The bigger picture related to the buying of student-athletes
THERE is almost no sports in schools in those countries rated as having the best education systems in the world. Although all of these countries are passionate about sports and excel at many, sports is separate from school. It is not a part of the core mission of school. The problem is that sports can sometimes, if not constantly kept contained, eat away at and overwhelm the mission of school, which is education. Bringing in youngsters for sports purposes is a violation of the spirit and philosophy of educational athletics in high schools.
In Jamaica, high schools import to win, full stop. It is of little or no consequence whether the youngsters are rich or poor, literate, semi-literate or illiterate; whether they come from institutions with good, poor or no facilities, once they show good talent, they will be imported. Schools often attempt to cover up what they do with the excuse that the initiative comes from the parents. But, some schools use, abuse, and sacrifice a number of youngsters on the sports altar for the school's glorification. With education and socialisation of our youth being in such woeful condition, we continue this intense celebration of sports at the peril of our children and with dire consequences for our society. In our schools, academics and sports should be two sides of the same coin — education.
In a recent article published in the Jamaica Observer (June 2, 2014), it was stated that Dr Kevin Asher "throws himself fully behind the practice of schools buying student athletes". In so doing, it seems Dr Asher rushes into the fray dealing with the business of the recruiting of students by our high schools, apparently blissfully oblivious to what has gone before in the discussion. He, therefore, goes over ground that has been exhaustively covered. He suggests, for example, that the coaches are being blamed when it has been pointed out repeatedly that coaches have no authority to enlist, enrol or accept even one student in a school. Coaches do not make policy and must comply with the operational guidelines set down by the school.
Dr Asher emphasised the importance of travel soccer teams in the development of football in the USA. This is one of the points that those of us who detest the buying and other ills associated with the recruiting of youngsters for sports purposes have been making.
It is about how youth sports is organised in our country. Clubs or specialised sports institutions (eg sports academies, travel soccer teams, etc) are the way to develop the sporting talent of our youngsters. We will still produce our world beaters. Schools are not the developmental arms of the various sports associations and should not be used as such. Our scarce resources should be used to give our children a basic education to produce rounded, holistically educated, pro-social citizens. We have too many examples of the distorted situation of sports persons graduating barely able to read at fourth grade level.
Research has shown that excessive and intensive training for youth sport is counterproductive and often acts as an obstacle to fulfilling educational and academic pursuits among young athletes. Is this what we want in Jamaica? How many of our children will be able, later on as professional athletes, to sustain themselves through cricket, football, track and field, netball or basketball? How many will get sports scholarships when so often we hear of scouts coming to Jamaica with a number of scholarships in hand and returning with +almost the same, lamenting that whereas our youngsters showed the highest level of sports ability they were woefully lacking academically.
Dr Asher relates: "In the English Premier League, the average footballer makes more than 10 times the average salary of a medical doctor. Not all footballers make it to the EPL, but worldwide, football alone, is a trillion-dollar industry." Do the educators and other leaders in England know how much of a career and business sports is? Are the people in Brazil, Germany and the overwhelming number of successful countries in the world, economically, educationally and in sports, aware of the power of football as a money earner? It would seem not; because, in their countries, students do not get into regular public schools based on their sports ability. Students are not recruited for sports purposes. In fact, even in the USA, the only country of economic significance in the world where there is a relationship between high level sports and education, the educators (organisations akin to ISSA) do all they can to discourage schools recruiting for sports purposes, including writing specifically in their by-laws that recruiting for sports purposes is prohibited.
In Jamaica, one can choose to go to whichever high school, for whatever reason, wherever one lives; once one qualifies based on our declared, competitive academic system. This means that the poorest children from the depths of our inner cities can and do attend the best of our high schools. Unlike Dr Asher's assertion, there is no uproar whether a foreigner (Anguillan, etc) or a child from rural Jamaica or one of Kingston's ghettos transfers to further his/her education, once such a student is academically/technically qualified to attend the particular school. Because of the tremendous trust deficit in Jamaica, fuelled by acts like the buying of athletes, there will be an outcry only if people do not believe the stated motive/intent.
Why — as Dr Asher seems to suggest — should a boy/girl with sports talent have more of a right to attend the best school than a boy or girl who has no interest in sports but has tremendous entrepreneurial, computer, musical, or other talent and has qualified in the manner we have declared? Why, especially in this knowledge-based, digital, global economy?
In an idealised Jamaica, all our schools would be equal. However, few countries in the world achieve that status. And, while we strive to get there, we must develop and not corrupt entry systems that are declared, transparent, consistent, and as equitable as possible. Remember the majority of the children in our schools are from poor backgrounds.
All human actions have benefits. However, they also have other consequences. The negative consequences emanating from the win-at-all-costs approach, which is signalled in our high schools by the buying, importing, recruiting of student-athletes, by far outweigh the perceived benefits.
Dr Lascelve "Muggy" Graham is a former Jamaica football captain.