Jamaica’s track and field athletes have brought tremendous glory and honour to the country through the display of their exceptional performance at the Olympics over many decades. Despite the ownership of the success of these athletes and the dishing out of criticisms when they fail to medal, the country has not done much to help them hone their craft and to survive economically. Only a minority of our elite athletes, who benefit from endorsements from mega local and international private sector sponsors, exist outside of the financial doldrums. Bronze medal winner, Megan Tapper, has spoken about the difficulties athletes without sponsorship face. Similarly, the siblings of Trinidadian cyclist, Kwesi Browne, bemoaned the fact that Trinidadians ignored the sacrifices that Browne and other athletes have made.
No one cares about the Jamaican athletes (except coaches, relatives and friends) between Olympic Games when they go through the crises of major life events, when they are balancing the stressors of school, work, family, illness and training. These athletes buy their own gears, pay their airfares and spend a lot of money on training and dietary requirements. The country just shows up at the Olympics demanding much more than a pound of flesh from the athletes. The situation the athletes face is so bad that at the 2020 Tokyo Games a Good Samaritan had to give Hansle Parchment taxi fare to get to his race after he took the wrong bus at the Olympic village. We have no shame, we continue to ignore our resource-insufficient athletes but rush to shower praise on and celebrate and reward those who win medals and curse those who don’t.
Jamaica is not unique in the showering of gifts after the fact. The Ugandan Government promised all Olympic gold medalists cars and a monthly salary of 5 million shillings among other things; the Government of Botswana promised each member of the 4x400m relay team, which won a bronze medal, a two-bedroom house; in Namibia the Nored electricity distributor promised to supply the homes of sprinters Beatrice Masilingi and Christina Mboma with electricity; President Akufo-Addo of Ghana promised the bronze medalist, Samuel Takyi, $30,000, $20,000 to be placed in a development fund, and a car. Each member of Team Ghana was promised $5,000. The interesting thing is that some sports journalists in these and other countries have criticised their governments for spending after the athletes have competed at the Olympics, especially those who have medalled, rather than spend on the development of sports in general. The Jamaican media have been largely silent on this vexing issue. The Monitor has refused to remain silent.
In the case of Jamaica, we spend money on motorcades for the athletes on their arrival, bring home select athletes on private jets, offer them complimentary vacations and have receptions honouring the Olympic athletes and much more. The problem is we only honour those who medalled rather than all those who competed for Jamaica. We should be ashamed! These rituals have largely been funded by the government and the private sector who largely ignore the athletes in between Olympic Games. These rituals are manipulating symbols that give Jamaicans the wrong impression that Jamaica is doing a lot for its athletes, in effect, misleading advertisements.
We love to party and so do others in the Caribbean. In The Bahamas Steven Gardiner, the Olympic 400m champion, and his Bahamian teammates were welcomed by a crowd and Junkanoo parade when they arrived at the Lynden Pindling International Airport. Welcome fetes are also held inTrinidad and Tobago, Grenada and other Caribbean countries when their athletes win medals.
Jamaica needs to stand with its athletes from start to finish! The money spent on motorcades, travel on private jets, free vacations and welcoming receptions and so on could be better spent on the development of the athletes. We need a public-private partnership to develop sports in general and provide critical support for sports persons when they are preparing to represent Jamaica. We should stop the bandwagon behaviour and engage in “action, not a bag a mouth!” We should do much more than just rewarding Olympic medalists with million dollar investment portfolios.