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A gesture worthy of the occasion

Published:Sunday | October 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Olympic sprint champions Usain Bolt (centre) and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, as well as chef de mission for the Olympic team, Don Anderson, participate in last Monday night's cultural celebration in honour of Olympians and Paralympians at the National Arena.- File

Tony Becca, Contributor

On Monday, October 15, the day put aside to remember National Heroes and to honour ordinary people for yeoman services rendered, Jamaica said a special thank you to those who distinguished themselves for Jamaica on behalf of Jamaicans at the recent Olympic Games in London.

The "thank you" was a rousing affair. It made me stand tall and proud as a Jamaican, and it will linger with me for a long, long time, probably until the next Olympic Games and Paralympics, even beyond that.

It was a day when the Government and the private sector came together, in one of their regular show of togetherness, a day when the artistes came out in support, and a day when the people, dressed in their finery, came out in their thousands, as they usually do, to say "thank you" as only they conceivably can.

It was a show of no ordinary order, and it was a gesture that went beyond anything before it. It was a day when Jamaica, including the tourist industry, and Jamaicans put together some $50 million, put on the show, and gave the Olympians - all of them - gold, silver and bronze medal winners, and other participants, from one million dollars to $250,000 each, and coaches, etc., etc., $100,000 each.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and Natalie Neita-Headley, minister without portfolio for
sports and all who contributed to the extravaganza deserve high praise
for the wonderful gesture.

Some people, however, may
not like it, and they may criticise it, probably because they do not
believe athletes should be paid for representing their country, or
probably because they do not believe Jamaica can afford it, especially
when they are other really important matters around to attend
to.

Whether they like it or not, however, it has been
done, and based on the reaction of the people, what seems the majority
of the people, they were in support of it.

Jamaica has
seldom ever done the right things, the correct things, for its
athletes, for its sportsmen and sportswomen. Maybe some times it was
because of ignorance, maybe sometimes it was because of an indifferent
attitude, and maybe some times it was because of a simple matter as not
having enough money to do what should be done, what they know should be
done.

This time, however, is a special
time.

This time is a record-breaking performance by
the team. This time is a time when Jamaica won more medals than ever
before. This time is when Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce became one of only
three women to win the women's 100 metres two times in succession. This
time is when the men finished one-two in the men's 100 metres and, this
time, following on the last time when three women finished one, two, and
two in the women's 100 metres, is when three men finished one, two,
three in the men's 200 metres. And this time, Usain Bolt became the
first man to successfully defend the men's 100 and 200 metres, while
holding the world record in both events.

A way to say
'thanks'

This time was so special that regardless of
how small Jamaica lines up with the rest of the world in size, and
regardless of how the coffers may be, somehow Jamaica had to find a way
to say "thanks", in a really meaningful way, to their sons and daughters
for an outstanding and unforgettable performance.

One
million Jamaican dollars is not a great amount of money for an Olympic
gold medal, and even if, like Bolt, one athlete won three gold medals
and cashed in three times, and if, again like Bolt, one athlete has
enough money, made from athletics, it still does not
matter.

If there are any questions about the money
given to the athletes on Monday as a token rather than as payment, it
should be this: what makes an Olympic athlete special, what makes an
Olympic participant special over another Jamaican sportsman or
sportswoman who represents Jamaica?

The answer is
this: an Olympic athlete, a Jamaican Olympic athlete, except he is a
great one, seldom gets any money in return for his efforts, for his
training, and most times he suffers quietly and
alone.

In other sports, for example, football, a
player gets some sort of compensation for playing even at the club
level, and in cricket, a player gets some money for representing
Jamaica.

On top of all that, when it comes to
exposure, the Olympic athlete operates on a scale much bigger than other
sports, he reaches more people, he competes against the very best every
time, his performance means more to the people, regardless of the
individual and the individual's sport, and he spends more time doing
more things for nothing.

The ideal thing is to reward,
as equally as possible, all who excel while representing Jamaica. Right
now, however, that, for obvious reasons, is impossible, and the level
of exposure from the Olympic Games is fantastic.

Well
done, Jamaica, for recognising one of the problems of our athletes, for
coming to the rescue of some of the country's elite sportsmen and
sportswomen, and most of all, for saying thank you and for giving back a
little to a few who gave a lot.

This, hopefully, is
not the last time.

It is a pity that you could not
have given more, but maybe the time will come when you can be more
generous, the time when you have made sport into an industry so that
sport can help, not only those in sport, but those in need in other
sectors of the society.

I remember writing, from some
time in the 1970s and through the 1980s, when Don Quarrie and Merlene
Ottey were on top of the world and were complaining about compensation,
and reminding the powers that be that Jamaica was a tourist destination,
and that in an attempt to attract the world to visit Jamaica, Jamaica
spent millions of dollars to advertise Jamaica.

Why
then, I asked, at that time, could not the Government take out a few
dollars from the tourism advertising budget and give it, systematically,
to people like Quarrie and Ottey, to other Jamaican sportsmen and
sportswomen who took Jamaica into the sitting rooms and dining rooms of
the world by their exploits in the sports
arena?

Jamaica, by now, in all things, at least in
most things, may well have been truly a little piece of heaven on
earth.