Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Champion of local sports

Published:Wednesday | May 29, 2019 | 12:32 AMDania Bogle/Contributor

Edward Seaga was a Jamaican sporting icon. When one thinks of a sports icon, the picture that comes to mind is that of an active or retired sportsman or sportswoman. Still, though Seaga was not renowned as an athlete, he was a sports icon in the true sense of the word.

The former prime minister was instrumental in the development of many facets of local sport ­culture that most Jamaicans now take for granted. In 1962, following his election as member of parliament for West Kingston, Seaga was made minister of development and welfare. It was a role which he would use to help make significant changes to only not how culture and the performing arts, but sport, are administered locally.

In 1965, Seaga designed a blueprint for community development via the One Hundred Village ­programme, through which the development of sport filtered, including an annual inter-village sports competition.

Seaga’s theories were based on research, including living among village folk in Buxton Town, where he operated on the principle that “if you treat people nicely, they will treat you nicely, too”.

Sport is known as an avenue for development, especially among poor youth. One of Seaga’s most famous projects, the community of Tivoli Gardens, stands as a monument to sport development among the urban poor. The planning and development of that community was holistic, with a multipurpose centre designed to include sport and recreational playing fields.

Seaga was also president of the Tivoli Gardens football and netball clubs. In fact, in the area of sport and the performing arts, especially dance sport, Tivoli Gardens excelled. Tivoli Gardens Football Club, which was founded in 1970, won top-tier titles in 1983, 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2011. No matter how frail he might have seemed, Seaga was always present at Tivoli Gardens FC matches. In his honour, Railway Oval, the club’s home ground, was renamed the Edward Seaga Sports Complex in 2004.

Tivoli Gardens were also strong contenders in high-school football as champions of the Manning Cup in 1976 and 1999 and as Walker Cup winners in 1978, 1994, 1996, and 2005.

Along with the former ­member of parliament for South St Andrew and president of the Arnett Gardens Football Club, Dr Omar Davies, Seaga used sport as an agent for peace between the warring neighbourhoods of Tivoli Gardens and Arnett Gardens.

“He (Davis) suggested that we stage a game of football to herald the new stadium that had been built in the area. I led my team there, and peace was restored,” said Seaga of the then newly built Anthony Spaulding Sports Complex.

As an administrator, Seaga was chairman of the Premier League Club’s Association, which sought to professionalise the local sport.

In 2007, Seaga was appointed Pro Chancellor for the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech). UTech has branded itself as the home of Jamaica’s track and field and remains the base of the MVP Track and Field Club.

Seaga was not only an administrator of sport; he played sport in high school while at Wolmer’s Boys’ School in Kingston and as a collegiate at Harvard University in Massachusetts. He played multiple sports.

His younger sister, Jean Anderson, once recalled a pole-vaulting ­accident that caused his parents great worry. In addition, he played hockey, making an all-schools team; tennis; and football. He was a diver; a record-breaking rifle shooter, ­winning the Henderson Medal; and a wicketkeeper in cricket.

“I enjoyed my sporting career there (Harvard),” said Seaga, admitting in his autobiography that as a student, he did not have much of a social life.

“I remember the Harvard-Yale (cricket) match in my last year. One of the two umpires didn’t turn up. I saw a gentleman sitting across the field on a wall and something said to me, ‘Go and see who he is’.”

That person turned out to be Alistair Cooke, who was for many years, host of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre but was at the time producing the programme Letter from America for the BBC. Seaga invited Cooke to umpire the match, which Cooke did.

Seaga was instrumental in the construction of the National Arena in 1963. The venue would house many displays of sport, including matches in the 2003 World Netball Championships, which Jamaica hosted.

In 1972, he founded the Jamaica Racing Commission, which oversees horse racing, and he helped found the Jockey’s Training School, which trains jockeys.

In later years, Seaga advocated for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to establish an international sports bank to provide funding for sports development for countries in need in a manner similar to the International Fund for the Promotion of Culture, for which he also advocated in 1969.

Seaga, while speaking at the opening of the International Congress on Sports for Peace and Development in 2008, noted that sport was short of funding ­outside of that from private organisations and insufficient government assistance.

“Sports finds it hard to be able to do what it is supposed to do,” he said.