Lance Armstrong and our high schools
Lascelve Graham, Guest Columnist
Lance Armstrong won seven consecutive Tour de France cycling titles - a most remarkable feat for which he was lauded and compensated. However, recently he was stripped of all his titles for taking performance-enhancing drugs.
Some of our high schools have consistently won many sports competitions for which they have also been lauded and compensated. What are some of the parallels between Armstrong and our high schools?
1. Lance took performance-enhancing drugs. Our high schools are injecting sports performance-enhancing youngsters into their teams.
2. Lance knew that he shouldn't have done what he did. Our schools know that they shouldn't be doing what they are doing.
3. Lance devised an intricate scheme for beating the system. Our high schools have similarly developed methods and rationales for covering the fact that they bring in youngsters based on their sports ability in an attempt to influence the outcome of sporting events between schools through underhand means. Some principals whose schools are at the forefront of importing sports talent publicly, and barefacedly, deny it.
4. Lance and his team unfairly benefited from his activities to the detriment of other competitors. He got the glory and the funding. The more endowed schools and their principals, alumni and coaches unfairly benefit from sports importation to the detriment of the other schools. They also get the glory and the funding.
The schools that attempt to do the right thing, that is, the so-called poorer 'little' schools, many of which are in inner cities and are in greater need, are deprived of the benefits of success. They, therefore, find it much more difficult not only to improve their sports programmes but also to progress as better educational institutions, thus making it harder for Jamaica to educate all her children.
The sport import oftentimes benefits at the expense of a more academically (the declared entry criterion except in hardship cases) deserving candidate and also robs another student who is already in the school of the opportunity to represent his/her school and all the benefits that can flow from that prospect.
5. Lance assuredly frustrated his opponents. High schools that import discourage and frustrate other schools, principals, students, coaches and communities whose sports stars they take and thereby rob them of the confidence and self-belief that come with success. They also ensure that the students of those schools which do not import are placed at a distinct disadvantage and will find it very difficult to compete.
The professionalisation of sports in our high schools, whereby the end is winning and the means is the importation of talent, guarantees the unevenness of the playing field. The importer school is also sending a clear message to its students: that they are not good enough and cannot become good enough to represent their school; hence the need to bring in outsiders, even those who could not normally qualify for entry. A slap in the face for self-reliance, confidence and character building.
6. Lance Armstrong is the embodiment of the win-at-all-cost attitude, the manifestation of the philosophy that the end justifies the means; that winning is everything. By importing sports talent, as is being done now, our high schools are implying and supporting all of the above.
If not, why bother to import? Why not use the students who have qualified in the normal way to be at the school, the overwhelming majority of whom are from poor backgrounds and are in dire need of all the help they can get from sports and otherwise?
In one season, William Knibb, the alma mater of the fastest human being ever, Usain Bolt, lost 12 of its athletes. Muschett High, the alma mater of NBA star Samardo Samuels, lost seven of its sports contingent to recruiting schools in one season. There are many examples of schools with good sporting records, or which have shown that they can develop their sport talent, losing athletes to importing schools.
Can this be helpful to building our schools, our communities? Will this facilitate educating all our children?
Schools import to win. It makes no difference whether the youngster is rich or poor, literate, semi-literate or illiterate, coming from good facilities or none. Once he/she can help the school to win, he/she will be taken.
Importation/recruiting is totally unnecessary to the discovery, maintenance or development of our stars in sports. From 1948 when Jamaica burst on to the Olympic scene until the present, most of our stars did not attend traditional schools. Many, in former times, could not even compete at Champs, e.g., George Rhoden - Kingston Technical, Les Laing - Dinthill, George Kerr - Knockalva, Keith Gardner - Black River, Mel and Mal Spence - Kingston Technical, etc.
In recent times, Jamaica has held all the 100m titles, in all age categories, at all levels at the same time. Four of these six world titles were held by athletes who did not attend high-profile schools - Odail Todd - Green Island High, Dexter Lee - Herbert Morrison High, Lerone Clarke - William Knibb High, Usain Bolt - William Knibb High.
Ray Godkin, an Australian former UCI (International Cyclists' Union that controls world cycling) vice-president, said in Fairfax newspapers that, based on the strength of suspicion about Armstrong during his dominance in the Tour, greater efforts could have been made by the UCI, USADA, US Cycling, and WADA. But when asked if he felt there was still a point where Armstrong's doping programme on the US Postal Service team could have been stopped earlier than it was, Godkin said: "US Cycling, they could have been more vigorous, because they had been talking about it for a long time - USADA, but also WADA. They are all involved, including the UCI."
It is the same old story of the powers that be frustrating with bureaucratic machinations and a conspiracy of silence, reluctant to confront and take decisive action against widespread deviant behaviour of icons, whether individuals or institutions. The examples are numerous: AIG (finance/insurance), Penn State University (Sandusky) and the BBC (Savile) regarding child molestation.
Are there any lessons here for ISSA and the Ministry of Education regarding the use and abuse of our children via high-school sports importation?
WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) President John Fahey told Australia's Fox Sports: "The evidence that was given [to the United States Anti-Doping Agency] by those riders who are teammates of Lance Armstrong, one after the other they said the same thing - that you could not compete unless you were doping."
Is the same true in Jamaica with respect to interscholastic sports, where a school cannot compete unless it is importing sports talent? Should this be the case, especially since our high schools are not sports academies and since the role of sports in our high schools should overwhelmingly be socialisation, where the process, not the outcome, is of paramount importance?
Fahey continued: "The UCI, which stripped Armstrong of his seven Tour de France titles, has to take the blinkers off." With respect to the importation of sporting talent by our high schools, could the same be asked of ISSA, which controls high-school sports in Jamaica, and the Ministry of Education, which sets education policy?
- HOW TO STOP IMPORTATION
1. Policy from Ministry of Education banning recruiting for athletic purposes. Schools would not be under the same pressure to recruit as they are now, since now it is quite acceptable. It is not against the rules of ISSA.
2. This policy must clearly define what is meant by recruiting for athletic purposes.
3. Penalties must be defined for violations.
4. An independent monitoring group must be set up with the powers to enforce the cessation rule. This group must be able at random to enter the school and check on any youngster or situation that it finds questionable. It must have access to the relevant records of the school. It must also be able to access records at the origin school and do whatever investigation it sees fit to arrive at a reasonable conclusion, including summoning the relevant person or persons to attend an inquiry.
5. The monitoring group could comprise or have access to a lawyer, an educator, a psychologist, a sociologist, member of the public, etc.
6. Look at other options for our youngsters, including, but not limited to, roving coaches, sharing facilities, setting up an expert group with the competence to find scholarships for talent wherever in Jamaica it is found, and developing sports institutions (academies) where youngsters can be legitimately recruited based on sports ability.