We see them everywhere, often on television, taking up much of the screen space. Wherever you turn, they are in your face. The country has too many of them. They cluster together and make you wonder what’ll become of the country. Yesterday, I read that a batch will be shipping out of the island. Good for them!
We have too many world-class athletes to represent our country. Our world-class superiority in sprinting has been shown clearly over the past decade, though it was evident for decades long before. We now seem to have a consistent way of turning out world beaters and contenders. But, the top of the mountain can’t hold them all.
The U.S. has had a similar problem, for years, but many of its track greats don’t go on to make a future just running on a track. They ply their trade as speedsters running fast to catch balls, either egg-shaped ones or those white ones with red stitches. Even some Olympic and World Champions were tempted by that route. Think of Renaldo Nehemiah, hurdler, turned NFL player, then hurdler, again. But, often, they never compete seriously on the track. That makes sense, because pro athletes don’t make anything like the money available in sports like baseball of American football.
For Jamaicans, that sports switch is not a smart option, domestically, though we could try it overseas, if we had the entry requirements. But, there’s an alternative that doesn’t need a shift from the core skill: change country. Sure, we understand our sportsmen and women going to play for bigger clubs at higher levels, abroad. But, switching nationality? Our most famed athlete to follow this route is Merlene Ottey, who took her stunning sprinting talents to Slovenia, when it seemed clear Jamaica wasn’t going to pick her anymore but she felt she had more to give (which she did). She still runs internationally, over the age of 50. Recently, a Jamaican netballer got citizenship that would allow her to play for Australia. So, I was less surprised to read that three current sprint stars are headed off to represent another country, Bahrain.
It may not matter that Shericka Williams may have to change her name to something more Arabic sounding, like Shakira, though Shericka may work. Andrew Fisher may have to get used to Alhamdi Al-Faisal; Kemarley Brown may become Khalil Brown. At first blush, people may not like the idea that our stars have flown the coop, but look at the options they had. World Champs and Olympic Champs are around the corner. These deals may seal it for a secure future for a good few years. Bahrain and Qatar have been notable for snatching up East African middle distance runners who couldn’t secure places, say, in the Kenyan or Ethiopian teams. Bahrain’s Olympic team in 2012 was made up mainly of naturalised athletes.
It all makes perfect sense for runners and throwers, especially if you’re essentially self-employed, but also if you’ve other skills that can’t find markets. Also, our local sponsors may do some sweet ‘brand ambassador’ deals for those right at the top, but not lower down. So, again, the haves have it. I don’t think that being up on a Bahrani billboard is so shabby. Add to that some lavish lifestyle shifts that may come with the switch. If the runners end up learning Arabic well, then, down the road, they’ll keep running to the bank in other ways. The other gain may be to open doors for others. Like those who went to a particular US college and did well, the pipeline for others to follow was opened wider. When the pipe comes with oil dollars, that sounds more interesting.
In athletics, moving around for money is less the norm than in other pro sports, but that too may change. We don’t read of high-priced transfer deals between clubs. That’s mainly because most events are based on the individual, and team is really most notable in international competition.
So far, too, track clubs at the top level haven’t branded themselves enough to see the need to bid for athletes. But, that may change, too. ‘Real Madrid Racers’, if they were formed, could well make a great bolt hole for some runners. Keep watching this space.