Champs debacle, but any accountability?

The dust has settled on another ISSA Champs, at the National Stadium. The sport was its usual spectacular show of the best of Jamaican school athletes. But, their performances are only part of the show. The running of the event needs assessing, too.

In keeping with good organizations, one hopes that a period of stocktaking is going on by the principal organization and by the overseeing government ministries. Things that worked well should be kept and developed and those that did not work well should be re-examined and eliminated or improved before the next set of events. However, one has to wonder if this process happens with ISSA and if it’s done with full honesty. Why do I say that?

First, it’s been clear for a long time that ISSA cannot manage well ticketing for the event. My first direct experience was in 2014 when my ticket did not give me access to the seat to which I was assigned. That year, tickets had been oversold and the police intervened to stop the stadium having too many people for safety, in their opinion. I was disappointed and had to watch Champs on TV at home, while people tried to clamber into the stadium. ISSA apologized and some talk of compensation circulated, but that fell flat. I have never bought another ticket for Champs. Why should I? It guarantees me nothing.

Since then, I have seen and heard of the debacle of getting tickets, to the extent that this year reports were circulating fast of scalpers getting tickets and many would-be spectators disappointed from before the event. Clearly, as days passed, ticket prices rose and those who wanted them badly enough had to pay dearly for the pleasure.

Many simple solutions to the ticketing problem exist, and the only issue is whether ISSA will implement any and if they do not, whether anyone will be held accountable for another debacle. So far, the evidence is that accountability is not one of the features we will see.

Second, we have several issues regarding the behaviour of schools and athletes. This year’s signature embarrassment involves a foreign student whom it appears was allowed to compete in accordance with rules but one has to wonder about the sense of the rules. Normally, if one registers for something but cannot present oneself at the due time in person, then the registration lapses. So, in a competition, that usually means disqualification. It’s tough, but that’s normal for lots of things. It’s happened to me, my team, other athletes, students sitting exams, etc. It’s life. It seems that this principle did not apply to the foreign student, with his school arguing that logistical problems prevented his arrival in the country by the due date. Well, that’s unfortunate, but better luck next time. Like my having a ticket for a flight and arriving late, I miss the flight. Simple. I cannot expect the airline to accommodate my lateness, no matter whose fault it is. From that mistake come other issues.

The said foreign student, apparently abetted by his school, paraded his national flag at the stadium in a celebratory lap. Now, let’s not confuse matters of national pride with its various displays. Of course one should be proud of one’s nation, but the time and place for such displays need to be appropriate. In my view, Champs in a national school event; it is not an competition that involves foreign schools and foreign athletes who compete for local schools are not competing for their country. Therefore, if displays of pride are to be shown at that event, I think they should be about the schools involved. Clearly, there’s a thin line because we could argue that if a student wanted to parade something that raised the pride of a local area that might seem consistent with the event. For that reason, the best way to deal with such situations is to try to cover them in the rules. That’s what ISSA did in 2015 with the ‘ambush marketing’ debacle that embarrassed one of the main sponsors, while promoting an individual athlete and his sponsor (who was not a sponsor for the event). We have had no repeat. If Champs thinks the parading of other national flags in alright, then it can state that explicitly or ban it explicitly. If it accepts it, then look out for other foreign students to do the same—there are many. It could become more embarrassing when those students come to represent Jamaica at international events, such as CARIFTA, for which they are eligible. Do we want to see an athlete representing Jamaica deciding to hoist his or her mother country flag? Think about it. If it’s the flag of another CARIFTA country, one has one type of problem; if it’s a non-member country, we have another problem. We also have the embarrassment to Jamaica of its athlete not displaying our national flag. Impossible, you may say? Really?

Finally, ISSA is one of many Jamaican organizations that appear to be laws unto themselves. They often shun publicity unless it is bad, and then there’s a rush to cover up the mistakes. They shun transparency and openness to critical opinions. That can only go on because they are shielded by the political directorate who have power over them.

This government has done much to make governing more transparent and accountable. It takes time for such an attitude at the level of the Executive to translate itself to other administrative levels. One way of getting that done faster is for the egregious examples to be highlighted and dealt with fast.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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