Weaponise sports and the arts to fight crime
Bob Marley (Photo: Anwar Hussein)

While successive governments have tinkered with various policies, legislations, and projects to stem the alarming increase in criminal activities, particularly murder, most of which are perpetrated by young men and boys, the real answers, solutions, and positive outcomes continue to elude us. Despite the constant changing of the guard at the helm of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and an agonising series of national security ministers, not to mention states of public emergency (SOEs), zones of special operation (ZOSOs), marches, prayer vigils, and the naming of special squads (too many to mention here), the heinous killings and other acts of deviant behaviour continue unabated with no seeming end in sight.

While it can be argued successfully that there are no quick fixes, even as meaningful solutions continue to elude us, this writer is convinced that sports and the performing arts can play a pivotal and sustainable role in helping to change the socio-economic landscape of our oftentimes disadvantaged and marginalised youth. For example, there is sufficient empirical evidence to suggest that when St James, my neck of the woods, is doing very well in football there has been a reasonable reduction in violent crimes. In recent times, however, football which remains the most popular sporting activity, has been on the decline. Part of the reason for this is that the business community, with a few exceptions, has not been providing worthwhile sponsorship, especially for inner-city teams from which most of the excellent, talented players tend to emerge. And, of course, the novel coronavirus pandemic has aggravated this situation.

In the meantime, so far, the Andrew Holness-led Administration, notwithstanding the fact that Montego Bay, through its lucrative tourism industry, provides a great deal of well-needed foreign exchange to the Government's coffers, the western city has been grossly neglected in the areas of sports and the arts, both of which fall under the aegis of the ministry led by the indefatigable Olivia “Babsy” Grange.

Quite frankly, Minister Grange needs to be told in no uncertain terms that Kingston is not Jamaica and that it is full time she pays more attention to the western region in general and Montego Bay in particular, which are sadly lacking in worthwhile sporting and performing arts facilities. Just look at the current state of Jarrett Park and the Montego Bay Sports Complex at Catherine Hall, which are begging for some meaningful attention.

As for the arts, it is a downright shame and disgrace that Montego Bay, the island's tourism capital, does not have one full-fledged theatre or centre for the performing arts.

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett must also be held culpable for this crass neglect of an area of social and economic development that can help transform the city's social capital and, indeed, help to tame the seemingly unconquerable crime monster.

To put it bluntly, ways and means must be found to develop public and private sector partnerships to empower sports and the arts. It is no secret that these two neglected areas in the region have shown at the national level that, for many poor, hopeless inner-city youth, as well as those from the rural parts of the country, getting a 'buss' in sports or the performing arts is the ultimate goal for them in terms of achieving fame and fortune. Yes, not all of them will become a Usain Bolt, an Elaine Thompson-Herah, a Popcaan, or a Spice, but at least they should be given the opportunity to dare to dream and chase that dream.

There was a time when the business community in the western region was more involved in sports and arts sponsorship, but this is no more. This unfortunate situation has become even worse with the great influx of Chinese merchants and business people from outside the western region who have displayed no interest in giving back to the community from which they make their huge profits. Kudos to the Sandals Group which has been an exemplary corporate citizen in this regard.

In the meantime, unfortunately, our political representatives, for the most part, continue to use sports as a mere vote-getting tool during an election campaign only to dilute or abandon their efforts once they win or lose.

The performing arts comprise dance, music, speech, and drama and, by extension, we have the fine arts, which includes painting, sculpting, ceramics, and art and craft. All of these can be placed under the umbrella of the creative industries, which many experts are predicting is one of the best routes towards Jamaica attaining economic independence and social stability.

We have already seen what track and field has produced with the stellar performances of our world-class athletes led by the inimitable legend Usain Bolt. Then there is reggae music which have become worldwide phenomenon thanks to our greatest icon of that genre, Bob Marley. Indeed, out of the bowels of Jamaica's impoverished and neglected communities has emerged Brand Jamaica, which has gained international admiration, respect, and acceptance.

In the meantime, it boggles the mind that, with the Montego Bay Marine Park and the abundance of an environment conducive to aquatic sports, the city does not have a public swimming pool that could open up opportunities for youngsters to pursue that sport as amateur or professional aspirants, as well as for recreation. Incidentally, Jamaicans have broken every barrier and glass ceiling when it comes to sports, the latest being our bobsled team qualifying for the Beijing Winter Olympics. Then again, for an island that is surrounded by some of the most pristine waters, not to mention our many gushing rivers, most Jamaicans cannot swim. Shouldn't there be a national learn-to-swim campaign, Minister Grange?

Unfortunately, like the rest of the world which has been caught in the throes of this debilitating pandemic, Jamaica's sports and arts activities have been severely affected, but the relevant authorities and agencies should use this hiatus to devise a number of programmes and initiatives to weaponise this area of our national life that has been found wanting, especially outside the hallowed halls of Kingston and the Corporate Area, to help bring down the crime monster.

In the final analysis, we are not lacking in ideas. What we lack is the political will and a transformational mindset geared towards building a better Jamaica in keeping with the aspirations of Vision 2030.

We urge our policymakers and planners to seriously revisit this aspect of national development, which remains a veritable gold mine, bearing in mind that Kingston is not Jamaica!

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 45 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or lbsmith4@gmail.com.

Jamaica's sprint legend Usain Bolt at the 2012 London Olympic Games. (Photo: Observer file)

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