EDITORIAL - Is this the best use of $17m?
This newspaper appreciates the great contribution by our athletes to Jamaica's confidence in its place in the global community and to the sense of well-being, beyond their personal circumstances, of individual citizens.
Indeed, the euphoria during the Summer Olympics over the exploits of Bolt, Blake, Fraser-Pryce and company is eloquent testimony of the capacity of these athletes to lift the national spirit.
We acknowledge, too, that the high achievements of Jamaica's athletes often come at great personal sacrifice and hardship, and, sometimes, with little economic recompense.
Our collective rewarding of our athletes, therefore, is hardly a matter of dispute or controversy. How we do it, though, could be.
For instance, as painful as it is to do, we must express our reservation about the Government's plan to distribute J$17 million in cash incentives to the athletes, including Usain Bolt, who won medals at the Olympics. It is not because we feel they are undeserving, or that $17 million - the entire celebration is billed at $57 million - is a lot of money.
Our issue is whether this is the best way to use the limited resources available to Jamaica.
Usain Bolt, for example, is among the world's best-paid sporting stars. He is what the financiers call a high net worth individual. Forbes Magazine puts his wealth at US$20 million. In the context of his personal wealth and earning power, we suspect that US$29,000 would not make a substantial difference to Bolt.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce may not be awash with endorsements, but we do not presume her to be personally at the economic edge. Others, however, are on the brink - as Fraser-Pryce is often ready to point out to anyone who will listen.
She, however, usually refers to those athletes who are at the start of their careers, striving to break through. They are often students balancing study and sports with little economic support, or others struggling to even pay a coach and who beg passers-by to video their routine, as was the case of shot putter Jason Morgan.
It is in this context that we question the efficacy of the Government's approach. We wonder if it might not have been more prudent, and of greater long-term value, to use the $17 million to seed an investible athletes' trust fund, returns from which could be used to support emerging athletes and others who meet specific criteria.
This trust, to which tax-deductible contributions could be made by private-sector firms and individuals, including professional athletes, would complement the efforts of the existing CHASE Fund, which is financed by gambling taxes.
Alternatively, the cash might have been allocated to the various associations to help in the financing of programmes to expand and strengthen their sporting disciplines.
The point is, in a country with limited resources, many competing demands, and without the ability to support its athletics programme to the extent that it would wish, Jamaica has to use as creatively as possible the little that is available.
At the same time, we can do other things to demonstrate to individuals who perform extraordinarily how greatly we appreciate their efforts.
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