Sat | Sep 22, 2018

Wehby’s plea for funding sports

Published:Sunday | January 28, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Don Wehby, Group CEO, GraceKennedy Limited.

From the early days when men like George Headley, Arthur Wint, Herb McKenley, and Alfred Valentine brought fame to Jamaica, Jamaicans have been crying out for more money to help oil the production line in order to continue the growth of sports.

The general consensus was that despite the efforts of prime ministers Norman Manley and Alexander Bustamante, ministers in charge of sports such as Portia Simpson-Miller, Natalie Neita-Headley, and Olivia Grange, and despite the love of sports of prime ministers like Michael Manley, P. J. Patterson, Edward Seaga, and Simpson-Miller, the country just could not afford the burden of funding sports as it should, or as it wanted to do.

In short, other priorities were too great, the government's coffers too small, and the result is that those pleas, despite the efforts of those involved in sports, mostly fell on deaf ears.

I remember, sometime in the 1970s, Michael Manley called a group of sports administrators together and asked them to put together a programme as quickly as possible, with approximate cost, to prepare a team that could qualify for the next World Cup of football.

Eventually, they sent the proposed plan and the approximate cost to Manley, and when he saw the cost, they never heard from him again.

It is never too late, however, and help is on the way, or at least help seems to be on way.

Two Friday nights ago, Don Wehby, the chief executive officer of the GraceKennedy group of companies, threw out a challenge to his colleagues in the business sector to come to the aid of Jamaica's sports by investing in sports, while at the same time growing their business.

Speaking at the RJRGLEANER Sports Foundation National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year Awards at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, the ever-smiling head of one of Jamaica's biggest conglomerates and the company whose policy on its corporate social responsibilities includes sports, education, and the environment, told of his dream for funding sports through what he called "Sports Incorporated Jamaica".

With Minister Grange looking on, as well as many of influence from the private sector, Senator Wehby, after emphasising the importance of sports to Jamaica, after explaining how valuable sports can be to the Jamaican economy, and after pleading with the business sector to see the benefits and to invest in the country, explained his dream and pleaded with his colleagues to follow the example of Grace, to the continuous ringing of handclaps.

 

STRATEGIC PLAN

 

His long-term strategic plan for sports in Jamaica includes opportunities to participate in recreational and competitive sports; the number of facilities for use at all levels; the number of coaches and administrators; strengthening the education in sports; and establishment and notification of policies, legislation, and regulations to promote sports.

According to Wehby, as he outlined the four beneficiaries in his plan as business opportunities, sports tourism, sports for peace, and athlete development, he reminded the audienece that in a successful business, "what gets measured, gets done".

"A partnership of sports, business, and the Government would be great, especially if the Government could set targets and discuss and review them annually in Parliament."

Wehby stated that if proposals were put in place and controlled properly, Jamaica could grow the economy by six per cent by the year 2030, and that would be enough to fund sports and grow the economy.

He also said that he would like to see a greater emphasis on the marketing of sports, more and better use of facilities like the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium, while pointing to track and field's Jamaica Classic and the recent staging of a US college basketball tournament in Montego Bay as events that can be staged there.

The clubs, and other such struggling institutions, also got Wehby's attention for financial and other assistance.

In his parting plea to the business sector, Wehby asked for help for the clubs, all the many clubs, that have been, or were, the saviour of sports in the communities and towns.

For those who do not know, there was once a partnership of the Senior Cup cricket clubs with a club attached to a business around the late 1980s when the late Rex Fennell was president of the Jamaica Cricket Association.

That, however, did not last long because it was not properly organised.

It takes two to tango, and the clubs, in those days, wanted to receive but were not prepared to give back, not even a little.

Moods and times have changed, however, and with the clubs, communities, or parishes working together in the interest of sports, the clubs, with the people and the "expertise", and the businesses, with their money, would be beneficial to the struggling clubs and sports, once the interest of both parties can be addressed and controlled.

Jamaica, once a dot in the ocean, is now a shining star in the sky, mainly because of the work of its volunteers and its athletes.

 

GREATNESS IN SPORTS

 

Wehby's proposals, however, if they materialise, promise to improve the economic situation of the country and also ensure the greatness of Jamaica in sports, and that would be a blessing worth celebrating.

As Wehby told the gathering, the millions of dollars that Grace spends annually on Boys and Girls' Championship, the millions of dollars they spend on school cricket, and the money they spend on sports in general pales when it is compared to the feeling of corporate responsibility, growth in business, and national pride.

Finally, as he asked the businessmen, those who have not already done so, to follow Grace's example and to make a "significant investment in the sports industry because it is going to benefit business", Wehby hailed the country, which, wherever he goes, he always remembers it as the "greatest country in the world".

Co-MC Neville Bell was good, but it was co-MC Dahlia Harris who rounded off the evening in style when she said: "In some countries, all one has to do to win the sportsman or sportswoman of the year award is to be the best in his/her country. In Jamaica, you have to be the best in the world."