Minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for Sport, Natalie Neita-Headley, has once again defended the Government's decision to offer cash incentives to members of Jamaica's London 2012 Olympic team, while underlining the importance of an insurance scheme being created for active sportsmen and sportswomen.
Noting that the proposal for insurance will be a key feature of the soon-to-be released National Sports Policy, which is expected before the end of the year, Neita-Headley underlined that it was important for the nation to demonstrate its gratitude for the impact that their 12 Olympic medals and one Paralympic gold medal tally in London will create.
$17 million in incentives
The Government is offering a total of over $17 million in cash incentives to the athletes, with individual medallists, finalists and relay medalists all set to benefit under the initiative.
"I am very aware of the challenges that we face as a nation, but I am also aware that sports development is going to be one of the areas through which we will be able to lift ourselves out of the economic doldrums," Neita-Headley told The Gleaner.
"As it relates to the kind of preparations that our athletes go through over four years, and in some cases even more years, to be able to get to a point of being a representative of your country at the Olympics, it's a tremendous accomplishment," she added.
"As a grateful nation, and for all that they have done in terms of the advertising, that we couldn't pay for, in terms of the addition to this 'Brand Jamaica' that we have, and in terms of development of career opportunities and a sport industry, which will assist in job creation and development of opportunities for young people, we can't pay for that."
Neita-Headley continued: "At the end of the day, when our athletes look around them and see what is happening up North and down South, and even within the Caribbean, they see how other countries appreciate their athletes and what other countries even close to us are able to do.
"We cannot do what some of these other countries are doing, but we do what we can within the budgetary constraints. They have had many promises before that were never fulfilled, and this year we wanted to ensure that whatever it is that we promised, we were able to deliver on behalf of a grateful nation."
Money already allotted for sports
The minister was also quick to point out that the funds used were already earmarked for sport purposes.
"The money that is going to be utilised to give them these cash incentives is already coming from funds which were already slated and designated for sports development, with the majority of it coming from the Sports Development Foundation," Neita-Headley said, while noting the need for the implementation of a proper insurance scheme for the athletes.
"We are not asking the Government to take anything additional from the Budget, and it doesn't excuse us from doing for sports development all of the other things that need to be done, including looking at how we insure the athletes, how we look at their welfare and development and how we develop infrastructure," she noted.
- André Lowe