André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
Organisers yesterday noted a 20 per cent increase in the cost to stage this year's Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships, an escalation that pushed the budget to $60 million.
A total of 105 boys and 102 girls schools are expected to participate at the 103rd staging of the Championships, set for the National Stadium, March 12-16.
There was some good news, however, as title sponsor GraceKennedy announced a five-year extension on its $35-million-a-year injection into what is the most celebrated event of its kind on the planet, taking its commitment to Champs into the year 2018.
Every penny needed
Chairperson of the organising committee, Colleen Montaque, explained that every cent will count, particularly because of an extended first day at the now five-day meet.
"It (budget) is somewhere between $55 and $60 million and the additional day is an additional cost in terms of renting of the stadium and lighting and all that," said Montaque. "Also, just renting the equipment for an extra day has also pushed up the cost. It's a major undertaking, but a necessary one."
A major item on the expenses list is security, as the police spearhead a detailed strategy that includes the involvement of private security firms Atlas, SecuriPro and Supreme Events Management.
"Security will cost upwards of $5 million, and each year it increases because where we feel we have limitations, we increase the security there as well," Montaque noted.
The opening day of Champs, Tuesday, March 12, will now start at 2:30 p.m. and end at 6:10 p.m., featuring 14 preliminary-round events.
However, ISSA will be able to depend on the long-term commitment of GraceKennedy whose CEO, Don Wheby, pointed out that the Championships fits perfectly with his company's ethos.
"At GraceKennedy, we have made a decision in terms of corporate social responsibility, that we are going to be focusing on two areas; sports and education," said Wehby. "We think that in investing in education and sports, we will have a better Jamaica and our philosophy is what is good for Jamaica is good for GraceKennedy."
He added: "As you know, we were awarded The Gleaner Award for Education, so Boys and Girls' Championships is our single largest investment; it's $35 million per annum and there is a factor to be increased over the years, based on inflation, and we have just signed off on an extension as well. Our sponsorship will now go until 2018."
Dr Walton Small, the ISSA president, underscored the importance of the Championships in the country's track and field prowess.
"The ISSA/GraceKenndy Boys and Girls' Championships provides the unique opportunity for our athletes to not only participate in a national event, but it allows them to experience, from an early stage, the professional aspects of the world of sport," said Small.
He also addressed concerns around the new online registration system launched by ISSA, assuring that his organisation will make every effort in ensuring there is 100 per cent participation this year, in light of recent registration issues.
Entrance is free to the National Stadium for day one of competition, while grandstand-only access for Wednesday and Thursday (March 13 and 14) will attract prices of $100 (children) and $500 (adults). Bleachers tickets will cost $500 in Friday's penultimate day of competition, with grandstand tickets going to $2,000, with Category One season passes costing $6,000 and Category Two $5,000.