Money and choices in 2013
By Hubert Lawrence
With all the great sporting memories of the past year, no one will remember December 23 as anything special. Yet, it was a day that spoke volumes for the state of sport in our country.
On that Saturday afternoon, Jamaica's squash champion Chris Binnie played an exhibition match to raise funds for his 2013 programme of training and competition, while later on the Jamaica Volleyball Association had a fete to raise funds for its Road to Italy campaign.
Set beside the glowing moments we saw in athletics, swimming and cricket in 2012, that's nothing remarkable.
However, these two events struck a chord. Binnie played the former world number seven at the highpoint of an afternoon of squash at the Liguanea Club. His target is to raise his world ranking from 160 to somewhere in the top 100. That might get him into this year's World Men's Championships.
JaVA has an equally urgent goal. Late last year, our women's team won the first-round qualifier for the 2014 World Championships. The second-round qualifier will also be played in Jamaica, with a third round beyond that before any team can stake a claim to a place in Italy, the host country of the 2014 event.
Binnie and JaVA are on a tough road. The US-dollar exchange rate is higher than ever and those who fund sports probably have World Cup football highest on their agenda. Here, as it is around the globe, football is the people's game and for all their woes, the Reggae Boyz are through to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Binnie, JaVA and the Boyz are all targeting World Championships. Binnie is in a sport few Jamaicans have ever seen. Volleyball isn't the big sport that football is. However, if Binnie or the volleyballers made their respective world championships, every Jamaican would take pride in their achievements. There's no doubt that they need help just as much as the Boyz.
Our sports funding agencies will need the wisdom of Solomon to distribute the funds they have at their disposal. One route is to give everyone a little bit and leave each individual federation to close the funding gap with its own efforts. The other approach is to prioritise and load up the sports who need the money the most.
Therein lies the rub. Take netball for example. To be competitive for the 2015 World Championships in Australia, the Jamaica Netball Association needs to start the hard work now. That would probably entail talent searches and youth development, training camps, equipment, coach training and match play here and abroad.
Shortage of funds
In the Jamaican scenario, the needs also include rental of indoor facilities - which our top rivals use routinely - while we play and practice mostly outdoors. It won't be enough to bail the Sunshine Girls out with bus fare to Australia in 2015. Without the funds to get ready, it won't be productive.
Inside sparsely funded sports federations, the temptation is to develop elite squads because their success can attract big sponsors sometimes from abroad. If things work, that is fine. If not, development work never gets done and sustained success becomes impossible.
Our sports funding agencies and other sponsors of sports face that dilemma at a time of tight economic strictures.
In Britain, sports funding lines up with performance. After the London Olympics, table tennis lost its funding completely, while other sports faced cuts. The table tennis people there protested bitterly that cuts would reverse recent progress.
This is the world we live in. Giving everyone a little may not be enough to get anyone enough to make a dent on the progress we all desire. Giving a few sports everything may kill off others. Do we choose broad-based activity over excellence in a handful of sports? That is the question facing our sports funding agencies and administrators in 2013.
Hubbert Lawrence is co-author of the Power and the Glory - An Illustrated History of Jamaica in World Athletics.