André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
The sum of $19.2 million is what is needed to prepare three-time Jamaican Olympic swimmer Alia Atkinson for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, according to Olympic swim team manager and president of the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica (ASAJ), Martin Lyn.
"Alia Atkinson needs about US$4,500 ($398,000) per month to maintain her programme," said Lyn.
"So for her to get and maintain an elite position, that's the kind of money she needs and that's the kind of support that we will hope for."
Prime Minister Portia Simpson recently promised support for Atkinson's 2016 Olympic campaign, after the swimmer pleaded for help, following a fourth place and national record-shattering performance in the 100m breaststroke here at the London Olympics.
"I am going to speak to the Ministers of Finance and Education and the Sports Development Foundation and I appeal to the private sector, we have to partner to allow her (Atkinson) to continue her training programme. I want to say to her, help is on the way," Simpson Miller said in Kingston this week. "She was outstanding! All Jamaicans here and in the Diaspora must be proud of her."
Call for wider support
While welcoming the prime minister's announcement, Lyn gave The Gleaner an idea of what it would cost to prepare a swimmer for elite competition and called for wider support for the Jamaican swimming programme.
"We welcome the news that the prime minister is going to support Alia through to 2016 but we would also like the prime minister to support the sport of swimming and not just Alia Atkinson, because we have a lot of 11 to 12-year-old girls and boys; a lot of 13 to 14-year-old girls and boys that can be Olympians as well," Lyn said before stating that he believes Jamaica as a nation needs to buy into the swim programme.
"Alia is excited about that because she sees where her training can now go to another level, so she herself would like to ensure that Jamaica on a whole buys into the whole swimming programme and expands it beyond just Alia," Lyn said. "She is the main focus now and we will take that because she will go further and develop from this."
Funding is a major issue for the ASAJ which, in addition to other expenses, is forced to fork out more than $400,000 on a monthly basis to maintain the Olympic-sized swimming pool at the Independence Park complex. The association is left with difficulties in properly developing the sport and expanding its competitive and social programmes.
"The fact of the matter is that the ASAJ maintains the Olympic pool, we get a little help from SDF for our administration but we get no help from Independence Park Limited or the SDF to maintain the pool. The pool costs us $400,000 a month just to keep it open; for chemicals and general maintenance costs," Lyn lamented.
"It takes a lot of funding to get the boys and girls to stay in swimming. Swimming is a parent-funded sport and we need to get not just the prime minister but Jamaica to buy into the fact that we can medal at the Olympics in swimming," Lyn added.
Alia Atkinson and Janelle Atkinson, who are not related, are Jamaica's most successful swimmers at the Olympic Games; both finishing fourth in finals. Janelle was fourth in the 400m freestyle at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Since 1968, Jamaica has entered 12 swimmers in the Olympic Games.