Letters to the Editor

Have frank discussions on support for track athletes

Thursday, September 13, 2012    

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Dear Editor,

Similar to all other professions, a stint in track and field demands personal sacrifice for athletes who aspire to ascend the steps of the podium. For the athletes, events such as the Olympic Games and International Association of Athletic Federations' World Championships present opportunities to compete with the very best in the world at the highest level, and in the process become household names. We, the adoring public, cling to the illusion that somewhere in all of this, patriotism counts for something, however small.

It was therefore disappointing to hear Mr Asafa Powell describe competing for Jamaica at these world-class events as athletes doing the country "a favour". We have heard the much-beloved Mr Powell express these sentiments before in defence of his various mishaps and his lobby for more meaningful gestures from the government. By his own account, he has been the recipient of lots of "shake hand" and "promises". If this is true, it is truly disgraceful as any commitment made to our brave athletes must be honoured.

Mr Powell's concerns have been eloquently clarified by double Olympic champion, Mrs Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, on her return to the island at the weekend after a hugely successful summer. She too has called for support for athletes which she said is sadly lacking and urgently needed.

However, there is another side to the script about which complaining athletes and their management teams have not been very talkative. The nation must have a frank and honest discussion about all aspects of this issue in order to achieve a practical and meaningful policy which provides an adequate level of support to athletes. Details of the lucrative rewards which can be realistically earned by those who excel in the sport will be critical to this discussion. This support will require substantial and ongoing financing and will be a further investment to the existing forms of support from which some athletes now benefit.

A national policy, which offers support to clubs and unattached athletes, will require deep and informed analysis to determine eligibility, the point at which the support will kick in, duration and cut-off point. With "support" comes accountability, as the nation will demand standards from beneficiaries.

These are real questions for an economy struggling to pay civil servants and put flush toilets in many primary schools. Will any social programme such as the push to improve early childhood education be displaced in order to offer support to athletes?

While it prepares to fashion this policy, the Ministry of Sport could look closely at what obtains in the United States as it pertains to the Olympic Games, and make available a cash incentive for all medallists. The ministry could also encourage local clubs to improve on their planning by paying keen attention to issues such as health insurance and financial planning for athletes who must maximise their earning potential in a very small window.

Until that policy is implemented, those aspiring to pursue a career in track and field should approach this decision responsibly by realistically assessing their potential, consulting with family and specialist coaches, looking at earning opportunities and becoming mentally prepared for a rough ride for which there is no guarantee of Olympic glory. Make no mistake, it is the halo of Olympic and World Championship glory which throws open the doors to handsome shoe sponsorships, book deals, appearance fees, endorsement deals, and for whatever it is worth, the adoration and pride of a grateful nation.

Dawn Campbell Douglas






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