Jamaica needs CARIFTA Games

The Sportig Edge

With Paul Reid

Thursday, April 25, 2019

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Another Jamaican track and field team returned to the island earlier this week laden with dozens of medals from the 48th staging of the CARIFTA track and field championships held a few days ago in the Cayman Islands.

As they have done over the last 34 years, the Jamaicans, even without a number of the top juniors in the team, topped the medals table with ease.

In the last few years with the withdrawal of some of our top juniors for a variety of reasons, at times the proximity to the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, as it is this year, many have questioned whether Jamaica should continue to participate in the three-day event held over the Easter weekend since 1972.

The short answer and I would venture to say, the only answer is simply 'yes'.

The reasons why Jamaican must continue to participate in the CARIFTA track and field championships could fill all the spaces in this newspaper.

Those who are clamouring for Jamaica to leave one of the few intuitions that serves to unite the region are coming from the perspective of our relative strength in track and field and our dominance over the rest of the region.

What they don't point out is our size relative to the other regions, and even without having to draw from the diaspora, we are one of the very few countries with the numbers and resources to field the maximum 80 athletes in the four categories.

What they might not know though is that not every single athlete who makes it to the CARIFTA Games is guaranteed to continue representing the island at the more competitive levels — Pan-American Juniors, Central American and Caribbean Juniors and the IAAF World Under-18 (now discontinued) and the Under- 20 Championships.

There is quite a large per cent of athletes whose only national selection comes at the CARIFTA Games.

Not to mention that the meet oftentimes affords the first chance to travel outside the island for some of the youngsters and to compete under different conditions, but the bonds that are formed between the athletes from the various regions — some last a lifetime.

Despite the fact that we will win and continue to win for a while, nothing lasts forever. The CARIFTA Games serves a very useful purpose to Jamaica's track and field development just as we owe it to the region to send as strong a team as possible to compete.

In years when the calendar conspire to see the ISSA Champs, CARIFTA Trials, CARIFTA Games and Penn Relays in a relatively short span of time, I see nothing wrong with coaches restricting the meets that their young charges should attend.

It makes more sense to rest the youngsters rather than burn them out, running from meet to meet, chasing every medal when soon there will be bigger and better medals at stake.

What those who are suddenly anti-CARIFTA have conveniently forgotten is the purpose for which Austin Sealy conceptualised the championships in the early 1970s and which still happens.

The meet helps to develop the young athletes for the bigger meets to come, and we have seen so many Olympics Games and World Championships gold medallist emerge, no less than Usain Bolt who broke his first world record in Bermuda in 2002, setting the still existing World Junior 200m record 19.93 seconds.

Virtually every athlete from the Caribbean who has made it to the Olympics, World Championships or the Commonwealth Games has had their first taste of international competition at the CARIFTA Games.

Why would we want to deny our talented youngsters of this opportunity?

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