To all those bloggers who disagreed with me last week when I wrote that we have much to celebrate about the performance of our 2012 Olympic team, written before Keshorn Walcott won gold in the javelin and the men won bronze in the 100m and 400m relays, I am confident that you finally appreciate the simple point made—that our athletes have proven that they can compete commendably against the world’s best and, with or without medals, can make a fine showing at the most prestigious sports event in the world. At this point when the fanfare is on-going, with everyone basking in the glorious gold secured by Walcott and the medals of the men including Lalonde Gordon, let us take time to reflect, think and chart the way forward to ensure that our athletes, present and future, have access to a sports training programme that will ensure that they peak in time for the next Olympics and all other major sporting events to come. There is nothing objectionable with corporate sponsors, public and private, making a contribution to those who have excelled in the field. Everyone loves a hero and it is easy to jump on the winning bandwagon in order to promote one’s profile.
Many would argue, however, that our country could produce many more top-performing athletes in a greater number of events if money is pumped into a comprehensive training programme that would ensure that specific attention is given at an early age to young people who possess the raw and natural talent. Petrotrin has committed $2 million as a sport incentive fund for athletes who are in training and performing at levels that suggest a good chance of making their mark at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A limited number of athletes involved in any of the four categories of swimming, cycling, boxing and track and field that are recommended by the respective local sporting bodies as worthy of support would be given a stipulated sum of money over the next four years as they prepare for the Olympics. This incentive should provide the impetus for other corporate sponsors to invest generously in the development of our athletes. While Petrotrin has highlighted four categories of sports, there are many more events in which there has been participation by local athletes who have little or no corporate support and therefore start at a significant disadvantage to other competitors in the field.
While it remains primarily the responsibility of the government to provide the facilities, amenities and resources to develop our sporting talent, it is also the duty of corporate citizens who have the financial capacity to show in a tangible form their commitment to develop our young people. This country first participated in the Summer Olympic Games in 1948 in London when Rodney Wilkes, who is still alive, won the silver medal in the men’s featherweight event in weightlifting. Four years later, in Helsinki, Wilkes won bronze in the same event and Lennox Kilgour won bronze in the men’s 90kg class. That there appears to be no focus on this sport which marked our first appearance on the Olympic medal podium suggests that we missed a golden opportunity to develop this sport and could not be bothered, unless of course there is some winning performance by a virtual unknown who, like Walcott, causes a major upset. The Olympic record of Jamaica shows that their athletes have always showed progress in athletics, mainly in the track events and in their first Olympic showing in 1948, Arthur Wint brought home gold for his country in the men’s 400m, with compatriot Herb Mc Kenley winning the silver in the same event.
But for a 16-year dry spell during the period 1952-1968, the Jamaican athletes have always won medals at the Olympics, with Usain Bolt being the product of a comprehensive sports training programme that has produced successful athletes throughout the decades. That we are so geographically close but yet so far away from Jamaica when it comes to understanding the important role that sport plays in the development of a young nation is a matter that deserves immediate attention and remedy. Because of its unyielding commitment to sport, even in the hardest economic times, Jamaica can boast that it rules on the track and will jealously guard that position for decades to come. So while I too feel an enhanced sense of national pride and probably like thousands of other citizens have an extra bounce in my walk and broad smile on my face, I remain concerned that we may miss this chance to finally create and implement a training programme that will make heroes of many more young men and women.