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EDITORIAL - What policymakers might learn from athletics

Published:Wednesday | August 14, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, with their victories in the men's and women's 100 metres races, respectively, have so far been pre-eminent. We expected no less - and anticipate even more from them.

But it is not the performances of these two runners only at the IAAF's World Championships in Athletics in Moscow that are worthy of celebration. They are not the only ones who have, or will, inspire Jamaicans.

Indeed, it is no small feat to make the finals of a global athletics competition. Yet in the men's 100 metres, Jamaica had four finalists, including Nesta Carter, who gained the bronze medal. In the race won by Fraser-Pryce, another Jamaican, Kerron Stewart, came fifth.

More Jamaicans made the cut in other events. More will.

As a country in economic crisis and with deep social problems, Jamaica's athletic power matters. It, in a sense, stands in vindication of our worth and as a metaphor for Jamaica's possibilities. Further, we can live vicariously through the exploits of the Bolts, Carters, Weirs, Fraser-Pryces and others.

What athletics says about Jamaica's possibilities is important. Recent positive drug tests by a few of our athletes have caused some critics to question the authenticity of Jamaica's athletics programmes.

In response to those concerns, we have a number of observations.

First, this newspaper supports drug-free athletics programmes that allow competitors to perform on a level playing field.

In regard to those Jamaican athletes who tested positive, we suspend a decision on guilt or innocence but insist that in keeping with the precepts of natural justice, they are given full opportunity to prove their innocence. After that, the chips will fall where they may.

But whatever the outcomes of those hearings, we insist further that the foundation of Jamaica's athletics programme is sound and clean. Performances such as those in Moscow rest on more than 100 years of a high-school athletics programme that is, perhaps, the most intense and competitive in the world.

Our athletics, its organisation and outcomes, contrasts starkly with other areas of national life in which we have not been so good. The most notable of these is the national economy which, over decades, has delivered little or no growth.

Athletics grows, economy suffers

Unlike athletics, the rest of the economy suffers from weak productivity and lack of innovation. We suggest to our economic policymakers that there are lessons to be learnt from athletics management, including the skill of motivating and extracting value from raw talent.

At the same time, care has to be taken that nothing is done to weaken Jamaica's athletics brand. That is why we are concerned by the seeming managerial governance dysfunction at the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO).

For a long time, external critics questioned the robustness of JADCO's drug-testing programme. This newspaper lamented its lack of transparency.

Eventually, JADCO's chairman, Dr Herb Elliott, lifting the veil slightly, caused it to dribble out that JADCO conducted 106 tests last year. But the agency's former executive director has since revealed that that figure is 50 per cent shy of the real mark and hints at bungling and incompetence at the level of the governors.

JADCO has offered no response of clarity, nor has it shared a strategic programme. Those are old ways that hurt Jamaica.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.