Those who can and want to think about it, can find many positive lessons for Jamaica to take from its athletes’ performances during the just-ended World Championships in Beijing. I’m struck by the clear disconnection between the image of excellence–that reflects talent, hard work, perseverance, some intangibles like “rough neck heart”, that pride that comes from seeing fellows do well and having it inspire one’s own performance–and the often worse-than-mediocre performance of many things in Jamaica, including politicians. Much of this we think we can work on, and develop, for the collective good of the country. We also readily point out that our political leaders, for many years, have not been able or willing to tap into these attributes so that the shiny image of the athlete on the international stage replaces the rag-tag image of daily life that is all to common to Jamaicans.
A trite solution may be to turn the country over to the athletics coaches. However, we know that these men and women, have worked wonders in this field, often without much help or support but with dedication and willing students. Much as I’d love to see the kind of results Stephen Francis gets with our athletes replicated by him as a Minister of Industry, I wonder if he could get the investments to flow in so easily. Likewise, Glen Mills as our Minister of Foreign Affairs may draw Jamaica’s international standing to a level only dreamt of. But, then again, maybe they could do good jobs in either portfolio. What do they have that we want to see from a minister?
First, they seem to know what they’re doing, and produce desired results by getting those working with them to buy into what they’re doing. How often have we heard–in relation to them and other coaches–“I trust my coach to…”? When’s the last time you heard that about more than a few politicians?
Second, they don’t seem to have to deal with many things that detract from the jobs they have to do. I don’t know what kind of support staff they have, say with junior coaches, of if they really have to work solo with all their charges. I remember my track coach being responsible for all the athletes in our ‘stable’ and that hands-on time with him guiding sessions was essential.
Third, they seem to be able to mould raw talent into something refined. We know that Usain Bolt is a physical anomaly for short 100 metre sprints, but his obvious speed and talent have been harnessed in a way that has seen him master the shorter event and also maintain dominance in the preferred distance, 200 metres. He has a certain relaxed style on the outside, but obviously is a hard worker who trains to get himself physically and mentally ready for races, especially major championships. Likewise, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, in her diminutive frame does not seem so well suited to race the longer 200 metres sprint well, but opposite to Bolt, she’s harnessed her clear 100 metre speed and strengthened herself to master the 200. Both have shown what most sports people know, that hard work has to be the basis of any success, especially after injuries or other setbacks. Can any of our ministers point to their ability to get people working under, or with, them to work the living day lights out of themselves?
Fourth, neither seems particularly interested in public profiling. Admitted, that is part of the modern-day need of politics. But, there’s being seen in public and using public appearances to advance major issues. You can see, for instance, how differently our Minister of Justice uses his time in the public eye and how our Minister of Industry uses his. I can cite a handful of key policy measures that I have heard the former address in public, but struggle to recall one from the latter. Public platforms are not for showing off or doing nothing much; they need to be used strategically. Otherwise, get back to work and show us results.
More aspects of our athletics success can be drawn into other aspects of national life, but the thought that our political landscape could be much improved by having some of that energy and direction is perhaps more provocative.
Reality strikes hard. Most of Jamaica would love to be able to strut with national pride on any international stage. It’s sobering to look at ordinary Jamaicans the day after our latest national successes. I see more people with clothes that obviously double as dishrags than I see people with clothes that look like they have been loved and caressed.
Our evident poverty doesn’t fly away with our crop of medals. Neither does our inability to structure our lives in betters ways. The selflessness of our relay teams is swamped by the selfishness that is part of daily life. Case in point: one person’s recklessness on the highway during rush hour results in one BMW being crushed and needing a tow, and a line of traffic from the junction with Spanish Town Road back to the junction with the road from Portmore. One person’s lack of consideration for others, puts almost everyone else at severe disadvantage. That’s a mindset that needs to change if anything else can change.