Sport

Meet volunteers say time has come for compensation

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BY HOWARD WALKER Observer senior reporter walkerh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, February 03, 2014    

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THE continued development of Jamaica's track and field programmes could be hampered if disgruntled volunteers, some of whom have given yeoman service free of cost for decades, are not remunerated for their efforts.

These officials, over the years, are largely credited for helping to guide the young athletes through the various developmental meets during the track season, culminating with arguably the greatest high school championships in the world, the Boys' and Girls' Championships.

The Jamaica Observer understands that these volunteers ranging from newcomers to stalwarts with over 40 years service in the field, believe it's time for some form of payment, especially now that most of these meets are sponsored and are raking in big bucks.

After years of volunteerism, some of these officials' appetite were whetted after receiving payments to run some events, and some have since boycotted those events that cannot afford to pay because they in turn cannot afford to attend all these events weekly.

In recent times some events have suffered because some meet organisers cannot afford to pay, while others can.

The Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) — the local governing body — is fully supportive of the volunteers being rewarded by promoters of the meets who can afford it based on their budgets.

JAAA's president Dr Warren Blake told the Observer that his organisation is pushing the agenda that volunteers be compensated.

"The JAAA's position is simple. We have built the sport on volunteerism and we recommend and understand that that volunteerism has to continue to a large extent, but it cannot be a situation where people are put out of pocket, especially in these harsh financial times," said Dr Blake.

"What we have asked is that the meet organisers, wherever possible, should contemplate giving the officials a stipend for their services. It is not to be taken as a payment for services, because we could never pay the officials for the work they do, but just a reimbursement of expenses incurred because some people have to come in from the country and this happens at considerable expenses to them," he pointed out.

"It's just a matter of being sensitive to the needs of our officials and we have asked meet officials, where possible, (if) they can do some reimbursement for the officials," he reiterated.

However, Professor Rainsford Wilks, chairman of the Gibson Relays organising committee, disagrees, though he is willing to comply.

"The JAAA certainly has a position that all the volunteers should get some sort of a stipend and I don't agree. I believe that people should volunteer when they can. I don't get a stipend for running the Gibson Relays and it takes a lot of my time. So I don't support the view that everybody needs to be compensated," argued Prof Wilks, who heads one of the best organised events in the region.

"I believe that volunteerism is important, it is a very important component of any society, and it is really what runs sports all over the world," he noted.

"But I recognised that times are hard and some of the volunteers come from different social circumstances. I would not like to see a situation where people who come to run these meets...it becomes a job because that would be out of keeping with the whole ethos and would be unsustainable for those meets that don't generate money," said Prof Wilks.

He added that he would like to see a situation in which special circumstances are dealt with.

"Things and times have changed and times are hard and if everybody comes to the table with a transparent position without any hidden agenda, then we will come to a conclusion which is reasonable and fair," he reiterated.

"But philosophically, a lot of things in society are run by volunteers; it's a part of philanthropy. Rich people give plenty money, poor people give their time and everybody feels good about giving," said Prof Wilks.

The JAAA's president confirmed to the Observer that in recent discussions, some promoters cannot afford to pay even the stipend.

"Some meet officials have complained that they cannot afford it and we said to them, try and be reasonable, and some have complied and given the officials a stipend because it will go toward alleviating the cash crunch that these officials have come under," he said.

"We have always had complaints that people are saying they are having it difficult, but wherever possible, we do try and help."

Meanwhile, Garth Gayle, a volunteer of over 34 years and meet organiser of the Youngster Goldsmith Classic, said he hoped the volunteers keep going.

"The spirit of volunteerism mustn't be allowed to die," said Gayle, who is now the general secretary of the JAAA.

"There are some officials who do travel far distances, leaving their homes and families very early in the mornings, and to assist them with travelling is more than reasonable," he argued.

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