The recently concluded IAAF World Championships in London provided some important definitions and lessons for me and I hope for many others. Firstly, I wish to congratulate Dr. Hon. Usain Bolt for a major transformation in front of our very eyes. We may have only focused on some glory that we could have basked in ourselves without training or running one step. We have all been living vicariously as couch potatoes with a beer in hand, and the TV blasting our own perception that we achieved personal glory. We hoped to relive the achievements of 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016.
Well, our icon transformed himself from being our own personal boasting object into a legend that will become larger than the simple iconic stage. The stories of Usain’s career will be embellished around the campfires of the whole world and will continue past his running, his next phases of life, and will be the subject of embellishment long after he passes from this mortal life. His stories will be akin to the legends of Hercules, Thor, and the Greek gods whose epic tales continued to grow for thousands of years.
Our darling Mrs Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce produced a stellar performance run in the continuation of human life and we wish her the best in her new role. Whether she decides to run again, or not, she will remain the darling of our hearts, and that smile of pure joy and innocent happiness will be branded forever in our memories.
I wish to congratulate all our athletes who earned a place on our team, and take the opportunity to remind them that success is not a destination. It is a journey. It is not always for the swift but those who will endure. Yes, it is tough to make a Jamaican athletic team. However, sporting successes that are seen as fleeting do not quench the thirst of a nation for whom winning is the only criteria for judging success. This is a country that expects to win all the time, and never takes the time to analyze, and plan for a better future.
This is a lesson that can use sport as an analogy, but it is a deep-rooted attitude that extends throughout this “nation of samples”.
The JAAA have been engaged in a development agenda that has been in operation for 50 or more years. They have stuck to it, and it has borne great fruit thus far. I have watched the unfolding of the plan through the eyes of my late friends Herb McKenley, Teddy McCook, Adrian Wallace, and my best friend Aggrey Irons.
Our athletes have been nurtured at every school level; they went for overseas advancement when we did not have adequate facilities or funding; they nurtured the training of local coaches; they developed local facilities with Government assistance; they developed clubs and professionalism; sports medicine education; and the net result was the production of athletes that excelled and made us the talk of the world.
The sport in that time has grown from amateurism to professionalism; from only the Olympics, Commonwealth and Pan American Games; from nationalism (Cold War through sports); to commercialization and private professionals; to worldwide instant broadcast; Gold to Diamond meets; and huge wealth for athletes, coaches, and other support staff.
The sheer cash flows have brought winners take all attitudes; winners take performance-enhancing drugs; nations entice whole programmes based on hoping for undetectable stimulants that have even led to the premature deaths of their athletes. It has become a “dog war”.
This is not only about athletics as every other sporting activity has gone from national to clubs and perhaps none more so that football. Jamaicans have more views on Barcelona, Manchester, Milan, and Chelsea than they do on the World Cup. This absorbs them every week, not every four years, and it is big money, and includes gambling and match fixing.
We need to accept this reality and learn that everything is not always about us, the Jamaican couch warriors, but rather is about perople who earn a living playing, coaching, managing, and expanding the business of that sport.
It is about physical and mental durability, and it is about performance and conformance to the rules of the sport, and the rules of behaviour demanded by the large contracts. It is not about cat fights and inappropriate behaviours at international events. That is not the way to attract sponsors seeking to pay top dollars for brand enhancement. It is about discipline and more so when representing your country. But individual sports like tennis and golf have more stringent requirements.
Natural competition suggests that countries and athletes that we have been trouncing in the last few years will not sit idly by and allow us to humiliate them. So they go back to their drawing boards. 150 countries are plotting for their own Usain; to run further and faster than the Kenyans and Ethiopians; to throw further than the Europeans, and to have a better all-round team than the Americans. The world is dynamic and evolving each day, and competitors do not rest on their laurels.
Sustainability is about consistency of preparation, planning, execution, and revolution where necessary. Revolution may sound strange but it is when you have the foresight to challenge your own methods (even while you are on top), and invent your own future. It is going from the Scissors to the Western Roll to the Fosbury Flop in high jump. Radical moves forward.
The JAAA need to re-examine their strategy, identify and discard the irrelevant, design the desirable, and implement immediately. Failing to take that action may see us in 2019 leaving the World Championships with even fewer medals. The field events (jumps and throws), and the mixed events (heptathlon and decathlon), and middle and long distances cry out for attention.
It is time for a strategy review, a time for clubs and coaches to agree on civility at times of national engagements. Rivalry without reason is a petty emotion that needs to be controlled, and succession planning must be evident and decisive.
Over to you, JAAA.