Athletics as an industry in Jamaica
The Bird’s Nest Stadium in Beijing

At the recently concluded World Championships in Beijing, Jamaica won its fourth field event medal since the inception of this event in 1983. Jamaica, with 110 medals to date, ranks fourth among all competing countries.

Only four of the medals were not won on the running track. These are Tricia Smith (gold in the triple jump 2005); James Beckford, two silvers in long jump (1995 and 2003) and, this year, O'Dayne Richards won bronze in the shot put. The historical significance of this feat is that it could represent the catalyst for the breakthrough from our traditional sprinting dominance into the field events and enhance Jamaica's medal-winning hopes for future Games.

Although winning a bronze medal in the discus and missing the gold by 24 cm (about eight inches) Richards is deserving of praise, because it is performances like these that make Brand Jamaica a huge drawing card for Jamaica's number one foreign exchange earner -- tourism.

Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Dr Wykeham McNeill reported that in 2014 just over 3.5-million tourists visited Jamaica and created earnings in excess of US$2.2 billion. Tourism provides about 25 per cent of the jobs in Jamaica and is the major foreign exchange earner.

Benefits for employers

One of the Jamaican athletes, while in Beijing, received a call from his employer to determine when he would return to work. This was obviously a response to the fact that one of his staff was on the team that tied for first place with Kenya (in gold medals) out of 205 countries and he was planning a big welcome on the athlete's return.

The real issue, however, is that many -- if not all -- athletes (some of whom will become world beaters) need a job while they develop their athletic skills. The challenge is for Jamaica to find a way to nurture this great resource which is a significant contributor to the tourism product.

Corporate Jamaica sponsors athletes but perhaps could go a step further and put a number of athletes on their payroll with the benefits of health insurance, a pension plan and company vehicle as the business decides. This would only be feasible if this benefit is tax deductible up to a set percentage of gross payroll.

Beneficiaries of this programme would first have to be registered and graded by a designated authority and considered eligible to represent Jamaica. The cost to the company could, in the case of a large company, be recovered, at least in part, through a small increase in the price of its product. This way every Jamaican who buys the product will be contributing to the athletics industry -- a win-win situation for government and citizens because of the earnings from tourism.

The Government could consider permitting such athletes to purchase cars using the civil servant's duty concession. Schools and universities must also get formal attention through appropriate scholarships.

Athletes would not be out on a payroll and not be expected to work. The responsibilities must be tailored to give the athlete time for crash training and meets and provide the athlete with job skills and guidance for life after athletics.

Many Venezuelans have won Miss Universe because that nation takes this talent seriously. Beauty is recognised as an industry in Venezuela. Girls from as young as age five are trained for beauty pageants. In addition to make-up, dress, walking and the like, schooling includes public speaking, social skills and general education. Many beauties have enjoyed successful careers after the beauty competitions.

State-of-the-art stadium

If athletics is to become a real industry in Jamaica a bona fide production facility -- a sprint factory -- an ultra modern state-of-the-art stadium complex is necessary.

An ideal location could be on the toll highway near Ocho Rios. This would place the facility within a one hour highway drive for more than one-half the population of Jamaica and the prime tourist properties.

A stadium complex including hotel and roadside shopping mall with gas station, souvenir shop and food court plus a museum that showcases pictures, spikes, articles, actual medals/apparel, songs relevant to Jamaica's rich track and field history, should be a viable business venture.

Athletes from all over the world would be attracted to train in Jamaica at a location with accommodation, clinics, testing facilities, gymnasiums, conference rooms etc. There would also be lecture theatres and labs, for sports science and medicine, subjects to educate the athletes for life during and after athletics as well as training for non-athletes in careers such as coaching, journalism, etc. The possibilities are too numerous to mention.

The stadium would also attract Diamond League meets and Commonwealth Games and new regional meets. Why not have a regional Boys and Girls Champs?

In addition, the complex could be designed to be a statement or "iconic" structure that defines Jamaica and which all Jamaicans and tourists would want to visit. Some iconic structures are the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Sydney Opera House, Taj Mahal and the Beijing Bird's Nest Stadium.

Prisons should also have athletic programmes for inmates. In Mexico 1968, Bob Beamon, who was in reform school when he took up long jump, shattered the world record by 55 centimetres (nearly 2 feet) -- a record that lasted for nearly 23 years!

Boxer, Sonny Liston -- ranked the 7th best heavyweight in history -- was in prison for armed robbery when he learned boxing.

In Jamaica if we are not mindful of the benefits of athletics an inmate could pole-vault a 21-foot fence to escape the penitentiary and then be beaten and put in solitary confinementwithout anyone noticing that the world record for pole vault held by Renaud Lavillenie is 20-foot 6 inches!

Robert Evans is an engineer.

The Chinese-built stadium in Trelawny

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