JAMAICA is in a state of euphoria after the performance of our athletes at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. Like intoxication resulting from imbibing too much liquor, one could experience a hangover, a headache and feeling of nausea, should one consider this question. Beyond the hype, how does being near the top of the medals table benefit the country? The painful truth is, very little, when the hard measure of dollars and cents is applied.
Some will seek to refute this fact by citing the millions of US dollars in free advertising that accrue to Brand Jamaica each time the national anthem is played to a stadium with thousands of fans and a couple billion more watching by television. Those who make this argument are unaware or may have forgotten that brand value is not money in the bank.
A case in point: Jamaica's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which measures the total value of goods and services, is in the region of US$15 billion. By my calculation, Jamaica's brand value, to which the exploits of our athletes is a major contributor, is about US$33 billion. There is a gap of about US$18 billion between the two figures. If we could fully convert the brand value to GDP, the per capita income of the country would go up by about 30 per cent and unemployment would come down by as much as five percentage points.
This money is there to be earned for the economy, but the sad reality is that the country does not have the wherewithal to optimise the value that's in the name Jamaica. Ask a person of average intelligence why that is so, and instinctively he would reply: poor governance, crime and violence, high illiteracy, too many idle hands, no justice, and a host of problems the common man sees and suffers every day. Jamaica is "damaged goods" of our own choosing and making.
What is true for the country is true for sports. What is the missing ingredient, and why is Jamaica not benefiting economically to the extent that it could from sports? The answer to that vexing question is partly to be found in this truism. Icons, including world-class athletes like Usain Bolt, earn money for themselves; it is industry that creates wealth for a country. Jamaica has not built an industry out of sports. We have been satisfied with the hype, while others reap the benefit of improved income and standard of living for their countries and citizens.
The global sports industry, by some estimates, generates revenue of between US$430 - 620 billion. The revenue comes from company sponsorship of sports events, gate receipts from live sports events, merchandising, media rights fees, sporting goods, licensed products, intellectual property (e.g. trademarks, brands and designs), infrastructure and construction. The global sports industry is a growing contributor to the world economy; mobilising resources, creating jobs, investing in public infrastructure, and growing exports of technology, equipment, apparel and the like.
How many of these revenue-generating activities do we see taking place in Jamaica to any appreciable extent? Our main venue for sporting events, the National Stadium, was built over 50 years ago and has a seating capacity of just about 35,000. The sports venue built in Trelawny for World Cup cricket is used more for music than sporting events, and is locked up most of the year. Are we serious? Even to an eternal optimist, our corner looks dark.
This problem of not being able to convert potential (brand) to wealth (GDP) seems to be a curse on the nation and those who superintend its economic affairs. God forbid it to be so, but if a catastrophe should strike and wipe out all of us so there is no-one left to tell Jamaica's story, there is not a single monument or wealth-creating asset to say to succeeding generations, this is the world capital of reggae. Again, we are adept at producing icons, but not wealth-creating industries out of, say, our music.
In the mid 1990s, for a brief period when the Spanish were investing heavily in Jamaica's tourism sector, the country enjoyed one of the world's highest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to GDP ratios. Yet we were unable to convert a lot of the FDI to jobs and a better standard of living for the populace. It is a fact that most of the investments had to go back out to purchase goods, services and skills. Economists tell us Jamaica does not have the absorptive capacity, because successive governments have failed to sufficiently invest in the human, social and physical infrastructure; in research and development, and in intellectual property.
The American sports industry is estimated to be worth US$422 billion with an additional US$27.8 billion spent on advertising. The industry employs one per cent of the population. With that kind of potential to earn from sports, our Government and the well-thinking citizens of this country cannot be satisfied with the spectacle of hordes of unemployed and working poor gathering in Half-Way-Tree, watching on the big screen our athletes outperforming the world in faraway places, jumping up and down shouting "gold!", then when it is done, going back to their miserable life of lack.
Our iconic athletes, Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, perform their most amazing athletic feats in stadia in foreign lands in front of foreign spectators. Their most lucrative contracts are by foreign brands and their biggest cheques are signed by foreign hands. As long as that remains the status quo, we will be left with the hype while others run laughing to the bank.