Jamaican athletes and Carifta visas
Dennie Quill, Contributor
The unifying influence of sport cannot be overlooked nor can the overall discipline which it breathes into the life of athletes and their affiliates. This explains why the next two weekends will be glorious ones for Caribbean athletes and their adoring fans.
First, the local Boys and Girls' Championship marks a century of competition at the National Stadium and next weekend, the Carifta Games will be staged in the Cayman Islands.
The Carifta Games began in 1972 among English-speaking countries to mark the transition from the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta) to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). It was later expanded to include French- and Dutch-speaking countries.
Amid all the intrigue and excitement that these games promise, I felt very distressed when I visited the Carifta Games website and learnt that of the 25 countries slated to participate, Jamaica and Haiti are the only two requiring visas for entry into the Cayman Islands. Matters concerning visas are touchy and right now some people have become very jittery about the fate of their visas. But we are talking about athletics here. These young men and women will their bodies and minds to achieve great feats and bring glory to their countries and joy to their fans.
I saw no indication of a visa waiver for our athletes, so I have to accept that the information on the website is correct. Jamaican athletes would be required to pay US$58.54 processing fee and US$100 per visa. I mentioned this to a group of colleagues and it simultaneously provoked an outburst of indignation on behalf of our athletes. As proud Jamaicans all, they roundly condemned what they described as act of discrimination against our athletes. Everyone felt deeply offended by this action.
I well remember when the Cayman Islands, a former dependency of Jamaica, decided to exhibit its superiority and introduce visas for Jamaicans visiting the islands. It is their right to do, but it signalled to me a downgrading of relations between two neighbours that share a common history and geography.
I firmly believe that the local media were guilty of encouraging this move. Salivating at the prospect of finally getting the news they have long been waiting for, reporters would routinely asked the question every time an errant Jamaican ran afoul of the law. "So are you going to introduce visas?" Sure enough visas were eventually introduced.
Lost amid the media frenzy were a few basic questions which would not have escaped a good grub reporter, for example: Why chastise an entire country because of the actions of a few? Are there a large number of Jamaicans providing intellectual, technical and other skills to make your economy work successfully? Does it follow that the wrongdoers are an aberration?
While the Cayman Islands stand to earn some US$500 million from next weekend's show, additional financial burden has been placed on Jamaican athletes. This imbalance needs fixing and one can only hope that coaches and other sport administrators such as the JAAA will take up this matter at the highest level.
I would like to suggest as Jamaica assumes the chair at CARICOM this July, one of the items to be placed on the agenda is that countries in the region wishing to host cultural and sporting events should abolish visas for participants.
Still let's be positive for our athletes. We hope the 39th Carifta Games will define itself by some thrilling performances and we expect great things from our Jamaican athletes.
Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.