Worst of times, too, for track and field
By Orville Higgins
In Charles Dickens' famous novel A Tale of Two Cities, one line has been made famous the world over: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ... ." Dickens was writing about the period leading up to the French Revolution, but he could well be talking about sports in modern-day Jamaica.
The "best of times" would relate to Jamaica's track and field, where, since 2008, we have undisputably positioned ourselves as the sprint capital of the world. Despite this, or indeed maybe as a result of it, the eyes of the world have been trained on us with increasing suspicion as it relates to our drug-testing regime.
A series of recent events has not helped us, and if we were mere persons of interest before, we have now moved to the stage where those running our drug-testing programmes are now definitely suspects.
Ever since she wrote two revealing columns in The Gleaner on August 7 and 13, followed up with another in Sports Illustrated, JADCO's ex-boss Renée Anne Shirley has divided public opinion. Depending on who you talk to, she is either a bitter woman determined to embarrass JADCO because of previous problems she had with them, or she is a patriotic Jamaican desperately trying to get JADCO to improve its efficiency.
I keep saying that it ought not to matter. Even if Ms Shirley's motive is suspect, we should be concerned with what she is saying. If what she is saying is true, we address it; if not, we dismiss her.
Ms Shirley cannot embarrass JADCO unless there are things happening at the watchdog that they CAN be embarrassed about. One can't wash dirty linen in public, unless there was dirty linen in the first place.
JADCO should be less concerned with the motives of Ms Shirley and more so with ensuring that its testing regime is above reproach.
Telling WADA that it can't accommodate a visit until year end or next year doesn't help. If what Ms Shirley is saying is true, sending a lot of 'officials' with our athletes at these big games doesn't help. Complaining about money to fund our drug-testing pro-grammes while having multimillion-dollar celebrations and rewarding our athletes with big money after they do well doesn't help.
JADCO needs to first look at its image before it throws stones at Ms Shirley.
A lot of the flak that Ms Shirley is getting stems from the belief that any accusation about the lack of efficiency at JADCO somehow reflects badly on our athletes, and our athletes, especially our sprinters, are sacred cows.
It is for this, more than anything else, why she is so reviled in certain quarters. Anything else, we would have forgiven her long ago. Forget all the criticism she has been getting about wrong medium, wrong timing, sour grapes, and that she should never have taken money for the article. Yadda-yadda-yadda. We just 'bex' that Ms Shirley could say or do anything that put our athletes under additional suspicion.
If Ms Shirley (or any other Jamaican) had done an interview talking about Jamaica's football to the very same overseas medium, complaining about Captain Burrell, for example, would there have been such a nationwide backlash?
If a journalist who was associated with JFF conducted an interview with the international press and complained about our coaching programmes, our lack of quality fields, the so-called conflict of interest of the president sponsoring the local leagues, the lack of an academy 15 years after a World Cup qualification, etc. etc., what would we be saying about that person?
In all likelihood, such a person would probably be PRAISED for standing up to Burrell and not being afraid to talk the truth! He or she would probably be hailed as a 'fair' journalist who isn't afraid to call a spade a spade. The difference is that while Captain Burrell and the JFF are now fair game for public ridicule, our athletes are not.
Ms Shirley has taken on (maybe inadvertently) the thing Jamaicans have been most proud of in the last decade and she is now paying the price for it. It is indeed the "best of times" for Jamaica's track and field, but definitely also the "worst of times".
Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host on KLAS FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.