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.
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 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.
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.