Laurie Foster | Well done, UWI, but there's more to be done
Foster's Fairplay experienced a feeling of instant delight this past week, on seeing a particular headline in a major daily. It read, "UWI, Mona, opens doors to sprint sensation Briana Williams." It was of additional satisfaction to hear the words of the institution's vice-chancellor, Sir Hilary Beckles, a man well known and respected for his passion shown in the environs of competitive sport. Hailing Briana's accomplishments as "being refreshing" at a time when many were concerned about the post-Usain Bolt era, the vice-chancellor was quoted as saying, "We are here to say to young Briana and Mom, be assured that the University of the West Indies (uwi)... your university is here to support the journey of Briana."
There are still two more years before Briana graduates from high school, and it was indeed a good look, which should be transmitted to others, that a national body can offer this measure of academic support to someone who has excelled in sport at a world stage. UWI should be commended for this gesture.
It represented, in part, a thought expressed by this column just recently, calling on the 'powers that be' to extend a hand of goodwill to Williams. The invitation was in an effort to make her feel special after her double triumphant exploits at the World Under-20 Championships in Athletics.
From her public utterances so far, coupled with the pride she continues to exude each time she displays the black, green and gold, there has been nothing to suggest that the young miss is not committed to making it Jamaica, even at the senior level.
However, to cement this, no legitimate action should be spared to make that process continue on its present positive path. UWI is only one body which is capable of removing some of the challenges that exist along any young athlete's path to progress. There are others who know themselves and they are to be found in the private as well as the public sector.
This is not a call for the outstanding Briana Williams only. There are others who come close to threaten or even better the performances of this 16 year-old new darling of Jamaica's track and field. The fact that she is already shining brightly at the level she is, while current queens are still on the track, speaks volumes. It emphasises the high levels of talent with which this country is awash.
Jamaica is not short of corporate intelligence. All it needs is for those suitably qualified to recognise the development of our young people as a necessity and act accordingly. It is time for those to whom this call is made to contact the leaders of the sport of your choice, identify where the deficiencies lay and work hand in hand to correct them.
There are areas where the neglect or marginalising of young talents is yielding disastrous effects. Let not sports be added to that number. Our athletes need love and nurture amidt the essential checks and balances. It is not beyond a national will. Sports can bail the country out of several ills now being experienced. Let us just do it.
The Briana Williams situation is by no means the first where a Jamaica-qualified athlete is faced with a decision as to under which flag to parade his or her skills. Not necessarily in the same time sequence, but there was the highly gifted John Barnes and another footballer, Raheem Sterling. Also with equal talent, there was Sanya Richards-Ross, who was to become one of the world's most accomplished quarter-milers. All three were eligible as not only Jamaica-born but came from families with unquestionable Jamaican connections. Strong attempts to have them compete for Jamaica failed.
World-famous sprinter and a 200m world champion in 1999, Inger Miller, born in the USA but the daughter of Olympic 100m silver medallist Lennox Miller, resisted attempts to compete for Jamaica.
Against this background, it is indeed a satisfying moment to have entities like the UWI respond in the manner in which it has. It should not only strengthen the view that the athlete held before taking the decision about her future.
Having said that, it should be noted that there needs to be more done in that respect.