Tue | Jan 19, 2021

Chris Stokes | The Home Stretch – Reflections on the JAAA elections

Published:Wednesday | November 25, 2020 | 12:06 AM

Let me declare that I serve with Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) presidential candidate Garth Gayle on the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA). He is a valued and respected colleague. Let me also declare that Donald Quarrie (DQ) is a friend and adviser to me. It is not my goal here to influence the direction of the election but rather to contribute to constructive public discourse on the issues facing one of our most important national treasures, track and field.


Valid concerns have been raised about the fairness of the election process, which is open to abuse by those in office. In anecdote, those in power are running 100m, while challengers have to run 110m hurdles. Let me make two points on this. First, to the best of my knowledge, nothing has been done that violates any part of the current JAAA constitution, but second, there is much room to improve the transparency and integrity of the election process. The establishment of independent nomination and election commissions should be added at the front end of the process as the current Elections Appeal Panel has been added at the back end. World Athletics and the International Boxing Association have excellent models, which we could learn from. I would have expected a little more empathy from within the current administration given that a number of them have themselves suffered as challengers under this system, but as Auntie Roachy might have said, “Wen man belly full im bruk pat.”


The first matter to address in relation to DQ’s candidacy is the non sequitur that he can’t run the JAAA from California. First of all, I know he is in Jamaica at least half of the year and spends much of that time at the JAAA’s office. More fundamentally than that, I work routinely with CEOs from all over the world, whose effectiveness is not in the least constrained by where they live in relation to the operations they lead. As an issue, it is a red herring.

DQ does have his issues. Just recently on his arrival to Jamaica he was told that he had to quarantine for 14 days. He has refused to leave his home even to get the signatures that he needed to be nominated. On matters of principle, it is useless to argue with him so we coordinated so I could sign his nomination form myself. That’s the kind of person he is, and I will confess it can get annoying – yet his acute sense of fairness for athletes, right and wrong, policies and procedures could well be an emphasis which is needed now.

I know of considerable funds sitting on the sidelines waiting to see if he is elected, believing that his legendary status and integrity would make palatable to executives major investments in Jamaican athletics. He is athlete and coach-centric but what he is not is either political or necessarily diplomatic.

More than anything else, Garth is a politician with all the honed skills of the craft. He has stayed away from his vulnerabilities, avoiding calls for a debate against Quarrie and stayed away from live media, and instead focused on his strengths, his familiarity and relationships with the voting membership.

The influence he has used to crown and buttress others he has now directed to himself. The King Maker would now be King.

Let us say the worst of the allegations of unfair practices towards challengers are true, Garth is still campaigning like he is losing, not like the win is locked. You have to respect that. Importantly, he has a desire to be president in a way that DQ does not. Garth may view the presidency as an achievement, a natural culmination of years of faithful service, whereas DQ sees running for the office as a call to duty to save what he sees as an association off the rails.

Most important, Garth has gone the slate route. The much-maligned slate survives for the simple reason that it is effective in harnessing votes and simplifying voting decisions. Garth has not called me to ask for my advice on his slate, but if he were to have called, I would have offered the following.

Leave the honorary secretary nomination open for Anthony Davis, run Marie Tavares as assistant secretary, leave the records position open for Wayne Long, but find a meaningful role for the scrupulously detailed Leroy Cooke. Above all, bring in a young accountant into the membership to understudy Ludlow Watts. He would not have listened. I may assess and debate, but I know he values loyalty above all.


One of the benefits of quarantining for the past eight months is that my wife has been working on getting me to identify and express my feelings. So here goes. I feel resentful that the JAAA is forcing me to risk my life to vote when with a little vision and will, authorisation could have been secured and systems put in place to facilitate a virtual meeting, which would at once protect the membership and expand voting opportunity internationally. The legal exposure too is substantial. Such AGMs are now commonplace. I will not repeat here the reasons offered for not taking this route as they are, frankly, patently ridiculous.


Only 15 per cent of voters listed are current or former national athletes. The JAAA is despised by its primary constituency, athletes. But as Barack Obama often says, don’t boo, vote. I would recommend to our athletes that in addition to understanding their power through the example of Christian Taylor, LeBron James, Lewis Hamilton, and Naomi Osaka, among others, that they educate themselves about Tacky’s rebellion of 1760. Tacky lost because many of the persons he was fighting to free would not join his fight in case he lost and ‘Backra Massa’ would punish them, and so we lived another 74 years in bondage. Cowboy up; you have a voice, use it. You must be willing to be ‘Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back.’ That’s how things change. Hissing your teeth and turning your back does nothing.


I take the following wins before the first ballot is cast, that both Garth and DQ have decided to offer themselves, giving the voters a choice for president; that proven administrators such as Anthony Davis and Wayne Long have decided to offer themselves independently; that Ian Forbes is big enough to serve even if he is not leading (Headley would be proud), and that we can begin a conversation about enhancing our elections management. Beyond that, let the membership speak.

Nelson ‘Chris’ Stokes is an Olympian, sports administrator, development economist, entrepreneur and coach.