As the anticipation for the start of the annual Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships comes to a feverish boil, many participating schools and supporters have long made reservations for accommodations in the Corporate Area.
Guest houses in the vicinity of the National Stadium in Kingston have been booked out, some from as early as December 2022, by schools to put up student athletes who will be competing at the championships set to begin on Tuesday, March 28.
A general check by the Jamaica Observer last week revealed that three popular guest houses that offer cheaper rates than the more established properties offering accommodation were completely booked for the week of Monday, March 27 to Saturday, April 1 because of reservations made by several schools.
The Sunday Observer visited Roosevelt Guest House on Latham Avenue in Kingston – walking distance from the National Stadium, last Thursday, and inquired about accommodation for five students for the aforementioned time period.
"Normally, we have room with fan for $4,000 per night and room with air conditioner for $5,000 with two persons to each room. We're booked out. We don't have any rooms available," the receptionist said.
The receptionist, for a brief moment, then checked if there were any possible last-minute openings for the five students. And so a school outside Kingston which had requested rooms for students was contacted for confirmation. It was quickly communicated by a contact person that the school had already made a payment to secure the rooms.
"The person that reserved the rooms paid for it. Next time you have to come early. They took plenty rooms."
One principal, who requested anonymity, told the Sunday Observer that some schools may resort to "unideal lodgings" because of financial constraints despite the "ever-needing and costly" school track and field programmes.
"It takes money. Sad to say, these students are representing schools and on display to some big forces that can see their talents and change their lives, so they should be properly and professionally accommodated. But that takes money that schools don't have. Just to transport a bus full of students to the National Stadium alone is financially draining," the principal said.
Jasmine Inn on Tankerville Avenue is also booked to capacity.
"We have no space. It is all booked out for Champs," the receptionist said, noting that there were bookings from various schools for students.
"You would have to call and book the dates before. These persons [schools] booked from December," she added.
An economy room with one double bed is being offered for $10,500. A standard room accommodating three guests goes for $13,300. A junior suite with two double beds and space for four guests goes for $15,400.
Another principal added, "Not all schools benefit from having supportive past students' associations who make donations to support the sporting programmes. And so the school itself has to find the food, transportation, housing, medical expenses for these athletes. It is expensive."
The president of a past students' association agreed, saying there is no assistive funding at the level of the Ministry of Education. And so the association, led by graduates of the school, plays a major role in the accommodation of the student athletes participating at Champs.
"We spend a lot of energy and funding in supporting our different sport programmes," the president told the Sunday Observer.
Immediately after being asked about the availability of rooms for eight students, a receptionist at Alhambra Inn on Tucker Avenue responded, "Rooms have been booked out for Champs from last year."
Ryan Foster, secretary general and chief executive officer of the Jamaica Olympic Association told the Sunday Observer that there should be a broadening of the support to schools and their participation in boys' and girls' Champs.
He said a discussion should be led by ISSA and GraceKennedy to look at expanding the Champs participation budget to include the actual competition.
"The budget comes whether in the form of immediate cash support or even in the form of soft loans to assist these schools who do not have the immediate funds to support their initiatives or a past student association to turn to," he said.
"The ISSA group could even explore engaging the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sports in providing some support to schools during this period, and it could be in the form of direct cash, negotiated room and boarding with key stakeholders, either free or specially negotiated rates as well as specially subsidised transportation, especially for schools who do not own a bus or the bus is inadequate to transport everyone."
Foster said a Champs Participation Fund could be explored, to be "given to every school who has athletes, and this amount can be scaled to the size of the respective teams and this could be a special line item in the overall execution budget for ISSA."