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Sports, money and the society
Tony Becca, Contributor
Over the years, in fact, ever since the late 1920s, when a teenaged George Headley, with bat in hand, burst onto the scene, sports has done marvellous things for Jamaicans and Jamaica, and no one can deny that.
For Jamaicans, sports has helped them to get fit and stay fit, and especially in the days when there was hardly anything else to do, it provided entertainment.
Sports has also been a way out of poverty and of climbing the social ladder for many Jamaicans and, besides teaching them important life lessons, such as punctuality and teamwork, it allows them to express themselves confidently.
For Jamaica, sports has simply been great. With so many great achievements, including world records by Jamaicans in many sports around the world, Jamaica and sports are synonymous, much more so than many larger and richer countries.
On top of all that, sports brings together people of different, colour, race, creed, and class. Despite Jamaica's greatness in other areas of endeavour, sports, perhaps more so than anything else, contributes to the national psyche, and in so doing, helps in nation building.
There is, however, one drawback to sports in Jamaica.
Perhaps because of its contribution to the country, there are people, especially in sports, who believe that Jamaica, through the Government and private sector, should spend every dollar, or most of it, on sports and on sportsmen and sportswomen. If that is not crazy, it is at least unreasonable.
Don't spend too much
Unless sports can pay its way, Jamaica cannot afford to spend too much of its money on it in pursuit of excellence or for greater glory.
There is a feeling in Jamaica that because Jamaicans are so talented and have done well for their country, that Jamaica has an obligation to support sports and those involved in it. And while that seems natural, it is, in reality, not so.
It is not natural for the simple reason that when one looks at the situation with health care, housing, education, water, security, etcetera, these are priorities in Jamaica which the Government, and indeed the private sector and any well-thinking Jamaican, cannot or should not ignore, priorities which, even for those in sports, should be more important than sports itself.
The responsibility of every government must be to provide the basic necessities for its people, and as one former prime minister of this country told me years ago, "This country cannot afford to take poor people's money and spend on sports."
Obviously, some of the 'poor people's money' must go to sports, more so to recreational sports, to sports in schools and communities. However, when it comes to elite sports, international competitions, and especially in this age of professionalism, the development of the individual must be the responsibility of the individual, his family, friends and, if they can afford it, the national associations.
The choice of sports is also important. Why should a poor person choose to play an expensive sport and then expect someone else to pay for his development - to use poor people's money, to fund his or her development?
Why, again should someone born and perhaps living in a rich foreign country, play an expensive sport that is foreign to Jamaica, and for whatever reason, he wants to represent Jamaica, believe that Jamaica should take poor people's money, plenty of it at that, to fund his development?
Why should someone who is a professional, who more than likely was assisted in his early days by a national association, and is possibly earning more money than the association handles, expect it to spend its money, or most of it, on his development.
Something is wrong here, and unless Jamaica plans to set up a sports industry from which the country can earn from its investment, our sportsmen and sportswomen should understand that while the Government and the private sector should and, hopefully, will continue to help as much as they can, they cannot fund their development - and when one looks at the cost of specialised coaching, travelling, accommodation, and meals, especially so the development of those in sports which cost so much money for them to compete and to properly develop their skills.
That's why I was so happy to read Phillip Gore's response to Dustin Brown's outburst on Wednesday, and feel compelled today to say thanks to him.
On many occasions, Brown, who was born in Germany and now resides outside of Jamaica, has slammed Tennis Jamaica for not supporting him financially. On some of those occasions, Tennis Jamaica has said that it cannot afford the kind of money Brown wants or needs to help his development in tennis, and on Wednesday, Gore said it as it should be said. But the mesage is one that should be echoed by all the presidents of sports associations in this country for all those who believe that they have a divine right to the people's money because they are involved in sports.
Not enough resources
Brown, who has said that he probably would play for Great Britain, all things being equal, had refused to play for Jamaica as long as Douglas Burke was the coach Gore, who recently tendered his resignation as president of Tennis Jamaica, said, " We do not have the resources that England has and that he demands".
Gore went on to say that "in terms of support, we support him in the ways that we can as we don't have the money to support players like Brown on the international circuit".
Jamaicans have done well in sports, and Jamaica owes a lot to all the boys and girls and men and women who have trained and practised hard and sacrificed and carried the flag around the world.
Because of the success of the country's sportsmen and sportswomen over the years, life has been different for many Jamaicans, and people love Jamaicans at home and abroad. Because of them, little Jamaica is big around the world, because of the many volunteers, outstanding administrators, many of whom dig deep into their own pockets in their efforts to make talented Jamaicans great, Jamaica's tourism is obviously better than it would have been - many thanks to them.
However, with so much to do in areas such as health care, housing, education, and security, Jamaica simply cannot, at least not now, do what it should be doing or what it wants to do, in an effort to allow the many talented Jamaicans the opportunity to follow their dreams, and fulfil their potential.
Hopefully, Jamaica and Jamaicans, arguably the most generous in sports anywhere in the world, will continue to do all it can, within reason to support talented Jamaicans in the pursuit of excellence, and especially so in those sports which the country can afford and from which the majority of the people can benefit.
The country is grateful for the greatness of its sportsmen and sportswomen. It will always continue to cheer and wish them well, and there is no question about that.
Hopefully, those in sports, will also remember that in the final analysis, when the sun sets on their careers, the pleasure of travelling and seeing the wonders of the world, the satisfaction of success, the thrill of achievement, the glory of being the best or being among the best, and the satisfaction of enjoying oneself, plus the money they earn along the way, will be theirs and theirs alone.