What makes Jamaicans run?
Usain Bolt

Jamaica is fast becoming the sprint capital of the world. To date we have the fastest man alive in Usain Bolt, and Elaine Thompson-Herah, despite her recent ups and downs, is still the fastest woman alive. And it is not only the oldsters that are ruling the roost, there is a host of young talents raring to run and succeed them in good time. But what makes so many Jamaicans run so fast?

Unfortunately, there is yet to be sufficient scientific evidence based on reliable research that can point to what really makes our athletes run so fast on the tracks. When Usain Bolt soared to the top, especially since the 2008 Beijing Olympics in China, there was much talk and speculation about the perceived properties of the renowned Trelawny yam, but so far we have just been "running up our mouths", which is another dubious talent embraced by many Jamaicans who like to talk shop.

Then again, not all our athletes are from yam country, so is it the ackee and salt fish, the cartwheel dumplings, the jerk pork, the water, or is it in our DNA?

There has been much criticism of successive governments who have failed to fully capitalise on our sporting prowess on the international stage. In the same way that we have been allowing foreigners to "steal" our music — from ska to reggae to dancehall — while we stand aside and look. In addition, it is a downright shame that, while expending much energy and resources on the matter of reparation, our premier academic institution, The University of the West Indies, has fallen short in the area of research and development when it comes to our sports.

Sceptics have been bashing our beloved and hard-working Sports and Entertainment Minister Olivia "Babsy" Grange for her failure so far to create enough meaningful opportunities for the monetising of the sports and entertainment industries. Recently, during the Jamaica 60 celebrations, she hinted at a plan to establish a sports museum as well as upgrading the National Stadium, among other aspirations, but one of my concerns is: Why hasn't the Government seen the need to spend some good money on upgrading sporting facilities outside of Kingston? Hats off to alumni/past students' associations, especially the old boys of some of the traditional high schools who have put a lot of money where their mouths are to ensure that sports programmes in their alma mater get the attention they deserve. I know Minister Grange is a visionary and pragmatist so I am urging her to pay more attention to the fact that Kingston is not Jamaica. Were it not for a cadre of dedicated coaches, many of whom toil without counting the cost, Jamaica would not be able to boast about our exploits in track and field.

One of the unfortunate aspects of our sporting achievements is the "wagonist" mentality, whereby we only get excited and support a sport when the participants are doing extremely well. The ongoing plight of our Sunshine Girls and the Reggae Girlz are a case in point, whereby these two entities have not been able to attract the level of sponsorship they deserve. Our senior football team has also been wobbling along because it has not been able to repeat its historic feat of 1998 when Jamaica qualified for the World Cup. All we do is 'run up wi mouth'.

So while we continue to run and make history repeatedly on the international stage, 'back a yard', all we do is 'run up wi mouth'. And when we are not running up our mouths, many of us are busy running away. It has been said that there are more Jamaicans living abroad than those resident in their homeland.

In the meantime, survey after survey has revealed that a large number of Jamaicans aspire to live and work abroad rather than stay here on The Rock. It has been revealed, for example, that some 60 per cent of our tertiary graduates migrate over time to greener pastures and only recently outgoing president of the Jamaica Teachers' Association Winston Smith disclosed that hundreds of teachers are migrating to teach in the United States, while it is understood that an even greater number is heading to the United Kingdom to take up posts there. What is frightening about this mass migration of qualified educators is that many of our schools may well be without teachers in certain critical disciplines such as mathematics and the science subjects.

How on Earth is this nation going to fulfil the objectives of Vision 2030 when so many of our best minds are fleeing to what they perceive to be better opportunities for their well-being and professional advancement? Prime Minister Andrew Holness reportedly admitted not too long ago that he was aware that many of our youth want to migrate because they do not see any bright future here.

All this is unfolding at a time when Jamaica is observing its diamond jubilee under the theme 'Reigniting a Nation for Greatness'. But it seems to me that we have to begin to look beyond mere greatness and focus on the quality of life of the average citizen. After all, it has been said that the essence of civilisation is for human beings to live a useful and happy life. It is very ironic and indeed sad that, while millions of tourists are coming to Jamaica to feel alright, thousands of Jamaicans are fleeing the island because of a bleak futuristic outlook. What is even more worrying is that numerous retirees who had gone abroad to work and make a success of their lives and are looking forward to returning home to live out the rest of their days, in fine style and comfort, are now opting to go elsewhere, including South Florida because of the climate there, as well as, interestingly, other small islands in the Caribbean.

Just this week the reputed and credible Don Anderson polls, commissioned by RJRGleaner, pointed to the fact that the majority of Jamaicans see sports and entertainment as Jamaica's greatest achievement since Independence in 1962. The writing is, therefore, on the wall, and like King Nebuchadnezzar we have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.

To put it bluntly, as famed poet Michael G Smith says, we need to "build now while time is burning, forward before it is too late."

'Mi run gone.'

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.

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Elaine Thompson-Herah ANDY LYONS
Lloyd B Smith

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