Congratulations to our Jamaicans sports persons who earned the right to represent our country at the Tokyo Olympics. I only wish we could have been in more disciplines, and this is the focus of my article today.
The historical view of professional sports (inherited from British Colonialism), was akin to the “lowly” pursuits of the proletariat. It certainly was not the desired future of occupation for the established upper classes”, and served mainly to occupy and divert the raging hormones of teenage boys in Grammar schools.
The aspirational choice professions of medicine and law have robbed professional sports of many potentially great sportspersons, but I will refrain from speculating as to the satisfaction or earning of their choices in hindsight. Would they have been more financially secure with 10% of Usain Bolt’s earning? Well at least “Granny” is happy that the grandchildren are moving up the social ladder and all have “good hair”.
However the purpose of my speculation is not about randomly occurring talent, therefore I will offer a few ideas on organization; strategy; and implementation as they either maximize or diminish earnings for sportspersons and capital investment. I firmly believe that the development of sports in Jamaica requires a planned long-term approach that is specialized in components, but not dissimilar to planned tourism in many areas.
I am reliably informed that such an exercise was held in 1996 in the hills of St. Andrew and facilitated by my friend Dr. Aggrey Irons for the JAAA. Participants would have included the late Teddy McCook; Adrian Wallace; and Howard Aris. That seemed to start the strategic planning, and the outcome is quantifiable today.
Firstly, the choice of disciplines and infrastructure for the sports that are directly appropriate to age groups and gender must be decided in a professional and unbiased manner that is based on physiology and other focused criteria. For example we love football and push the sport at all ages on unsuitable surfaces especially fields without grass from Kindergarten, Primary, Secondary, to semi-professional leagues, and yet we wonder about fitness levels and unnecessary injuries that cut careers short.
This is true about athletics; cricket; swimming; diving; water polo; netball; rowing; volleyball; gymnastics; tennis; golf; archery; fencing; cycling; air pistol; equestrian; judo; wrestling; taekwondo; basketball; weightlifting; beach volleyball; boxing; field hockey; yachting; and many others.
Secondly, we must be able to identify our goals in an orderly manner. We must offer a logical priority that is aspirational (the dream), the funding sources (including government; public/private/foreign-private funding; and any other formats). Money is required in order to fund the infrastructures, locations, and supervised residential facilities, as required.
Thirdly, our ambition must be “big, hairy, audacious goals” (Collins and Porras: Built to last). There is little room for incrementalism. The scale is similar as between an airplane and a rocket. We cannot leave a sports industry purely to chance. For Jamaica, our dreams must be large as nothing else will suffice in a land where our own ego has long surpassed our reality.
Fourthly, the question of appropriate nutrition requires high-level scientific and medical studies, in an even greater intensity than diabetes, obesity, cardiac, and many other fields. In an obvious example the athlete in fencing may need a totally different regime than a swimmer, or gymnast.
This must be further dissected by sport; age; gender; and culturally by food availability within the home and the ability to properly feed sportsperson. Flour dumpling and “salt ting” may not be the food of champions, and yam is not the real reason that Usain Bolt’s has been spectacular.
There can be no blind acceptance that a sister or brother not engaged in any sports warrants the same calories of someone swimming six miles or more per day. Affordability is not the only criteria, but it is a Jamaican reality that will either produce gold medals or obesity.
Fifthly, the age and gender appropriate levels of strenuous activities must be monitored and reviewed by kinesiologists, physiologists, and other practitioners in specialized allied medical support fields. This could produce many areas of sports related employment in allied fields.
Sixthly, the sources of specialization and the places of education must be relevant, futuristic, comfortable, and cutting-edge. Regrettably, this is NOT a description of the G. C. Foster College, nor UWI and UTECH. We must dream big as we look out for the stars. We are the new explorers looking for a sporting industry that transcends our concepts today. We need to dream of “changing the dross metal into gold”.
As a single example, the 50m pools of UWI and G.C. Foster (empty for years), and the 25m pool at UTECH have no competitors in the Olympics that were produced there. Our two recent Olympic swimmers were not products of those facilities, and this needs to change.
By starting with the premise that the deficiencies are true (with a few outstanding exceptions) the way is clear for constructive dialogue. We have a nasty tendency to abuse our sporting achievers (while we sit inebriated and precariously on a bar stool), or offer unkind comments on social media platforms.
Our mean and disrespectful utterances directed to our sporting women and men by the stupid non-achievers who abound, cannot be encouraged as they destroy the ambition of our nation and not only individuals. This is a time for reflection and planning a lucrative new industry.
Crabs in a barrel are of only one value and that is to cook and sell as crab backs. If that is not what you want, then climb down into your holes in the sand and allow competent persons a chance to address a plan towards further success.