Sport

Tired of running

J’can athletes resist temptation of remaining illegally in US

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS Assistant Sport Editor

Thursday, April 10, 2014    

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THE positively changing landscape of Jamaica's athletics is said to be a key deterrent for athletes who may be tempted to remain illegally in the USA during competition.

With so much more at stake these days with the growing professionalism inside Jamaica's track and field, and the rising crest of success of the country at major meets in the recent past, budding athletes have cause to check any desire they may have to 'run off'.

In its 20 years providing meals and other critical services for Jamaican high school teams participating in the annual Penn Relays held at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Team Jamaica Bickle (TJB) would have had to grapple with the problem of athletes going AWOL (away without leave) during this meet.

Chief executive officer of TJB Irwin Clare noted that back then when young athletes continued running long after meets had ended, they were doing a great disservice to Brand Jamaica.

"From the standpoint of image, it was not good (for Jamaica) as people would say 'the Jamaicans dem run off again', even when it's just one person, it is still termed as the Jamaicans. Of course people would say that's how the Jamaicans are, and there are those who have even suggested that it was a racket that was taking place," said Clare, who is also an immigration lobbyist and advocate.

"Back then, there were also instances where people found themselves on these teams that had nothing to do with the programme... we are impressing on schools to be very mindful of that and to go as far to say that they don't want to be part of such transactions," he told reporters and editors at the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange last week.

Clare suggested that most of the athletes who violated their US visas in the past are commonly those who could be regarded as second-rate performers looking for an alternative source to better their lives.

"Back then, without being disrespectful to anybody, some of those athletes (who would run off) were truly not A-class athletes. They were very limited, so the motive was sometimes a matter of economics," he pointed out.

With those days where stories made headlines of school athletes disappearing into the night or who would go on shopping trips and never returned all but gone, Clare pandered to the argument that the overall development of Jamaica's athletics as the reason the current vintage are less inclined to jump the gun.

With a professional career an achievable goal these days, and the prospect for fame and fortune more than just a fleeting dream, budding track and field Jamaican athletes have seemingly foreseen the benefits of staying in their lanes.

"It's a situation where the athletes will not want to damage their careers. I think we have better calibre athletes today who see athletics as a profession and an opportunity," Clare said.

Also, he indicated that better organisation of hosting groups, particularly those working for or in tandem with the celebrated Penn Relays and the ever-changing US immigration laws, have also contributed to a decline in these incidents.

"When we moved the teams from downtown Philadelphia, we lessened distractions and temptations. We also said to family members who like to come and take the kids shopping, 'don't do that'," Clare noted.

The founder of TJB added that conditions in the USA have changed dramatically that a person "without proper documentation" would find it difficult to survive at the minimum.

"You can't just come to the United States and say you gonna just do a thing as that's not encouraged anymore. Because even the person who is legitimate, who has his green card and citizenship, is finding it hard to survive. How the heck you expect to come here now without those documents and expect to survive?" Clare asked.

Meanwhile, the Jamaican-born American stated that the relationship between the US Embassy in Kingston and track and field groups have become warmer, but warned it's still a work in progress.

"I am seeing a lot of improvement in that situation, not only are the athletes now getting one entries, but more flexible visas as I believe that the embassy understands that this is a potential trade for the individual involved. We have seen an improvement, but it's an ongoing process, however," Clare argued.

In applying for visas, Clare urged athletes to be honest with their responses during interviews and that their handlers better prepare them for these one-on-ones with consular staff.

"We have impressed on our athletes to be honest with their responses, or to not forget those things that are truthful, because not doing so is a disqualifier. We must also better prepare our athletes for the interview.

"We have had meetings with representatives of the US Embassy on the whole subject so that they can understand when you have for example a team of five and only three people get visas that makes no sense... we also understand and respect the rules and regulation of the embassy as well," Clare ended.

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