a commitment from other local corporations, especially those with international connections, to make the bold and unusual move of selecting a team, or a sport, and (after the presentation of an annual budget, containing development and training and international competition estimates) agreeing to a minimum four-year sponsorship deal. This kind of real and tangible support would reap untold rewards, not only for the (lucky) company, but for talented Jamaicans who have a liking and talent for some of the non-traditional sports, such as lacrosse, rugby (league and union), hockey, softball, boxing, and badminton, to name a few sports, whose participants have already shown that with (financial) support, the sky is the limit.
Whenever a conversation is held with talent scouts of these so-called fringe sports, the same refrain is heard: "The speed and athleticism of Jamaicans are a template for International success and glory." A case in point is our bobsledders - male and female. No praise can be enough for the pioneers of this sport, especially those, who after watching a Push Cart Derby in St Ann many years ago, ascertained that "our natural speed and athleticism" would make us competitive on ice! The only drawback to another stellar international career for our own Bolt as a bobsledder would be his height!
Let us, together, make 2018 a breakout year for our minor and non-traditional sports by financial and technical support from our corporate bodies and individual Jamaicans with technical and administrative expertise. It can be done. The opinions of various and non-biased experts should galvanise and encourage us to support our own. If a tropical nation of 2.8 million inhabitants can compete with and defeat teams from northern countries on ICE, just think of the possibilities awaiting us in some of the lesser known sports, where weather and climate would not appear to be a disincentive.