Our responsibility to our athletes

Christopher Burns

Monday, July 30, 2012    

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The excitement surrounding the 2012 London Olympics is palpable; but the enthusiasm about the Jamaican team's participation knows no dawn and there are no boundaries to our expectations of them. We are in London, brimming with pride and joy as our super team of highly trained athletes prepare to showcase their indomitable Jamaican spirit and to demonstrate to the rest of the world, once more, that "we likkle but we tallawah" - no translation needed, as my brother Teddy is wont to say.

From the look of things, Jamaican food, culture, tourism products and talent are on display and the whole world is watching. Yes, our economy is puttering along and serious social problems remain, but we are a proud and determined people, capable of achieving big things. The rest of the world is observing even as our various teams of talented young athletes (used broadly to include other sports besides track and field) give their absolute best - that's how we are any way.

I remain convinced, unhesitantly and consistently, that they will represent us well. However, inasmuch as they will make us proud and will work diligently to build up our medal count, some of our athletes will falter and some will fail along the way, so we should prepare for these eventualities. And so, we must never lose sight of the human element that really defines our existence. In other words, we must not "kill the goose that lays the golden egg" by seeing super humans when none exist.

Admittedly, our athletes are strong, young, gifted and certainly black, but they are not bionic men and women endowed with limitless quotients of invincibility. They are human beings with natural limitations and are just as fallible as the rest of us. I mention this because I know how much we love "winners", but have very little or no tolerance for the vanquished, however hard they try to win. We can be unnecessarily cruel to, and impatient with, our sportsmen when they do not live up to our expectations. Sometimes, it appears to be lost on us that defeat can also produce victory.

Oh, who can forget how, at one point, Usain Bolt was subjected to the most uncharitable criticisms about his lacklustre performances; while Asafa Powell was elevated and celebrated as the "best in the business" until he could no longer sustain. We have to start treating the lesser known, but very important and often well-accomplished, sportsmen and sportswomen as valuable members of 'Team Jamaica'.

Not everybody will run the final leg of a relay or be included on the medal stage; and certainly not everyone will create world records. Nevertheless, we must celebrate and esteem them as enthusiastically and consistently as we regard and "deify" record holders. And when their performances are no longer "up to scratch", we should never cast them into the "al-Masada" of worthlessness. Instead, we should utilise their skills and encourage them to "get up", brush themselves off and reclaim their passion.

We must never lose sight of the enormous value-added and joy they brought at certain points in their career, and we must do everything possible to support them, especially when they need that reassurance that someone cares. After all, it is said: "No man is an island. No man stands alone. Each man's joy is joy to me. Each man's grief is my own. We need one another, so I will defend each man as my brother, each man as my friend..."

Unfortunately, it is not just our "inactive" athletes whom we treat that way, we do it to retired civil servants, policemen, nurses and teachers to name a few; and while there are no laws or moral standards that mandate how we handle these individuals, we can exercise a greater sense of conscience and care toward our fellowmen and unsung heroes.

Undeniably, the 2012 Olympics have put somewhat of a damper on the Jamaica 50 anniversary celebrations - but this needs not be for long. The Jamaica 50 anniversary planners should have anticipated and made provisions for the likely impact the London 2012 Olympic Games could have on local activities and interest. In fact, the Jamaica 50 anniversary celebrations should have been positioned alongside the Olympic Games, if for no other reasons, but to peak interest in our celebrations and market our major political milestone.

Anyway, let me get back to the games and to our athletes: Passions will run high; anxiety will get the better of us during these games, but let's do something a little differently this time; especially as we celebrate our 50th year of political Independence. Let us not cower under the weight of anxiety or allow disappointment to get the better of us to the point where we see and describe our athletes as "wutless or fool-fool" because of errors they might make, defeat they might suffer, or records that they could not maintain or establish.

And, even as we bask in the glory of these Olympics events, we should remain cognisant of the team-approach and the team spirit that is always necessary for a successful meet. It cannot just be all about Blake, Bolt, Powell, or Campbell; it ought to be about the entire team. "A team is as strong as its weakest link"; and although there are going to be 100 and 200-metre races, for instance, the team spirit and concept lives on, particularly in the dim of camera light when all the athletes meet to strategise and plan for the next meet. Positive vibes and team support are essential elements in success. So, as much as we can, we should encourage team building and collegiality through our collective support of the entire team.





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