Orville Taylor, Contributor
IF ASAFA Powell and Sherone Simpson, two of the biggest names in the history of Jamaican track and field athletics, fall under the pressure of the international and local criticism, it is their hyssop that they drink and not the nation's. Admittedly, though, their violations will cast a shadow on all of Jamaica's modern track and field success.
Powell is my favourite male athlete, because of his humble demeanour, almost flawless running style and his being totally home-grown. Indeed, I give him credit for the decision of other world-class athletes, including Usain Bolt, to stay in Jamaica and train. Women go nuts about him for other reasons. Simpson has represented her country well and, having been in a see-saw battle with injuries for several years, all Jamaica wants to see her get another 'buss' as she did between 2006 and 2008.
Doubtless, questions are going to be raised about the honesty of our Jamaica-based athletics programmes, especially now that the original poster boy, who Bolt admitted, "Open di door fi we," is facing a two-year ban.
Government and Opposition alike are jumping in, mouth first; with the latter crying that Brand Jamaica has been severely damaged. After getting up off the floor, where my sides were bursting from laughing, I attempted to treat with some seriousness, the comments from Opposition Member of Parliament Karl Samuda, who seems to have forgotten that his party/government tarnished the brand long ago with its numerous scandals, not least of all the Manatt/Dudus saga. Indeed, the corruption perceptions index, compiled by Transparency International, bottomed out at 3.0 on a 1-10 scale for Jamaica under Samuda's party's leadership. And if his comments are simply to be taken in the context of track and field, they make more sense, but betray ignorance and insensitivity to what athletics is doing in this country.HISTORIC SHORTFALLS
Whatever he might mean by, "the previously infallible nature of our athletic prowess has been assaulted", he perhaps is too young to remember that Merlene Ottey had an adverse finding in 1999. Although she was subsequently exonerated, there is still a cloud over her head. Other sprinters such as Julien Dunkley, Christopher Williams, Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser and the life-banned Steve Mullings all tested positive for prohibited substances. As we speak, Veronica Campbell-Brown (VCB) is awaiting her 'slap' on the wrist for what appears to be a minor offence. Therefore, if we follow Samuda, Brand Jamaica athletics has more chips, kinks and blemishes than my grandmother's old enamel chamber pot. Nonetheless, Brand Jamaica is resilient and unless Bolt turns up with illegal substances in his body or another set of athletes is 'busted', we should still be all right. However, more vigilance is needed.
Nevertheless, it is certainly not the sort of scrutiny that Government is proposing. None other than the Honourable Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, has declared, "We need to initiate a system for high-school level testing for athletes ... in accordance with appropriate approvals from the Ministry of Education, Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association and the parents and guardians of these youngsters."
Moreover, she is proposing a public-education programme to incorporate all levels, including the primary schools. As well-intentioned as that might be, it is an insult to those who have brought track and field to where it is now, with little official help. Ask MVP Track Club how much support it received when it was trying to build its Brand Jamaica local track and field programme during its formative years.
Major sporting bodies, like FIFA and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), speak very lucidly about the non-interference of government in sport and comments like these vindicate the stance.
Frankly, I think Portia should totally give up the sport portfolio to Natalie Neita Headley, because it is just about enough work for one woman to do and can be done with all of the required daily allowance of calories. Knee-jerk reactions always irk me because they are just that. They tend to show little evidence of thought above that joint.
Government has a gall to be jumping on this. This is the same administration that in 2005-6 built the Trelawny embarrassment in the birth parish of Michael Frater, who had won the IAAF silver medal for the 100 metres, Bolt and VCB. This monstrosity, which is being rescued by the University of Technology (UTech), was apparently constructed using the body shape of Humpty Dumpty, because to the great consternation of the track and field loyalists, it cannot accommodate a standard, well-needed 400 metres track. To date, the great riddle is: what was it built for? More amazing is that the Government had some if its party members running the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) who should have offered good advice. Furthermore, Powell was the world record holder at the time the Trelawny sports facility was built. Didn't anyone advise Government that the money should have been better spent?
To speak of a public-education programme in sport disrespects the entire track and field fraternity. Is the PM/sports minister implying that the Jamaican coaches are ignorant or irresponsible? Maybe, instead of trying to rehabilitate the other crumbling elephant in Sligoville with scarce capital, Government should be focusing on fixing the dilapidated track at G.C. Foster, which the athletes are miraculously using with success. Surely, the sports minister is better informed than the education ministry that was attempting to introduce a curriculum that would have violated the Child Care and Protection Act that it itself administers. Does the prime minister or her de facto sports minister know that the G.C. Foster graduates, who are replacing the unqualified physical education teachers, are taught: drugs in sports, anatomy, kinesiology, sports medicine, all aspects of drug testing, coaching ethics, sport psychology and sport management? In short, a complete menu. Interestingly, the ignorance which is to be cured is in Parliament, not in the training room or track.
The one thing that Government can take credit for is its establishment of the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) in 2009. Jamaica has been very vigilant in testing its athletes. This is not the United States of America, which in 1988 covered up the failed drug tests of its most decorated track and field athlete and Bolt 'badminder', Carl Lewis. More than 800 tests have been carried out by JADCO and of the 18 Jamaicans who have tested positive for banned substances, 14 were caught by JADCO. If Government wants something to spin, it must pat itself on its back for having an agency that is so independent that it doesn't bypass anyone. However, it must leave the children alone.
At the IAAF World Youth Championships, the top three finishers in the finals are tested. As invasive as it is, it is a requirement for the medallists. However, one will note that the top times are not considered as 'records' but rather, world youth best. The fact is, a youth athlete is still a child and his track and field involvement is not a profession: It is extra-curricular activity. Imagine having to monitor your child who is eating chocolate or some other treat, because it might lead to a positive drug test. Imagine a shy 15-year-old, who is running 52 something for the 400 metres, having to urinate in a vessel, while some strange, androgynous female doctor or phlebotomist looks on.
There are a number of things a child cannot do legally. In countries such as the USA and France, a youth cannot have sex. So then, are we saying that children must be routinely examined to see if they were participating in illicit sex?
Simpson, Powell, VCB and others are adults with full knowledge of the vagaries of drug testing. Paranoid coaches such as Stephen Francis and Maurice Wilson are all too vigilant and knowledgeable. I wish that the politicians, including those in the JAAA, and a few na´ve athletes, would listen to them more.
Orville Taylor PhD, is senior lecturer in sociology at the University
of the West Indies, Mona. Send comments to