Fri | Jul 30, 2021

Dalton Myers | Pan Am Games underlines need for greater investment in sports

Published:Saturday | August 3, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Yona Knight-Wisdom of Jamaica competes in the diving men’s 1m springboard final at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, Thursday, August 1, 2019. Knight won the silver medal.

The Pan American (PanAm) Games has begun in Lima, Peru, with Jamaica being represented by a 182-member delegation comprising 132 athletes (72 males and 60 females), and approximately 53 officials. This is the largest Jamaican team to these Games and participation in 18 disciplines is by far a record for Jamaica, which has always participated at Pan Am.

This is an important Games for Jamaican athletes. It allows us to assess some of the talent that is at our disposal one year prior to the start of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. With just over a week of competition completed, I am happy to see several of our athletes doing well. While we have been fixated on the football programme and the issues there, there have been some key historic moments so far. Yona Knight-Wisdom created history in the pool when he became the first diver from the English-speaking Caribbean to win a medal in a major game when he copped silver in the 1m springboard competition. Boxer Ricardo Brown won Jamaica’s first medal, bronze at Lima 2019, by virtue of reaching the semi-finals of the Men’s Super-Heavyweight (91+kg) division. It once again shows that as a nation, we have some talented sportsmen and women who can do well once they are afforded the opportunity.

Another first for Jamaica is having a gymnastics team at the Pan Am Games. The women’s team of Kiara Richmond, Toni-Ann Williams and Danushia Francis was a joy to watch and it was great seeing Williams return following an Achilles injury, which led to a six-month setback for her. On the men’s side, Caleb Faulk and Reiss Beckford had the crowd cheering during their routines. Some of my proudest moments were watching Francis and Beckford make their respective finals. Francis placed 7th in the women’s all-around final, and a day later produced another good performance in the balance beam final, placing 7th.

The rugby 7s men team moved up a place in the Pan-Am Games rankings and, despite some tough conditions, have made this another historic moment.

Expanding sport diversity

Jamaica’s participation in Taekwondo, Tennis, Cycling, boxing, gymnastics, squash and badminton so far displays our ever-expanding sporting diversity at the regional level.

Locally, these disciplines are considered ‘minor’ or non-traditional sports, but elsewhere these sports are huge, and investment in such areas can be impactful. My other takeaway from watching these amazing sportsmen and women compete is that while commercialisation in sport has increased, nationalism and patriotism is still alive and well.

It was a joy watching these athletes wear our national colours with pride and waving the Jamaica flag wherever they went. Faulk even have the flag tattooed on him. These are moments we have to cherish as Jamaica looks to celebrate another year of Independence.

Despite everything around us, we still have sports as not just a unifying force, but one that helps us to promote ‘Brand Jamaica’, and allows others to see who we are and the talent we possess.

I will continue calling for more investment in sports. The truth is that many of our athletes competing out there are doing so with little resources, surviving mainly through family funding.

With athletes like Yona Knight-Wisdom, Christopher Binnie, Michael Gunning, and the many others who live in the diaspora, this is their way of giving back to the country they now call theirs. They are helping to build the sporting industry by showing that we have a lot of talent both locally and in the diaspora.

With another week to go in Lima, athletics gets under way on Jamaica’s Independence Day, - August 6. We hope that we will do well with the team assembled. So, while there have been some disappointments, especially with the football programme in Lima, there have also been some amazing performances from our Jamaican athletes, and more to come.I hope these performances will help to motivate other young athletes who want to compete in these disciplines at this level. It takes seven years to develop a female gymnast and 10 years to develop a male gymnast. These things do not happen overnight; we have to be patient.

We also have to be willing to invest in athletes at an early age. Going to the airport to welcome them home is great, but investing in them so they can train, travel and compete on a regular basis is much better.

Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to daltonsmyers@gmail.com or tweet @daltonsmyers.