THIS newspaper has consistently advocated the value of sport not just as recreation or as a means of boosting our nation's image, but for its potential to assist the drive for economic growth and buoyancy.
For that reason we have consistently advocated the development of an integrated sports policy with full-fledged public/private partnership aimed at the development and maximising of young talent.
For that reason, too, we applaud the $250-million High School Sport Infrastructure Improvement Project highlighted in yesterday's Sunday Observer.
We are told that 23 schools are to benefit from the initial phase of the project which, according to the Sunday Observer, is "aimed at upgrading the sport facilities in high schools and by extension improving players' abilities in various sporting disciplines".
Minister with responsibility for sport, Ms Natalie Neita-Headley, makes the obvious yet critical point that "our school system bears the brunt of our national sport programmes. As such we must fortify the base by improving the facilities that mould our children..."
In developed football-playing countries, for example, it's the clubs — operating as professional/business outfits — which largely take responsibility for the development of talent.
In Jamaican sport the day may come when clubs are at such a high professional and resource level that they can mould the bulk of our young talent in the major sports.
That day remains a distant dream. In the meantime — as they have always done — our schools must be the nurseries for our talented young men and women in a range of sporting disciplines.
The big names such as Messrs Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Chris Gayle, Rudolph Austin, Mrs Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, et al, are among the scores of our professional sportsmen and women who operate on the international circuit bringing millions of US dollars to our struggling economy annually.
All were nurtured and developed in Jamaica's schools' sports programmes.
The current earnings constitute a drop in the bucket compared to what is possible with a comprehensively developed and forward-thinking drive towards sports development in schools and communities.
We contend that, in schools, sport shouldn't be seen merely as physical education and recreation, but as a skill set of real economic value worthy of being taught and tailored to meet the demands of our world.
The aim should be to develop that "trademark" spoken about by Jamaica's football national head coach Mr Winfried Schafer in his 'must read' letter to the editor published in yesterday's sport pages.
We think it appropriate to thank all those involved in the funding and implementation of the High School Sport Infrastructure Improvement Project for their foresight and will — even in these economically hard and restrictive times.