Stop Playing Games with Sports

netballJamaicans have a mad passion for sports. Be it the man who plays community football every Sunday, or the woman who goes all out in our local netball leagues, we indulge in sports. Even if we have never played on an actual team or ever kicked a ball, we watch with baited breath Manning Cup matches and Jamaica trials. Put in a nutshell, Jamaica is a sports-happy nation that is also home to some of the world’s best athletes and coaches.

Yet, here we are, some 13 years since the start of our prolonged athletic dominance (see VCB at the 2004 Athens Games) and some 20 years since our qualification for the World Cup and we are still yet to realize that sports is so much more than a game.

Sports is both an industry and entertainment. It is a multi-billion dollar entity which we as a nation are failing to tap into. Staying with the obvious (track and field) Jamaica has been at the top of the pack for over a decade, yet we do not tap into that for monetary purposes.

We do not, for example, have a world class training camp where foreign athletes can come for some rest and relaxation or intensive training, nor do we have in place a training programme for foreign coaches so that they can tap into our methods (and we can tap into their wallets). If we are to not only retain our position as kings of the track but also leave a lasting mark on the sport, we need to seriously monetize track and mimic what they have in Eugene, Oregon – a hub of track and field where international athletes and coaches are hosted.

Football isn’t spared from this insanity, in fact, it is the poster child for Jamaica’s failure to adjust to the realities and potentials of the modern sports industry. Now, football has been drunk on money since the 90s, moreso in the past five years. Jamaica is a nation where football is king, yet we, for some reason, refuse to tap into that rich vein. We refuse to professionalize our league (we have only recently become semi-pro) and we (as individual clubs) refuse to become feeder clubs to European clubs in Belgium and The Netherlands, where work permits are easier to come by, thereby seriously limiting the potential finances that the clubs could make.

More to the point in this day and age where clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid travel the world on summer tours and pre-season tournaments, Jamaica with its tourist pedigree and its passion for sports cannot seem to organize even a one-off tournament with these teams that are both available and actively looking to expand their market base. This would both boost our tourism product while improving our standard of local football.

We see the same in netball where we continue to rest on our laurels while failing to realize that we are sitting on a potential goldmine. With a national team that averages a global ranking of between third to fifth in the world (while still having no professional league), we refuse to take advantage of the fact that we possess some of the best athletes and coaches.

We could (just like track and field) share our knowledge and nous of the game. We should be creating a league that seeks to attract the best players in the region and then televise it through Sportsmax, for example (which is highly under-supplied). In one fell swoop we would have cemented the regional viewership, expanded our product (the Jamaican netball league) to foreign shores while ensuring that we remain as one of the hubs of the game globally.

Sports could and should be placed on the front burner by both political parties and especially any person who wishes to be a tourism minister. With so much money just sloshing around, literally begging to be pocketed, we refuse to monetize sports. We have a perfectly good multi-purpose stadium on the north coast that we have allowed to become a white elephant rather than expanding into the sports tourism market.

We don’t use it to host cricket (we could host the subcontinental teams and tap into their massive diaspora in the states) and we don’t use it to host football matches (where we could integrate our football product with our tourism product). Instead of doing these obvious things to get involved in the international sports market we continue to dither and laud the fact that we have got some third rate IAAF-sanctioned meet while The Bahamas hosts the premiere world relay meet.

We need to wise up and realize that sports is about more than running up and down. It is more than having fun and winning. It is an industry of which we are a part. A change must be made in how we view sports and how we integrate it into our economy. Too much chatting has been done and not enough action when it comes to monetizing sports. This must be changed.

The private sector along with the State must realize that here is an industry that is tailor made for us to earn massive amounts of money. Let us push our politicians to promote and push sports. Let us push the private sector to realize that the sporting industry can be and is profitable. Let us harness the sporting potential that this nation has. To not do so would be criminal.

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