Money mis­spent

Jamaica Gleaner - - TUESDAY SPORTS -

THE ELAB­O­RATE cel­e­bra­tions and of­fi­cial hon­our­ing of our Olympic ath­letes by the Gov­ern­ment of Ja­maica un­folded over the week­end: $82 mil­lion worth of ‘thank you’ to the ath­letes who flew the Ja­maican flag high at the Rio 2016 Games.

The ra­tio­nale of­fered by many, in­clud­ing Tourism Min­is­ter Ed­mund Bartlett, is that the value of the ex­po­sure Brand Ja­maica gets, cour­tesy of our ath­letes, is im­mea­sur­able, there­fore this $80-plus mil­lion is money well spent.

As a stick­ler for for­ward think­ing and de­vel­op­ment, my pref­er­ence will al­ways be for in­vest­ing lim­ited re­sources in de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes and sup­port sys­tems aimed at en­sur­ing, as much as pos­si­ble, that we con­tinue to pro­duce world-class track ath­letes down the road, rather than hav­ing one week­end of ‘feel-good ma­nia’.

Even in a con­text of much more ur­gent and press­ing eco­nomic, so­cial and in­fras­truc­tural chal­lenges af­fect­ing the wider cit­i­zen­ship and all cry­ing out for fund­ing, one can still em­pathise with the case be­ing made for the im­por­tance of the ath­letes’ con­tri­bu­tion to the psy­che and even the well-be­ing of our peo­ple.

BIG­GER PIC­TURE

Again, that prover­bial ‘big­ger pic­ture’ comes into play where lim­ited gov­ern­ment re­sources would be bet­ter spent in sup­port of the vi­tal school pro­grammes that fuel the en­gine of our suc­cess in the sport, along with en­sur­ing that the likes of MVP, Rac­ers, Sprint Tech, Cameron Blazers and Akon track clubs keep de­vel­op­ing and ex­pand­ing.

Po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency man­ual sug­gests the Gov­ern­ment will gain more ‘props’ and spec­tac­u­lar photo op­por­tu­ni­ties with a high­pro­file ‘bash­ment’ than in­vest­ing in vi­sion­ary and for­ward-think­ing ac­tions, such as of­fer­ing long sought-af­ter con­ces­sions for the im­por­ta­tion of vi­tal equip­ment and ma­te­ri­als needed by the track clubs to prop­erly pre­pare the ath­letes, or for the con­spic­u­ous less news­wor­thy dis­tri­bu­tion of ameni­ties to the schools which serve as the nurs­eries for the ath­let­ics pro­grammes. That is the re­al­ity of the space in which all this is hap­pen­ing.

THE RE­WARDS

The de­ci­sion to erect stat­ues of the elite ath­letes is a good one and, not sur­pris­ingly, has got­ten unan­i­mous sup­port. The ques­tions of doubt arises for the galatype cel­e­bra­tions and the re­mu­ner­a­tion scheme for the ath­letes, which sees top ath­letes – a lot of whom are al­ready fi­nan­cially se­cure – walk­ing away with what is com­par­a­tively the lion’s share of the re­wards.

The in­ten­tions are no­ble, but in a con­tex­tual re­al­ity it is far from ideal.

Word leak­ing out is that a num­ber of the less prom­i­nent Olympians, who were flown into Ja­maica for the cel­e­bra­tions have qui­etly ex­pressed that they would pre­fer get­ting more sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance with their train­ing pro­grammes and gen­eral ex­penses than hav­ing a one-off happy week­end.

Ja­maicans have gone be­yond the stage where pa­rades and par­ties for our re­turn­ing ath­letes are of the essence. The nov­elty of high-pro­file suc­cess at the Olympic level has worn thin. Per­haps we have re­ally been spoilt by our suc­cess.

The per­for­mance of the ath­letes in Rio was ba­si­cally what Ja­maicans have come to ex­pect from our ath­letes. We are not over­whelmed by one-off suc­cess any­more. We are now ma­ture and so­phis­ti­cated as a track and field na­tion and Ja­maicans want and ex­pect our re­cent trend of ex­cel­lence to con­tinue.

In that con­text, the $82 mil­lion spent over the week­end, while it was not nec­es­sar­ily money wasted, it was cer­tainly not money well spent.

It was more like money mis­spent.

PHOTO BY DARIEN ROBERT­SON

Sprint star Usain Bolt dances as he is ad­dressed by MC ‘Jerry D’ (cen­tre), while fel­low star sprinter Asafa Pow­ell re­acts on stage dur­ing Satur­day night’s gala celebration for the na­tion’s Rio Olympic and Par­a­lympic Games ath­letes at the Na­tional In­door Sports Cen­tre.

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