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Club structure, sport development in Jamaica - Role of the collegiate system

Published:Sunday | August 7, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Carole Beckford, Contributor

Up to four years ago, there was an estimated 150 sport clubs in Jamaica with the strongest coming from the traditional areas of football, cricket, netball and basketball. On the other hand, of the more popular sports, track and field have a smaller number of (formal) clubs.

Just over 62 years ago, Jamaica participated in its first Summer Olympic Games in London. This was after a 12-year break from the Games because of World War II; the last being in Berlin, where American Jesse Owen took the world by storm. Jamaica (with the Union Jack flag as its symbol) copped three medals - one gold and two silver. Arthur Wint won gold in the 400 metres and silver in the 800 metres; while Herb McKenley took silver in the 400 metres. Since then, the country has participated in every Summer Games.

Fast-forward to 2008 edition in Beijing where the country earned its most medals in the Games' history - six gold, three silver and two bronze for a total of 11. What has been the sentiment and constant throughout these years? the love for track and field.

The Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA), Jamaica Athletics Administra-tive Association (JAAA) and its affiliates have made every effort to manage the sport. As the sport became much more of a business over the years, Jamaica had to adopt a new model of operation to ensure that the success remained sustainable and could improve based on its potential.

As is customary in any business, the success has opened the doors of opportunity and the country has a glorious chance to create a dynamic club structure which fosters the growth and development of track and field. The two known and outstanding clubs are:

  • MVP led by Bruce James
  • Racers led by Glen Mills.

I know there are others around, but they need to be formalised and organised to absorb the groundswell of people/potential athletes who now seek to be trained and developed in Jamaica.

The burden is now on those two clubs and with hunt for medals on for 2011 (Daegu) and 2012 (London) - athletes have begun and will continue to search for a comfortable track and field home.

Filling the gap

One of the more formal structures which may be able to fill that gap in the meantime is to have the collegiate system more functional towards sport development and competition. The USA collegiate model, even with its complications, offers a kind of continuity for sport like nowhere else in the world. It does offer an alternative for the 17 to 25 age group and facilitates a step closer to the elite level. This is true for basketball, American football and, in some cases, track and field.

The Jamaican system does have G.C. Foster, University of the West Indies, University of Technology, EXED and host of teacher-training institutions that can be galvanised to provide that alternative.

All the answers will not be in the club and collegiate system in Jamaica, but it is worth an effort.I am calling on the rest of the clubs to become formal and attract athletes and create a structure around them that will help their development.

Track and field can organise itself through collaborations with coaches, managers, agents and financial planners, so the sport has support on and off the track. The sport industry need for its most popular sport to have a model that works to lead the way for the other sporting disciplines to follow.

The templates are available and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. October/November is the start of the club year, so there is time to get cracking. It would be a great way to support the sport of track and field we all love.

Carole Beckford has been a journalist for 23 years and is now the publicist for Usain Bolt. She is also an author. She can be reached at