Don Wehby, chief executive officer of the GraceKennedy Group, says the 2023 sponsorship package for the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships overwhelmingly represents his company's commitment to invest in the country's youth.
Wehby's comments came during yesterday's launch of this year's 113th staging of the event at the National Stadium where he announced that the food and financial services conglomerate has allocated $175 million — $81 million in cash and $94 million in execution — through Grace Foods, Grace Money Services and First Global brand for the five-day spectacle scheduled for March 28 to April 1.
This figure represents a significant increase from the $88 million invested last year, and Wehby stressed that the company's sponsorship of Champs is more than just about sports.
"This is our 16th year of sponsoring and I want to emphasise the point that as a business we don't consider it an expense; it's an investment in our youth, sport and more importantly, an investment in our country," Wehby told the Jamaica Observer.
"We are pleased with our sponsorship of Champs and we would like to continue as long as possible. It's a huge investment for GraceKennedy; it is our largest sponsorship by far but it's a return on investment because we have seen the fruits of that investment in the country's many stars, including Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Hansle Parchment who continue to make us proud each year," he added.
Aside from the core sponsorship, GraceKennedy will have a special award of $250,000 each for the top teacher and coach of the champion boys' and girls' school.
Additionally, a special digital award of $500,000 will be up for grabs for the boys' and girls' school that break the most records. This money will go towards the schools' digital curriculum, as part of GraceKennedy's push for digital technology and advancement at schools.
"As you know, we sponsor schoolboy cricket as well; we believe that sports is an important aspect of the growth and development of young people, fostering their physical, psychological and emotional well-being. In other words, sports assist in producing better citizens in terms of dedication and commitment to their goals," Wehby said.
"I am bullish about this because I remember I was an athlete many years ago and I developed a habit of getting up six in the morning to go to the Palisadoes to run on the stretch, and I found that during track season I did better in school because a fit body is a fit mind. So we believe in the importance of sport from a national point of view and the hope is that we will have a better country with our investment in sports," he noted.
The annual event, slated for the National Stadium, is set to welcome back a full-scale audience for the first time since 2019, after it was executed with a scaled-back 20,000 spectators last year. No spectator was allowed in 2021 and it was cancelled in 2020 due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
This is much to the delight of ISSA President Keith Wellington, who praised their partners for the unwavering support.
"Over the past 36th months, Jamaica and indeed the world has benefited from the investments made in this product and, by extension, track and field by ISSA and its various stakeholders, including our sponsors led by Grace Foods.
"ISSA remains committed to working with our partners to protect and grow Jamaica's track and field as a global and first world product," Wellington declared.
The ISSA president encouraged patrons to purchase tickets online at www.tickets.issasports.com. He said those without online access will be able to buy tickets from the ticket office daily.
A total of 69 boys' schools and 68 girls' teams are expected to feature, with 88 events set to be contested. Kingston College and Edwin Allen High are the respective boys' and girls' defending champions.
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