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