Were the Pan-Am Games really worth it?

FROM THE SPORTS DESK

HARTLEY ANDERSON

Sunday, October 30, 2011

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IN an age where pragmatism should account for much, I challenge the establishment by suggesting that in its present format, events like the Pan American Games seem to have outlived their usefulness and could be a burden, rather than a benefit, to participating countries.


Not unlike the Commonwealth Games, the Pan Ams was originally conceptualised to increase sporting activities among people sharing a homogeneous bond — in this case, those who lived in this part of the world known as the Americas .


One should bear in mind, however, that having had its theoretical genesis back in 1926 before being formally implemented in 1951, the idea of a regional games came at a time when there was a tremendous need for sporting activities the world over, with only the Olympic Games offering competition of a multi-disciplinary nature at that point in time.


These are modern times, however, with the radically shifting global landscape not only embracing a professional tone in almost every sport, but also suggesting that increasingly, sportsmen and women have to be tangibly motivated to perform -- though not necessarily in monetary terms.


While I concede that my observations may have been somewhat influenced by the 'lateness' in the season, and consequent inconvenience of this year's edition in Mexico, an expedient question is whether or not these games have any qualitative relevance, despite the camaraderie and participation that it was intended to achieve.


Indeed, a quick look at the times and distances achieved in athletics in Guadalajara bears testimony to this fact, with the majority of countries opting to send third-string athletes to the meet, and those harbouring any ambition of making their respective teams to the London Games not even fleetingly considering gracing this meet with their presence.


In fact, it is common knowledge that at this time of year, professional athletes are doing what is called background work -- boosting their strength and stamina for the demands of a long season which will climax in London next year.


Both athletes and management would therefore scoff at the thought of participating in an event that is neither here nor there as far as prestige, financial gains or professional development is concerned.


To the credit of the regional event, however, the original concept of the Pan American Games would have been considered long before the onset of the phenomenon of world championships, which obtains in almost every sport nowadays.


The reality is that with their distinctive emphasis on standards, these emerging championships far outstrip the Pan Ams in priority, emphasis and importance in the larger scheme of things, thus the need for the organisers to revisit the Games, if longevity and interest are to be sustained.


As far as Jamaica is concerned, with its severe economic dilemma, one would fervently hope its coffers have not been depleted on account of sending athletes to a meet that has, unfortunately, assumed a tag of insignificance, and that its expenses would have been appreciably subsidised by the sponsorship and television rights secured by the organisers.


On the other hand, it was good to see the country — through Lerone Clarke in the 100 metres — perpetuating its dominance in men's sprinting at the highest levels.


As Clarke jokingly conceded — having also won at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India round about this time last year — he seems to thrive on these late season meets and should, perhaps, have more of these. I daresay Clarke cuts a lonesome figure in relation to this sentiment.


If nothing else, the 2011 edition of the Pan Am Games again underlines the superiority of our male sprinters on the world stage. Indeed, we currently hold all the global 100m titles, courtesy of Usain Bolt (Olympics), Yohan Blake (World Championships), Clarke (Commonwealth and Pan Am), Dexter Lee (World Juniors); Odean Skeen (Youth Olympics) and Odail Todd (World Youth).


This is an unprecedented feat that should not be brushed aside as clearly, we are doing something right, despite the negativities emanating from up north which seem to be gathering momentum, but which, archetypally, is the sour grapes syndrome. For, even during their halcyon days in athletics, the Americans never enjoyed this degree of supremacy.


Considering the success of the U-23 Reggae Boyz in Brazil in 2007 when they secured a surprise silver medal after making the final against Ecuador, maybe the emphasis at the Pan Ams from a Jamaican perspective should be gaining recognition in sports such as football.


For, it is no secret that in the South American countries, we would have more than our fair share of exposure to top-class football, from which we can only benefit in the long run.


As to the third-string athletes that we constantly send to these Games, it's still up to them to grab the opportunity with both hands and make a bold statement. The relevance of this is that 100m champ Clarke has yet to dip under 10 seconds, while at least six other active Jamaican athletes have already attained this landmark feat.


Again, those 'lesser' athletes must dispense with the gourmet appetite attitude for which we as a country are renowned, since clearly, they are not of the requisite standard just yet.


The truth is that if they fail to impress at meets such as the Pan American Games, they can quickly forget the big ones like the Olympic Games and Word Championships.



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