Champs: Another mess, but any accountability?

Champs: Another mess, but any accountability?

Dennis Jones

Monday, April 03, 2017

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The dust has settled on another ISSA Boys’ and Girls’ Champs at the National Stadium. In keeping with good organisations, one hopes that a period of stocktaking is going on by the principal organisation and by the overseeing government ministries. Things that worked well should be kept and developed, and those that did not work well should be re-examined and eliminated or improved before the next set of events.

However, one has to wonder if this process happens with ISSA, and if it’s done with full honesty. Why do I say that?

Ticket to nowhere

First, it’s been clear for a long time that ISSA cannot manage ticketing for the event. My first direct experience was in 2014 when my ticket did not give me access to the seat to which I was assigned. That year tickets had been oversold and the police intervened to stop the National Stadium from having too many people — of course as a matter of safety, in their opinion. I was disappointed and had to watch Champs on TV at home, while people tried to clamber into the stadium. ISSA apologised and some talk of compensation circulated, but that fell flat. I have never bought another ticket for Champs. Why should I? It guarantees me nothing.

Since then I have seen and heard of the debacle of getting tickets, to the extent that this year reports were circulating fast of scalpers getting tickets and many would-be spectators disappointed from before the event. Clearly, as days passed, ticket prices rose and those who wanted them badly enough had to pay dearly for the pleasure.

Many simple solutions to the ticketing problem exist, and the only issue is whether ISSA will implement any and, if they do not, whether anyone will be held accountable for another debacle. So far the evidence is that accountability is not one of the features we will see.

Logistics trumps rules?

Second, we have several issues regarding the behaviour of schools and athletes. This year’s signature embarrassment involves a foreign student who it appears was allowed to compete in accordance with rules, but one has to wonder about the sense of the rules. Normally, if one registers for something but cannot present oneself at the due time in person, then the registration lapses. So, in a competition, that usually means disqualification. It’s tough, but that’s normal for lots of things.

It’s happened to me, my team, other athletes, students sitting exams, etc. It’s life. It seems that this principle did not apply to the foreign student, with his school arguing that logistical problems prevented his arrival in the country by the due date. Well, that’s unfortunate, but better luck next time. Like my having a ticket for a flight and arriving late, I miss the flight. Simple! I cannot expect the airline to accommodate my lateness, no matter whose fault it is. From that mistake come other issues.

The said foreign student, apparently abetted by his school, paraded his national flag at the stadium in a celebratory lap. Now, let’s not confuse matters of national pride with its various displays. Of course one should be proud of one’s nation, but the time and place for such displays need to be appropriate.

In my view, Champs is a national school event; it is not a competition that involves foreign schools, and foreign athletes who compete for local schools are not competing for their country. Therefore, if displays of pride are to be shown at that event, I think they should be about the schools involved.

Clearly there’s a thin line, because we could argue that if a student wanted to parade something that raised the pride of a local area, that might seem consistent with the event.

For that reason, the best way to deal with such situations is to try to cover them in the rules. That’s what ISSA did in 2015 with the ‘ambush marketing’ debacle that embarrassed one of the main sponsors, while promoting an individual athlete and his sponsor (who was not a sponsor for the event). We have had no repeat.

If Champs thinks the parading of other national flags is alright, then it can state that explicitly, or ban it explicitly. If it accepts it, then look out for other foreign students to do the same — there are many. It could become more embarrassing when those students come to represent Jamaica at international events, such as Carifta, for which they are eligible. Do we want to see an athlete representing Jamaica deciding to hoist his or her mother country’s flag? Think about it. If it’s the flag of another Carifta country, one has one type of problem; if it’s a non-member country, we have another problem. We also have the embarrassment to Jamaica of its athletes not displaying our national flag. Impossible, you may say? Really?

Finally, ISSA is one of many Jamaican organisations that appear to be laws unto themselves. They often shun publicity unless it is bad, and then there’s a rush to cover up the mistakes. They shun transparency and openness to critical opinions. That can only go on because they are shielded by the political directorate who have power over them.

This Government has done much to make governing more transparent and accountable. It takes time for such an attitude at the level of the executive to translate itself to other administrative levels. One way of getting that done faster is for the egregious examples to be highlighted and dealt with quickly.

Dennis G Jones is a Jamaican-born international macroeconomist, former International Monetary Fund senior economist/resident representative Republic of Guinea; now retired. Send comments to the Observer or @dennisgjones

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