Oral Tracey | Sports: big business and more
The 2018 ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships (Champs) is just over a month away. Again, the National Stadium will become the epicentre of Jamaican dynamism with this annual showcase of the nation's top junior athletics talent displayed to the world in an atmosphere seen nowhere else on the planet.
This five-day spectacle is fully televised, from the first preliminary event on Tuesday morning to the mile relay events that close the show late Saturday evening. Even more instructively, Champs enjoys the biggest and most extensive sponsorship of any sporting event in Jamaica. Title sponsor GraceKennedy funds the annual fiesta to the tune of $100 million per year.
It was, therefore, quite appropriate that a former sprint hurdler at Champs and current chief executive officer of GraceKennedy, Don Wehby, in his recent address as keynote speaker at the RJRGLEANER Sports Foundation Awards ceremony, called out his colleagues in corporate Jamaica to recognise and explore the business opportunities in the multibillion-dollar sport industry.
Wehby's call effectively reignited the debate about the need for corporate Jamaica to become more integrally involved in sports across the Jamaican sporting spectrum - not just in endorsing already established and successful events such as Champs, and individual stars such as Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Elaine Thompson, but by way of more far-reaching developmental programmes.
Several explanations have been posited as to why Champs, for example, remains the envy of other sporting events in terms of corporate support. These are that Champs has over a hundred years of history and tradition; athletics has been our most successful and high-profile international sport in recent times; and that in terms of organisation and transparency, other sports and other sporting bodies pale in comparison to what obtains for Boys and Girls Championships. These reasons are why corporate Jamaica gravitates towards the stellar five-day high-school event while summarily ignoring the calls from the other desperate sporting bodies and struggling sporting disciplines and ventures.
Desperate times, though, call for desperate measures. Certainly, in terms of the socio-economic climate in Jamaica, where the level of despondency and desperation continues to contribute to the murder, mayhem and chaos, things cannot get much more desperate than that. Sport, generally, is a tried and proven vehicle of social intervention and healing that is commonly used in many volatile communities across Jamaica.
Sport has that unique characteristic of breaking down social, economic, and even political barriers. The love and passion for sports have been known to pierce deep into the psyche of many troubled Jamaican communities. Who can forget the qualification of the Reggae Boyz for the 1998 World Cup in France, and the sense of national pride and literal peace that reigned in those ensuing hours, days and weeks?
Who can forget the exploits of our athletes, beginning at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where national pride and the sense of feeling good about ourselves and our nation seemed to cut across every colour, class, and creed barrier? No political, religious, or social movement has had that kind of effect on Jamaica and Jamaicans.
One is forced to wonder if things are not desperate and scary enough for corporate Jamaica to see the value of putting some of the substantial profits they continue to enjoy into social intervention programmes.
In addition to the 'enhanced security measures' and other actions desperately needed that must be taken by the Ministry of National Security, sport remains one of the best and most effective vehicles to reach the hearts and souls of many whom we now refer to as heartless and hopeless. Football is the most popular sport in Jamaica and has the widest reach. The Red Stripe Premier League, where clubs are largely community-based, is crying out for support. Basketball is another popular sport with great community connectivity and visibility. The National Basketball League, before its resumption last Saturday, had been absent for almost a half a decade for simple lack of sponsorship. The sad and desperate stories of dire need go on and on across almost all sporting disciplines.
For sure, sport is big business, and corporate Jamaica, more than anyone else, should know that businesses need an environment of order, stability, and civility to thrive. By all means, think of sports as business, but in the same breath, think about saving Jamaica.