A plea for corporate support for Jamaica's intercollegiate sports
The late Dennis Johnson (left) poses with the UTech team that won the 4x200m relay at the PennRelays, the first Jamaican college team to win an event at the American meet. Athletes from left OralThompson, Asafa Powell, Winston Smith and Ainsley Waugh. (Photo: Observer file)

For those who may not know, Jamaica Inter-collegiate Sports Association (Intercol) is the governing body of sports for tertiary institutions in Jamaica. The association is made up of 23 institutions, including universities, colleges, and community colleges.

Intercol, as a body, is currently at a standstill for the second-successive sports season as competitions that fall under its banner have not made it to the starting gate and one of the reasons for this is a lack of sponsorship.

Also, the novel coronavirus pandemic has had a severe impact on our programmes in particular and sports in general. Regardless of this fact, other sports associations have received sponsorships for the restart of their respective competitions, but there has been no such movement from Intercol. This is unacceptable as Intercol provides unrivalled competitions for tertiary athletes, while at the same time laying a platform for these athletes to matriculate to professionals.

The difference in sponsorships that Intercol has accumulated compared to its junior counterpart Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) is staggering for obvious reason. Corporate sponsors are pumping millions into the high school programmes, while the wells of Intercol remain dry.

We are now at a point where the grass roots are bursting at the seams, but the collegiate level is not equipped to control the wave of talented athletes coming through the system. All 23 Intercol institutions need better sporting facilities as the tertiary level is where the money can be made. These said facilities can be rented out during the summer months to host training camps for junior and senior athletes worldwide.

Additionally, tertiary institutions are able to put athletes on contracts by using the club system, meaning universities can create and run their own clubs as a business, enabling universities to present collegiate athletes representing Jamaica as university students, as a means of attracting students internationally. This tactic can be used to persuade students worldwide to participate in summer camps and also to study one of the many courses that Jamaican universities offer.

A move like this would generates much-needed income via foreign currency and also builds the stature of the universities. The benefits of this go way beyond sports as the international student rates in universities will rise, which means the cost of tuition for local students can be reduced.

Furthermore, there is too little investment in terms of providing necessities such as food for our athletes in both the major and minor sports. Our greatest resource in Jamaica is the people and sports have the ability to help solve some of the crime and social issues we face if we continue to develop it in the right areas.

Investing in Intercol

For most, if not all organisations, sponsorship is key to ensure a smooth-running operation, and this is the same for Intercol. By investing in Intercol, a wider range of talent from the minor sports will be on display.

Apart from track and field, netball, football and cricket, other sports in Jamaica have not had many major accomplishments or recognition. When all is said and done, corporate Jamaica isn't wagging their tails at the prospect of sponsoring Intercol, and so self-sustainability becomes crucial.

American football Coach Vince Lombardi once, said: “People who work together will always win, whether it be against complex football defences or the problems of modern society.”

Intercol and its 23 tertiary institutions can begin the process of self-sustenance with a donation of $1 million from each institution. This donation won't be ploughed into the association, but be invested into one of the many local financial advisory and investment firms.

The profits from this investment will then be used to take care of the internal activities at Intercol. The profits will solely be focused on providing services that will see the athletes benefitting. This includes transportation, paying umpires, operational costs and hiring persons to plan and schedule competition times for all the sports offered.

There is also a need for continuous short courses to consistently add aspiring referees into the refereeing pool to avoid a situation where Intercol are struggling to find sufficient referees for competitions.

Corporate Jamaica needs to redirect their focus and work with the collegiate system as the country and the sponsors can reap huge benefits. Intercol deserves more sponsorship as it is the only level where student athletes can legally obtain contracts and sponsorship deals.

Sponsoring these elite athletes could be fruitful as companies' brands could be used on social media pages before and after big competitions. There are also benefits when it comes to increased product sales and expansions to a new geography.

For example, there have always been theories on what makes Jamaican sprinters fast. Research done by Rachael Irving and Vilma Charlton, editors of Jamaican Gold: Jamaican Sprinters, determined that a high number of Jamaica's Olympians come from regions known for yam production. There is an idea by Charlton and Irving that the foods which make up our top athletes' diet promotes the ACTN3 gene, which is known as the sprinting gene. Jamaican companies that produce these foods, and who would align themselves with our top tertiary athletes, will be able to open locations globally where there is a market for persons chasing the secret to our sprinting success. This results in more customers and exposure for the sponsor.

On the other hand, not only would sponsors receive returns from their investments, the economy of Jamaica will also benefit, and by extension its people.

Jamaica has numerous athletes who are extremely talented, and so not all athletes will represent the country at the senior national level. Intercol, through the university clubs, can facilitate these athletes' switching allegiances to other countries which will potentially garner them success that would have been unattainable in Jamaica.

These athletes who have left their country of birth for financial reasons can now send back remittances to the rest of their families. Remittances that will be spent in Jamaica.

The International University of Sports Federation (FISU) was founded in 1949 and is the premier driver in developing university sports globally. The FISU sports programme covers over 60 sports and is the pinnacle of university sports competitions in the world.

Unfortunately, due to lack of funding to Intercol, Jamaica last participated in the summer FISU World University Games nine years ago in 2013. The FISU World University Games are held every two years and the absence of a country as talented as Jamaica for nearly a decade is a bitter pill to swallow.

Intercol, with support, will be able to send athletes from the different sports to compete and be exposed at the university level globally. Resulting in opportunities for individual development, interchanging ideas and networking between students and universities as there is a swapping of education through sports.

We would now be in a position where the reputation of our universities and their athletes grows as our popularity in the university games increases.

Sports is one of the biggest industries in the world and tertiary institutions all over the island must capitalise on this. Gaining sponsorship has never been an easy task and living in a pandemic has only amplified this fact. But this should not stop corporate Jamaica from investing in Intercol which is most viable for monetary returns.

Finally, a call is being made to those influential in corporate Jamaica to get on board to put Intercol at the forefront of sports associations for the benefit of our talented student athletes.

Editor's note: Orville Byfield is a lecturer at the University of Technology and head of the Caribbean School of Sports Sciences in the Faculty of Science and Sports. He is also an IAAF Level 5-certified track and field coach.

Orville Byfield

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