Our ath­letes need greater pro­tec­tion

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS - Dal­ton My­ers Dal­ton My­ers is a sports con­sul­tant and ad­min­is­tra­tor. Email feed­back to dal­ton­s­my­ers@gmail.com

THE FALL­OUT from the sen­tenc­ing of for­mer USA gym­nas­tics team doc­tor and a physi­cian at Michi­gan State Univer­sity, Larry Nasser took an­other turn when news emerged ear­lier this week that the United States Olympic Com­mit­tee (USOC) is mak­ing moves to re­move the US Gym­nas­tics as the gov­ern­ing body for that sport in that coun­try.

This comes on the heel of the res­ig­na­tion of the CEO who was cho­sen to help with this process of re­form. The USOC in­di­cated that it seems un­likely that the nec­es­sary re­form can come from within, and as a re­sult, it may need to in­ter­vene.

This is a very in­ter­est­ing move, ex­tend­ing the rip­ple ef­fects of what hap­pened at the USOC for many years. Nasser was found guilty and sen­tenced for sex­u­ally abus­ing gym­nasts un­der his care for many years.

Mean­while, a tri­bunal in Bri­tain has learnt that there was a “toxic re­la­tion­ship” be­tween Bri­tish Taek­wondo coaches and medics. This is be­cause it is be­lieved that ath­letes’ wel­fare was be­ing sac­ri­ficed for win­ning medals at the Olympics as Bri­tish Gym­nas­tics and oth­ers are be­lieved to re­ceive in­crease fund­ing based on medals won. This re­sulted in con­cerns about in­juries to ath­letes and their gen­eral well­be­ing. As the tri­bunal hear­ing con­tin­ues, this is def­i­nitely a case to keep an eye on.

In Ja­maica, we have not had such fall­out but both cases make you won­der who pro­tects the in­ter­est and wel­fare of ath­letes in com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ments. Lo­cally, many per­sons have com­plained about the ill-treat­ment or over­work­ing of ath­letes at all lev­els, from high school to pro­fes­sional realms but there is no for­mal func­tional sports over­sight body to which ath­letes feel that they can make a gen­uine com­plaint, and have it dealt with

Pro­fes­sional sport is very com­pet­i­tive and fund­ing is often heav­ily de­pen­dent on per­for­mance. Most sport­ing as­so­ci­a­tions and sports equate suc­cess to mean medals. In our unique sit­u­a­tion, the wel­fare of ath­letes seems to rest with their track clubs, their agents and/or man­agers. Ath­letes will trust th­ese per­sons as they tend to hold the keys to con­tracts, fund­ing and moral sup­port. While we may want to be­lieve in th­ese han­dlers, his­tory tells us that we still need to pay keen at­ten­tion to is­sues such as sex­ual as­sault, phys­i­cal abuse, over­work and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse that can af­fect the wel­fare of our ath­letes.

TAKE DUE CARE

If ath­letes’ wel­fare is not taken into con­sid­er­a­tion then we may lose some very tal­ented ath­letes, or other is­sues such as men­tal health may af­fect some of our ath­letes. We could lose some as they no longer trust the sys­tem and stop train­ing for na­tional teams. An­other chal­lenge is that at the pro­fes­sional level we tend to be­lieve that th­ese ath­letes can take care of them­selves. This, un­for­tu­nately is not re­ally true.

I be­lieve that there needs to be na­tional sup­port for the well-be­ing of ath­letes. While there is a Ja­maica Ath­lete Wel­fare and De­vel­op­ment fund still on­go­ing out of the Min­istry of Sports, this is in no way meet­ing most of the needs of our sports­men and women. I also be­lieve that the In­sti­tute of Sports (Insports) needs re­vamp­ing. Govern­ment should use that body as the or­gan­i­sa­tion to fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing high-per­for­mance ath­letes. It should still fo­cus on youth de­vel­op­ment but as part of a more struc­tured pro­gramme that seeks to guide ath­letes from youth to pro­fes­sional lev­els. Within that space, the In­sti­tute could also have a divi­sion that caters to ath­lete wel­fare.

I think the frame­work is there. In fact, the Govern­ment had done a great job in im­ple­ment­ing a Na­tional Sports Pol­icy which pro­vides an out­line for na­tional sport de­vel­op­ment. What is now needed is proper im­ple­men­ta­tion to achieve the var­i­ous ob­jec­tives.

The truth is that if we have a case here in any sport in Ja­maica sim­i­lar to that of US Gym­nas­tics, then the dif­fi­culty will be en­sur­ing pro­tec­tion for the ath­letes’ well-be­ing and ex­pos­ing what As­so­ci­a­tions might be do­ing. Like the USOC, the Ja­maica Olympic As­so­ci­a­tion is the cus­to­dian of the Olympic Char­ter in Ja­maica and can play a role in re­vamp­ing any sport­ing as­so­ci­a­tion.

As we con­tinue to sup­port our sports­men and women, let us look out for the signs that they may be fac­ing chal­lenges to their well-be­ing, or that their wel­fare is not be­ing sup­ported.

If ath­letes’ wel­fare is not taken into con­sid­er­a­tion then we may lose some very tal­ented ath­letes, or other is­sues such as men­tal health is­sues may af­fect some of our ath­letes. We could lose some as they no longer trust the sys­tem and stop train­ing for na­tional teams

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