Get your hand out of my pockets, JAAA!

Athletics track
An athletics track in a stadium (Photo credit: Nikolay Mitev)

This past week the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) floated the thought of triggering a constitution-backed five per cent tax on elite professional athletes to aid its welfare and development programme. The idea was raised at a recent sit-down session between the JAAA leadership, and another local newspaper attended by President Gareth Gayle, Treasurer Ludlow Watts, Coach Maurice Wilson and noted athletics manager and agent Cubie Seegobin. While agreeing that such a move is expected to be an unpopular one among the island’s top track and field stars, noted athletics manager and agent Cubie Seegobin and highly regarded coach Maurice Wilson both believe that consideration should be given to the implementation of a cess programme.

It is instructive that the second vice-president at the JAAA and respected attorney-at-law, Lincoln Eatmon, believes that it is the right time to explore the idea while examining the potential benefits, challenges, and framework. In an interview with the media, Eatmon opined that “This has been a hot topic over the years because in fact there is provision for a cess that has just never been enforced. The decision was taken by the JAAA over the years not to enforce this cess because a lot of the athletes were not earning a lot. It’s a different situation now as some athletes do earn a lot but most of them really don’t and they just manage to get by. So, it’s something we would have to review to see whether it makes sense to enforce the provision for the cess, but the rules do provide process.”

Coach Wilson expressed the belief that “Such a levy is not only necessary but could prove beneficial under the right structure as the athletes ought to appreciate the role of the JAAA in the development of athletes.” Wilson opined, further, that it is important that the island’s top competitors understand their role in giving back directly to the sport and that they should pay something to that organization that would have contributed to their development. Wilson went on to point out the benefits the athletes reap from the JAAA which allows them to move through the various levels from junior to senior athletes culminating with their attendance at the World Championships and the Olympic Games and that point at which they become celebrities and start to make money. According to him, someone invested in them, and that investment would have come from the island’s taxpayers.

The opinions expressed by these learned gentlemen of the JAAA were, in my opinion, quite telling. It sounded a bit like a plan to implement a “hold-dung, teck wheh” scheme. In fact, it also appeared to carry a tinge of jealousy, for those athletes who the JAAA executives deemed to be more successful. For these athletes, there is the huge cost of maintaining their levels of success. For these athletes, their athleticism is their business, and that business has a huge cost. Furthermore, these athletes are all taxpayers regardless of the jurisdictions that they currently reside in and would have to be contributing to the tax roll from the earnings they generate.

The idea of this ‘hold-dung teck wheh’ scheme flies in the face of the fact that Jamaica occupies a pre-eminent position as one of the most influential countries in the world of track and field athletics. The question that this discussion begs is that of the efforts made by the JAAA, certainly over the last 20 years to capitalize on its accrued power in the sport. Why not use the organization’s great clout to promote at least one international “Diamond League” style meet, bringing in some of the biggest names in athletics to the island? With proper planning, such a meet would provide significant income both from gate receipts, sponsorship, and television coverage among others that will provide funding for the kind of welfare projects mooted by the JAAA executives.

It seems all too easy that the JAAA executives are only able to look at how to spend monies earned by others as opposed to putting in the work necessary to justify their own existence. At least, Mr Seegobin, who has represented some of the island’s top athletes and who works closely with adidas-affiliated clubs Racers and Sprintec, is correct in his view that he does not expect any attempt by the JAAA to impose a levy to be met with support from the athletes who would be affected. I doubt too, Mr Seegobin, that members of the public will support such an idea.  


Richard Hugh Blackford B.Sc., M.S (Ed).

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