Doors close, doors open: loving Alia Atkinson, and O’Dayne Richards.

I am almost in tears, after watching Jamaican Alia Atkinson coming in 3rd in the 100 meters breaststroke. She had the race. She has the time. But, in finals, you have to have the event under control. She swam as she always does, fast first 50, but near record pace. She looked great till 20 meters from home, then “felt the elephants on her back”, as the British commentator said. I know the feeling as limbs tighten with lactic acid buildup. But, no second guessing. How proud to be there looking at a potential champion in one of our less-favoured events.

The medals were presented by our own IOC representative, Mike Fennel. A nice twist. The Scottish crowd gave a rousing cheer. Go, Alia! Stay strong. The swimming family is loving what you do for the event.

But, as that door closed, open came the door with O’Dayne Richards winning the shot putt with a games record of 21.61 meters.20140728-144629-53189148.jpg Promise comes true.

Jamaica to the world. More action comes on the track later today, as our sprinters are all looking at finals this evening. Which doors will open?

Back on the rock: compassion is still kissing complacency

I never took my eyes off Jamaica while I was in Brazil, but things look different close up.

When I arrived at the airport in Kingston, I saw what the drought meant when I looked on parched brown grass, and noticed the hazy sky above. The rain has not come as usual this year and almost every part of the island knows it. Friends are trying different ways to overcome this. Some are looking to divert water from washing machines. Some are pressing for water tanks to be mandatory features of new buildings and for them to be placed in all existing structures. Government makes statements about ‘implementing’ projects, but too little, too late is what we have….again. We’ve reaped the harvest of neglect with water mismanagement again, and it’s just lamentable that our eyes seem unable to see the faults and address them before we reach another crisis. But, sadly, that is the Jamaican way. Our national anthem does not mention complacency, yet it’s part of our national character.

It did not take long to be hit by another Jamaican failing, our lack of integrity. On my ride home, I read reports of a CVM sports reporter making Zeig Heil signs and remarks after Germany won the World Cup on Sunday. I checked other sources, and yes it was so. Appalling, is the word that I have for that display. Some grubby apology was apparently made live later the same evening. There is bad taste and ignorance at work here, plus–by the public silence by other media–a worrying inability to challenge wrongs. CVM should have had no hesitation in firing the broadcaster as issuing a full apology. Rather than the broadcaster making that apology and the station staying mum. I would think the German Embassy has protested strongly, and that the Foreign Minister has spoken to CVM. But, being Jamaica, the cynical reaction could also be right, that heads remain buried in the sand and no one wants to look up and stare the elephant in the face. One good thing is that Jamaica is so small that this sort of ridiculous behaviour in a country of a mere three million people is passed over, even it makes it out into the international sphere. People still see us the sweet land of Bobby Marley.

The political playground has not offered much in recent weeks, meaning that no major changes have occurred in how the country is run. Most decisions still get made with little or no apparent consultation. It was fascinating to listen to the BBC Wordl Servkce this morning talking about developments in Iraq, and how rival groups are trying to get a real stake in government. We don’t have the same ethnic and relegious conflict, but divisions we do have. However, don’t expect them to get a good airing. The status quo is very powerful.

One area where that may change is in how patriarchy gets weakened. For months, some push has been made to give women a bigger voice in national politics. The talk has been of quotas, a bad idea, in my mind. Today, Britain’s PM has started to reshuffle his Cabinet, and so far doubled the number of women represented, “replacing the male, pale and stale” as it has been dubbed by the UK press. No quotas. True, general elections are due next May, and it would naïve to think that the ruling party that has tended to win the female vote would not help themselves seem nicer to women. Britain has and has had many very capable politicians, including one of the most dynamic world leaders. Britons are more comfortable thinking that privilege is not the reason for position, even with decades of leaders who have tended to come from privilege, either money or more commonly education, especially from the top schools and universities. The basic shape of Cabinet will change, with fewer middle-aged men, and younger females. They will still be predominantly white, but don’t be surprised by a splash of colour. Jamaica ought to be watching carefully.20140715-095337-35617841.jpg

What we’ve seen, though is one of the government ministers who’s had a hard time keeping control of his whippersnapper deciding that Parliamentary politics is not for him. Damien Crawford, known as much for his dreadlocks as his prowess in maths, will not contest the next elections. He could be a great talk show host, keeping pepper in the eyes of the interviewed, and knowing more than enough about how the whole funky business of party politics works in Jamaica.

The economy can’t change in a few days, but some people would like to think that fundamental changes happen in a day. The central bank intervened in the foreign exchange market last week. This is normal activity. What was abnormal was that they admitted it. Whoi, the Governor has no clothes! People keep hoping for the J$ to stop sliding but won’t accept or understand that it’s not a truck that can be held in place by a brick. We want to support Tessanne Chin by buying her album? Well that means buying US$, and selling J$. Oh, that’s how it works? So, not supporting Tessanne is good for Jamaica overall. Better, to get the rest of the world to buy her records, so that we can get some income via her, and save our money to buy more weave. That too? Yes.

Put differently, China is growing fast still. It buys commodities and sells manufactured goods. We are the opposite. We sell commodities and buy manufactured. We could make more, but we’ve never been good at the quality side. But, the J$ needs us to fix that imbalance.

One way is to get more traction from our athletes as manufactured goods. Our own doping agency, JADCO, keeps trying to trip them up and failing them in drug tests, only to have their decisions overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. That should tell us something. Either JADCO don’t know their hurdles from their javelins, or they don’t know their aspects from their ratios. Bottom line: JADCO must go, or be transferred to Scunthorpe United and play in a lower division.20140715-101741-37061586.jpgThis time, CAS also ruled that THE 18 month ban imposed by JADCO on Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson should be reduced to six months, and be deemed as served, plus JADCO must pay their costs. Lashings from the lawyers were being meted out, in good Jamaican fashion.

We keep getting it wrong be paid we don’t spend time to learn how to do it right. Send me these ‘children’ for a few days of training.

Jamaica is crazy. You can still stand on a street and hail a car and expect to be picked up by a stranger and given a ride. If you see a friend on the roadside, you are likely to offer them a ride if they are headed your way. We will also drive people into the dirt for having views or acting In a way that we deem abnormal. We cannot translate our readiness to care randomly into something systematic. Rather, we encase hard attitudes. That’s one reason we get stuck. Our systems are savage when it comes to dealing with real issues. We would rather let everything slide by than address what we should.

What time is it? Relay time

The day has arrived: the first annual IAAF World Relays will start this afternoon. Jamaica is represented by a team of 40 of our best runners, and will face stiff competition from opponents coming from some 43 countries. Unplanned, my daughter and I became honorary team members, when we travelled to Nassau squuezed together with stars like Yohan Blake and Warren Weir. They’re members of our reigning 4×100 metres World Championship gold medal team. My daughter had not missed her photo opportunity with ‘The Beast’ at Kingston’s airport.

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Beauty and The Beast

She spent most of the flight tongue-tied whenever he turned to speak to her. I wanted her to appreciate that great athletes are just ordinary people, like us, but she had him elevated on a pedestal.

At the airport, we’d seen, however, that Jamaicans feel their athletes are ordinary. Kerron Stewart, one our finest female sprinters, was sitting alone, quietly making some phone calls. I prodded my daughter to say hello. Just as we were doing that, up strode another lady. Bold as brass, she looked at Kerron and said “I like you, but yiu run all wrong. You need to push your foot out so.” She motioned with her leg. My daughter and I looked quizzically at each other, then at Kerron, whose eyes were looking a bit worried. “But, we love you just the same,” added the lady, who then walked on. I don’t want to be size-ist, but the lady looked like a black Tamara Press with a waddle. “Does that happen often?” I asked Kerron. “Yes,” she replied. We gave no running advice just a warm encouraging word and walked away, shaking our heads. Apparently, Jamaicans are all qualified coaches and commentators. That’s what friends of our close to the team told us. What a people!

Well, the runners have trained hard to represent their countries. The fans have supported or suffered loyally. The Bahamians have been starved of major relay successes, compared to Jamaica. But, if noise matters, they’ll come to succeed on the support side, with goombay drums booming and cow bells clanging. I wonder how others will support. Vuvuzelas have gone international. Will Germans and French have accordions? Will Canadians croon like Justin Bieber? Please, no. The British? No stop ‘Rule Brittania’? I will let you know. I have my whistle.

My biggest fear for the meets is conflict between the fans. My wife and her family are true-true Bahamians. They bleed aquamarine. But, their son-in-law has clear Jamaican roots, though he’s been adopted as a Bahamian over the years. The boy even rushed in Junkanoo one year, something his wife cannot claim. His mother-in-law has nursed roast turkey neck for him many times. Surely, they can count on him this weekend.

Well, relationships have hit rocks before. The boy has an array of black, green and gold colour to choose from in his shirts. He has a cousin high in the Jamaican team administration. He’s just gone back to his birthplace. He’s feeling his Jamaican rise. He’s noticed he bleeds green and gold when he shaves. I feel a CARICOM regional disintegration moment coming.

That he may side with Jamaica may have to be accepted. But, will he tempt some defectors? His daughter? Already, a Jamaican team hugger? Her cousin, who claimed loudly between tearing into BBQ ribs and chicken that “Blake in the M.A.N.”? It could get messy, like his sauce-covered fingers.

I can hear the lawyers now: “Your honour, our client admits irreconcilable differences began to appear during the heats of the relays…He begs for yiur honour’s understanding and let him keep his golf clubs, while relinquishing all other assets…”

Awkward moments

This morning, I’m due to travel to Bahamaland. It’s for a good cause (I was going to add ‘very’, but read last week that it’s very overused, and have been avoiding it like the plague ever since). The inaugural IAAF World Relays, will get underway in Nassau. This has been on the family calendar since before Christmas. So, the fact that, in Jamaica, the National Amateur Golf Championships also take place over our Labour Day holiday weekend is like a bunker ahead of a ball: I don’t see it. Family harmony preserved on that point, I can move forward. How long the harmony lasts will be interesting to see: I am Jamaican; my wife is Bahamian. Awkward. Jamaicans will be representing in fullish fashion: Usain Bolt will not be running on the track (and I hope he wont be just profiling on some ad while his fellow runners are speeding along). So, the harmony thing may get strained. The Bahamians are capable of making some huge noise for a nation of so few. Those cow bells kaliking may drown out all other supporting sound. I hope the Jamaicans come with drums. I will be packing my whistle. I do not, and will not, own a vuvuzela. But, much as my mother-in-law says she loves me, I feel that the blindness of love may not last. I am taking out some insurance, though, and packing some sliced East Indian mango from a cousin’s house to sweeten Grandma’s mouth. Hope the Customs people don’t give any trouble with that.

Harmony may take a little bump, too, if I get to play some golf–something that has not happened before, despite often being a hair’s breath from one of the loveliest courses I know, on Paradise Island. This time, I have tried to make plans, but my hook-up is still not sure. But, I live in hope. My golf crazy cousin, has decided to make the trip to Nassau–I think he may be there in some official JAA’s capacity, but that’s not important. He may have locked in his playing, and I will have to remind him of our blood ties, even if I have to caddy for him. That wouldn’t be so bad, because I’d get paid. Anyway, wish me luck on that. I’ve packed some drop-dead golf clothes, which may see me deported unseemly publish display.

My daughter is still asleep, as I write, but is very excited to rejoin her cousins and friends (whom she proudly recognized last night, when pressed on why she was ready to go). The fact that Grandma is reported to be preparing peas soup for our arrival was not lost on my child. She has some serious Caribbean genes, and walks with her belly. I’m so proud of her.

We’ve a few boring errands to run before getting to the airport, including taking my car in for a service. I’ve visited the nice ATL service facility in New Kingston once already with this car. It was a mixed experience that left me lamenting this feature of life in Jamaica, and was a reminder of how human interaction can get unnecessarily cumbersome because of simple dishonesty and unwillingness to accept mistakes.

Yesterday was one of those days in public discourse that I like to witness. A controversy has been raging this week about the future of Professor Brendan Bain, ‘one of the Caribbean’s pioneers in clinical infectious disease practice and a leading medical authority on the HIV epidemic in the region’. He was dismissed earlier this week because of testimony he gave as an expert witness in a case in Belize. Professor Bain was director of the Regional Coordinating Unit of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Regional Training (CHART) Network, and gave his testimony in 2012,on behalf of a group of churches that lobbied to retain Belize’s sodomy law. Various human and LGBT rights groups objected to this, mainly as a conflict of interest, but also on the use of disputed and outdated data.

I would not call what has gone on a ‘discussion’.

The matter of homosexuality does not lend itself to civil discourse for very long in Jamaica. (and in much of the Caribbean). The language used is often very telling. Gay rights groups are often positioned in a distant way with terms such as ‘they’. Also, reference is often made to their ‘strength’ and ‘power’–based on what, I have not yet understood. We also hear of ‘their agenda’. All of this makes it sound as if this particular lobby group has tactics and issues that make them extraordinary. Fear and loathing are rarely far from the surface, and many people who oppose such groups, latch on quickly to some pieces of religious argument to support their vehement opposition to what they often refer to as ‘abominable behaviour”.

A group of a dozen people mounted a picket outside UWI’s regional headquarters in Mona yesterday; that got a lot of airplay. I wish that every group of a dozen people is treated equally: I am looking forward to my time on the evening news when I get back. The way the media latched onto this yesterday was revealing. I’ve seen bigger groups making a fuss and yet never feature in a clip, let alone extensive interviews. What’s this talk about ‘power’ and ‘strength’ and ‘agendas’ all about? What are the facts? Awkward, again?

I’ve had a few conversations with Caribbean people about the Biblical support for their arguments, and what abominable behaviour means. They end up being noisy and confused, not least because parts of Biblical writings that do not go in support of the arguments opposing gay rights are conveniently pushed aside. Or, other abominable behaviour and sins are seen as…I’m not really sure what. Maybe, this is a turning point, and the next public announcement of sinning will bring forward a crowd, much bigger than 12 people, I hope, against murder, rape, or incest. Anyway, I will tread carefully around this minefield, within which one is likely to sense lightning bolts being hurled (an unintentional slide back to track and field).

Anyway, I don’t know what possessed me last night, but I decided that the vilification and half-arguments were getting a bit much, and I decided to engage in a few rebuttals. I ended up collecting a lot of red herrings and had enough to make one of Jamaica’s favourite dishes, Solomon Gundy, which is great on water crackers. A goodly number of these herrings were being cast by people often seen and read in the mainstream media, which I think give them ‘strength’ and ‘power’ to run with their ‘agendas’, but let’s not muddy the waters, with inconvenient truths, or even facts. Fact has become a great word to bandy around. ‘Facts are facts’, some people will holler. Really? is often my reply. I’ve lived long enough with people to know that facts are not often seen the same. So-called facts can often be denied. I’ve also been in a few situations where upholders of the law cited ‘facts’ in courts of law, which judges have then turned around and said were not supported by other facts, so were dismissed and rejected. What I see with my eyes may not be what you see. Likewise, with other experiences. Some facts are easy to understand and verify. How much money do I have in my pocket? We can check and agree that it’s none. But, other facts can get tricky to verify. When they involve what is called ‘data’, then fact is often a mixture of evidence and opinion. Take a look at Jamaica, and see which ‘facts’ about the country are shared by any, many, few, or none.

I heard what was quite a reasonable discussion last night on the topic of Professor Bain, during AllAngles, a current affairs discussion programme hosted by Dionne Jackson-Miller. She asked hard questions of UWI’s vice-chancellor, Nigel Harris. He gave what sounded like solid replies, and indicated that the decision was not the result of a brief consideration, but had been part of a long dialogue of several months. The panelists, from the Medical Association of Jamaica, and a spokesperson for human and gay rights groups, also discussed and answered questions well, including holding onto views that seemed clear and not biting on their being twisted.

I suspect that this was one of the less-heated discussion that was going on. But, so be it. I will no doubt see a lot of hyperbolic commentary today that makes it seem that all people’s rights of free expression are being trampled. I may not be in a position to argue back whether this same concern is partial or general, and ask if the rights of some other individuals to freely express themselves in Jamaica are not trampled by those same ‘defenders’. But, let me not get ahead of myself. I have no particular axe to grind in favour of any group, but I do have a liking for arguments that seem fair and make sense. Rightly or wrongly, I am not gripped by a certain fear that seems to pervade some of the arguments. I cannot tell if that is because of where I spent most of my life, or if it’s just something that I have never had. Some lifestyles are not my preference, but I know that they exist and are practised by others. I do not see that as threatening me or my lifestyle. Whatever moral arguments I may wish to use in favour of what I do, I can have thrown back at me.

It seems that Jamaicans throw a disproportionate amount of energy into opposing certain things, yet save that energy when it could oppose other things that are really more detrimental to all of our lives. Need I go back to last week’s topic of electricity theft? Should I touch on how we do not really care that much for our children?

I hear the sound of tiny feet overhead. How convenient.

 

 

The good, the bad, and the ugly (February 30): Champs 2014 Edition

I spent a day at the races on Saturday, watching the ISSA Boys & Girls Athletics Championships at the National Stadium; that capped a week when I watched the races on television every day. I am very grateful to a cousin, who was acting as a team doctor, for procuring three season tickets, so that my wife and daughter could also go to see Champs for the first time. My daughter bailed out and spent the afternoon with classmate and eating crabs, I understand. Swim with your own kind :-).

To me, a sports nut, nothing beats watching sports live, and nothing beats being at a sports event. It’s vibrant and all of life can be on display in the raw. In Jamaica, sporting events means ‘vending time’. Roads outside the stadium and en route are lined with people selling food and drink, hats, whistles, vuvuzelas (love or hate them), tickets, and parking spaces. Many people get a great payday on such occasions. The police are often present, along with private security guards,

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Police on duty, and controlling crowds without much display of force. Barriers signal clearly to drivers ‘no entry’

steering people to the event and away from places they think they can go. Usually, they do this without much incident, though sometimes without the best communication, but things stay pretty good-tempered.

Tickets were hard to come by, and from reports I heard or read, this was not an event where people tried to enter en masse without tickets, by scaling walls.

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Vendors see the money well on big event days. Jamaicans love their simple road food, sugar cane and fruit, here.

I mentioned that because an IAAF representative who is in Jamaica to report on Champs, mentioned seeing that on her first visit, though it was a positive sign of what the sport means to Jamaicans.

Parking can be tricky. My wife has diplomatic privileges so can park in the VIP section of the stadium, but it always involves a little ‘negotiation’ as the security look for stickers, which she doesn’t have, and generally need a little time to process that she had a general not specific privilege.

Once inside the stadium, the sight and sounds are something special. It did not take long to fill the stadium (about 35,000) and we were seated at about 3pm. Horns, drums, vuvuzelas, noise makers (sponsor logo-ed), voices were all working to make noise and lift the athletes. The stadium had its sections, with various schools represented in blocks that showed off their colours, in terms of shirts and blouses and caps and ties in school colours. We were seated near a group of Calabar fans (green and black), and to our right was the huge block of Kingston College (purple and white and ‘Fortis’) fans, with a band of drummers and trombones and more.

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Kingston College fans collected with their band and entertained the crowd all afternoon.

We could see across the stadium the contingents for Jamaica College (dark blue and white) and Edwin Allen (light blue and white). We saw some groups with the huge flags that cover a section of the crowd and can be passed down the terracing. Truly, a sea of colour, with national scholastic pride on display.

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Night falling, but crowds still in evidence. Everyone gets a good view but standing to ‘see better’ and cheer are obligatory.

Fans tend to be tolerant of little mishaps. The seats have a gap in their back supports, which means that feet tend to kick backs and lead to lots of “Sorry,”. People have their food and drink: things brought from home, like bully beef or ham sandwiches, bun and cheese, nuts. Jamaica isn’t Jamaica without box food: curry goat, rice and peas, salad; jerked chicken; patties.

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Curry goat, rice and peas and slaw salad; $600 well spent. Washed down with some ginger beer.

Vendors trying to sell soft drinks and cotton candy. A little food and drink get spilt but doesn’t lead to a war. Noise makers hit heads–more “Oops!”

We have the banter. “Want to share some of my bully beef for a taste of your curried goat?” Some of it is jabs at other schools. Immaculate Conception is a famed girls school run by nuns, with an excellent academic reputation, but they do not usually feature strongly at Champs (though they are good in the swimming pool). They put up a few good showings, but have to be ribbed: “What is an Immaculate?” “Is Immaculate one of the new secondary schools?”

We have the events. Fridays and Saturdays are loved because they have many finals; but preliminary rounds also have lots of excitement and set the table for the finals, with teaser performances that are world-class. But, the finals have the biggest dramas. The records falling (20 this year). The disasters: many disqualifications of favourites in the sprints, such as Michael O’Hara, which led to cries of ‘foul’: “No, man! That’s not right. We came to see him/her win.” “Starter, you holding them too long in the ‘set’ position.” Some did not perform as needed to make the cut in the field events: get in a legal jump, at least. Some fell over hurdles. No one was hit by a discus this year. Relay batons get dropped, though I did not see any drops during the races, or exchanges happen outside ‘the box’. Muscles get torn or ankles get twisted, sometimes out of our sight and we learn of that when we hear that someone has withdrawn, too often, a favourite.

The field events are a little distant from the grandstand, but the crowd is focused on them, nevertheless, and went wild as records were broken in the senior boys high jump.

We get to see ‘celebrities’. The PM is usually there, and this PM is a minister for sport to her core. We see the leader of the opposition, the Education Minister; we had a visit from a track legend, Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena. We had prized and medals presented by Jamaican Olympians, such as Warren Weir and Yohan Blake. We had the corporate sponsors presenting, too.

Health and nutrition are better catered for nowadays, and the racers are met with a cup of Gatorade as they finish. Any fallen or injured athlete is soon swarmed by a team with a gurney on wheels and medical help within seconds, and ‘revived’ or transported away for revival or treatment.

The teams look really good.

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Officials near the high jump pit and on the track, showing off their stylish outfits.

Again, sponsors are upfront, and those that cover officials and teams get their logos and colours seen all over. Others make sure they are known by their designs. But, the point is that all the participants look well decked-out, and not a rag-tag bunch. The event looks stylish.

Everyone loves the relays and the event always ends with the 4×400 meters, which gave its customary fireworks, and this time a new record in the senior boys event.

We have to be astonished at the depth of talent that Jamaica can put on display, from the Class 4 (10-2) through Class 1/seniors (16-19).

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Racers and officials at the ready. Crowd loving every moment.

The lines are drawn early and people love to watch the progressions over the years, through the classes. They know and understand the statistics, and see signs of greatness as records held by current or past Olympians get broken.

We saw a new strain of talent this year, with a relay race for the principals of schools, by region: 4×50 meters, to protect their health, though the island’s medical staff was on full alert. It was a great race, with some trundling by men and women, but also some stylish high-stepping, and everyone celebrated like the true winners they are.

Champs 2014 final day ended just when Earth Hour was due to start, about 8.30pm. Fittingly, there was a firework display scheduled after the events were over, and that was preceded by a tumbling and gymnastics display. Many who watched Champs at home–and the live and full TV coverage was excellent–were not much into saving energy and dousing lights until Champs had finished.

We left after the last relay and were home in record time, as most stayed for the displays. I caught it when I got home.

A great day. Now, the wait until next year.

My daughter’s school doesn’t participate, but I will have to get on their case and see if they can muster up a few kids to show some athleticism next year. When I raced as a boy, it was never in front of such fervent fans or a crowd of such magnitude. England’s main venue, Crystal Palace National Sports Centre holds only 14,000, while London has a population of around 6 million. But, London has more sports venues than many countries. I broke records, too, but never in front of a television audience and with national press coverage. I never focused on Champs when sprinting back then, but maybe it was there in my genes and pumping my legs and arms to the tape.

Thinking out of the blocks. Is this what USAID wants?

Several days ago, I read a report about a call by the Mission Director for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Jamaica, Denise Herbol. She wanted more research into local traditional and new industries, to help spur Jamaica’s development. She was also reported as saying “Jamaica must develop new models … develop new partnerships either internally or at the international level to maximise impact.”

Not for the first time, ‘Champs’ (Boys and Girls High School Championships) shows what we have already as a Jamaican brand that may need to be developed to fuller international potential.

Yesterday, we saw the latest in the line of ‘products’ that are rolling off the ‘assembly line’ of Jamaica’s ‘sprint factory’. The product was not Jamaican-made, but is being ‘finished’ in Jamaica–we’re ‘adding value’. Zharnel Hughes, an Anguillan, who’s a student at Kingston College, won the Class 1 boys 100 meters in a new record time of 10.12 seconds.

Jamaica has one of the IAAF’s eight Regional High Performance Training Centres (HPTC), based at UTech. Hughes received a scholarship to the HPTC, and trains with Racers Track Club, the home of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir.

Previously, we were amazed by the sprinting of Delano Williams, who is from the Turks and Caicos Islands and studied at Munro College, St. Elizabeth, and won the 100 and 200 metres at the 2012 Jamaican National High School Track and Field Championships, becoming the first non-national to do so; he successfully defended his titles in 2013. Last year, he completed the IAAF transfer allegiance and is now eligible to compete for the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team in international competition; the Turks and Caicos Islands are not affiliated to the IOC.

Delano Williams, running for Munro College
Delano Williams, from Turks and Caicos, running for Munro College; now he runs for Great Britain and Northern Island.

From what I understand, Jamaica has not embarked on making the production of world-class sprinters an industry. Its help given to other Caribbean athletes is not new, but it’s notable, not just at school level. Admittedly, top-level athletes are likely to thrive in many situations, but Jamaican should exploit and promote its clear superiority in this field. The IAAF centres help. But, should it be only through that route?

The world has been fascinated by Jamaica’s sprint factory for years, and more so since the stunning successes of Usain Bolt, and a cohort of true world beaters. So, how can we monetize that comparative advantage that we have? How can we build a lasting legacy that helps Jamaica and world track and field? My simple mind says it cannot be hard to market the idea to countries wishing to challenge on the world’s track and field stages, rather than ‘importing’ and ‘buying’ athletes as do Qatar and Bahrain, with say Kenyan runners.

I’m not going to be the one to spell out all the steps. But, I can see or sense some of the problems. Apart from any sense of national superiority in their own systems, Americans may balk because living in Jamaica would be a challenge that many think they would not want to handle just for the chance to be a world beater. For them, the ‘executive’ program may need to be developed, eg, sprint summer camps. Over time, resistance may dwindle.

Runners from other developing countries may be the easiest natural targets, especially those on the cusp of producing world-class athletes already, eg, Nigeria. Like teams needing that extra something to get over the edge, maybe being finished in Jamaica will work wonders. National pride may get in the way, there, too, however. But, as all good athletes know, challenges are there to be overcome.

A smattering of international athletes come to Jamaica to train, but it needs to be a flood. Will it hurt us? I think not. We can improve them, but if they don’t have some basic ingredients that we do, not many of them will beat us. But, what if they do? We move up the value chain and keep coaching them.

I don’t know how much R&D is needed, but we’d better soon get on the wagon we are pulling. Who knows, the Chinese (to whom we’ve given some scholarships to attend our coaching college, G.C. Foster) may quickly learn to copy what we do and run with it, literally.

 

 

Still shackled

A random set of events today illustrate starkly something very wrong with Jamaica. We are more accustomed than other Caribbean countries, except Cuba, to the glare of sporting success. Admittedly, that has come more through track and field, and somewhat through football, than other sports.

But, over the past two days we went on another of those fairy-tale rides, as a team of bobsledders trundled down an icy slide, holding the slimmest of hopes of a medal. Not surprisingly, knowing the recent history of this team and how they got to Sochi, Russia, the two-man team came in 29th out of 30 (aided by one team not completing their final run). But, that was about what we should have expected. Underdogs, and holding up the stack. However, Jamaica got maybe more of the crowd’s love than any team other than the home-country boys, who came in with the gold. But, love and smiles won’t get us to the podium and wont build us at the lowest level. Our apples are not really piled into the bobsledding basket, even though it’s surprisingly open to many of our athletes or ordinary people. Note, one of the Russian team was a taxi driver and arm wrestler. We can find a few people who could fit that profile.

Our sledders were fantastic in qualifying alone. Consider that at least 4 countries put in three teams in the field of 30 teams. So, for us to be able to get into this small fraternity was truly a feat well done.

Where I gagged was in the process of trying to nurture one of the future athletes–my daughter. She had swimming practice this afternoon, at St Andrew High School. The school has a 25 metre pool and before my daughter’s practice, children from the prep school have a swimming lesson and practice. I often see a girls’ water polo team working out ahead of our practice. Then my daughter and other kids under 11 have their hour. After them, come some 11-14 year olds for a 90 minute session. My kid, sometimes does this session, too. She can hold her own and is often good and tired but well exercised at the end of 2 1/2 hours in the water.

We noted, as usual, the high school girls doing their practices, in preparation for Champs. Hurdles were out today. A girl was working the javelin. Another girl was throwing a shot. Most girls were striding and sprinting on the grass track.
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On the dusty, barely grassed track. On the track that is perhaps par for the course for the best track athletes in the country. I thought back to the high school my older daughter attended in northern Virginia. They had a stadium akin to Catherine Hall, in Montego Bay. This was an ordinary state school. That marked the difference between developed countries and countries like Jamaica–so-called ‘middle income’, but really among the poor.

Catherine Hall Sports Complex, Montego Bay
Catherine Hall Sports Complex, Montego Bay

This is how we have to prepare some of the better future stars. I looked forward to seeing what performances would be produced in a few weeks.

On the way home, I heard a news report that the swimmers training for Carifta (regional elite performers) were going to have no training facilities at the National Aquatic Centre, because the pool needed to be closed–again–while new filters are installed. Options are few in Kingston, but at least some exist. All with a good intent, but hampering in the process.

Now, I’m settled in front of the television, watching ‘Monday night football’ from the Red Stripe Premier League. Top two teams are duking it out: Waterhouse away to Harbour View (at the ‘mini stadium’). But, what is that surface on which they are playing? It’s a mixture of bare ground and sparse grass; the overall colour is red. A player goes through, clear on goal, swings and the ball loops high as if he were trying to kick it out of the stadium. It took a wicked bounce. I remember a game earlier in the season when it seemed that a ghost had spirited the ball away from the goalkeeper, but it had hit a stone and put the ball in the path of a striker for a goal. I did not expect a surface like those played on by English Premier League team, but a cow pasture is what I’d expect for ‘Molasses Vale’ in St. Thomas, with sticks and stones marking the field boundaries. What a disgrace!

I wrote yesterday about perpetual underdogs. I saw today without searching what squalid facilities we have to offer our best and those who want to be the best and represent the country at the highest levels. We do much DESPITE, not because of. What could we be if we were not constantly weighed down by the heavy blocks of our poor basic infrastructure?

The good, the bad, and the ugly (November 24)

Good

Resignation of the Board of JADCO. They’ve shown many ways to present themselves and Jamaican athletes in a bad light.

The Planning Institute of Jamaica reported that, after six consecutive quarterly declines, the economy rebounded showing a marginal increase in real GDP of 0.6 per cent; “primarily due to improved weather conditions and the strengthening of productive activities within most industries”. The rebound has to start somewhere.

Bad

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica repoted that the rate of inflation (Consumer Price Index, All Jamaica) was 0.8 per cent for the month of October 2013.This gives an annual point-to-point rate of 10.3 per cent. This increase was mainly due to 20 percent upward movement in the cost of water and sewerage. Electricity, gas and other fuels also rose by 2.9 per cent.

Ugly

Pride of place goes to the little tempest that brewed when an RJR reporter and the PM’s security detail could not see eye to eye about questions to the PM, after a project dedication ceremony. The problem between the two sides are not hard to fix. If the PM and her Office want to engage the media, then it would be easy to set up some general rules that both find acceptable. After all, politics is the art of the possible.

Kick JADCO in the pants?

An interesting little skirmish is going on right under our noses. One of the local papers has been putting forward a proposal, quite openly and quite cogently, that a major public organization should dismiss its Board. The Gleaner thinks JADCO has fallen down on the job: “…they have managed the recent affairs of the agency incompetently…”, the Gleaner Editorial stated boldly today. The Observer has had a similar point, but I feel that the Gleaner has been more strident.

I’m interested in how things work out here. I’m also of the view that JADCO has done a poor job of managing the country’s affairs as a drug testing agency, by what it has done, what it has not done, what it has said, and more evidently by what it has not said. I don’t mind standing up and saying that JADCO is a good example of how not to manage public relations.

Times have changed and what is clear is that JADCO does not see that open and fluid communication is part of its remit. Informing and clarifying in anticipation of requests seem to have been beyond its remit. It has a public face that is blank.

What’s interesting to me is whether any change will be made, and if it is, how the government will spin it. They could say something like, “…in light of public discontent..” or “…time for a change and a breath of fresh air…”, or “…new directions from the Board are needed to coincide with the arrival of a new Executive Director…” Many options are there. WIll the government want to suggest that its decision in independent, or that it’s reflective of a concern that public confidence needs to be bolstered by a change.

What’s been funny to watch has been how the image of the athletes has been tainted by an institution that should help keep the image pristine. That seems to have been the case by the suspicion JADCO has allowed to surround what it’s been doing. The athletes can fess up, but the drug testing agent seems hard pressed to do the same.

We know that there are many hands washing many backs in terms of how public power is wielded, so I would not necessarily expect to hear any self-criticism from JADCO except of the most minor kind. I would also be surprised if the JAAA stood up and made its voice heard clearly. So, maybe the athletes need to make sure that people understand how they are all being held to ransom by an agency they do not control.

Of course, nothing may happen–though, I’d wager that wont be the case. I’m not a gambler but maybe a little wager on this one would be a good payer.

JADCO being dragged kicking and screaming into transparency?

A popular phrase in Jamaica nowadays is ‘Waggonist’, i.e. someone who likes to be on the band wagon, a ‘Johnny come lately’, someone along for the ride, or all of the preceding. So, the recent excitement about singer Tessanne Chin’s performance on NBC’s The Voice, has many jumping on the stage to applaud Ms. Chin, though they have been missing for much of her career. But, that’s very much in human behaviour.

But, Jamaica is also a country where one could say that it has to be dragged kicking and screaming (DKAS). Part of maturing as a country and a society that seems to elude some of us is the need to do things in a timely manner and to do them openly, understanding that impressions come often from nothing more than impressions in the absence of facts to the contrary. Almost anyone may say that defeating foot-dragging can’t be part of the “soon come” culture; it’s almost a contradiction in terms. What I find interesting is that ‘they’ (meaning the persons charged with ‘doing’) don’t see the damage that is done by delay and cloudiness.

We have a number of items of news in recent months that fall very much into the DKAS frame. The one that irks me, greatly, is the fiasco unfolding about the country’s anti-doping activities.

The country has proudly been showing the world for several years, mainly since the 2008 Olympics, that it has a formula for producing some stunning sprinters. It’s not just the recent successes of Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser and Asafa Powell, or the longer term successes of  Veronica Campbell-Brown, but a long line of elite sprinters. It’s not really a surprise to locals, who know the long and great tradition that has been there in track and field for decades. Not surprisingly, the little island of some 3 million people did not seem to many outsiders the place that would dominate any international sport for a few years just on natural ability. In an era where so-called ‘performance enhancing drugs’ have been prominent, suspicion would fall naturally on those seeming to rise suddenly.

Jamaica has an organisation to test its athletes for illegal drugs, JADCO (Jamaica Anti Doping Commission). But, it has not been good at leading and getting out to the public at home or abroad a clear picture of what it does and what it needs to do. Instead, it has allowed others to dictate the story. Its previous Executive Director, Ms. Renee Anne Shirley, exposed in August what seemed to be grave weaknesses and a near breakdown in testing; she did this in a series of letters and an interview with an US sports channel. Response? JADCO did little to put its side of the story out to the public. There were mutterings that Ms. Shirley was disgruntled and somehow had ‘an axe to grind’. Irrelevant! Was she telling the truth? That should have been JADCO’s focus. Tell the nation and the world what it had been doing.

Jamaican athletes have been under the spotlight all summer, both for great performances on the track during the World Championships, and because several star athletes have returned positive tests. One, Veronica Campbell-Brown, had her case determined with a ‘public warning’ last week; others, including Asafa Powell, are awaiting judgements. That’s a good enough set of circumstances for us to want to know that our sprinting goods are really good. On the edge of that, reports also emerged of a national football player being guilty of using banned substances–and subsequently given a 9 month ban and a national team doctor getting a 4 year ban for his role.

It’s not enough to know that our top athletes are tested, seemingly unceasingly, in international competitions. We need to know that the process is done at home, too, and is rigorous.

Fast forward three months. We read that the international governing body, WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) will mount an ‘extraordinary’ audit on Jamaica’s testing regime. We also read that the Chairman of JADCO, Dr. Herb Elliott said that Ms. Shirley was “demented”. If that remark was made, what business does the Chairman have saying that about a former employee? Is the woman telling the truth? Mad people are not necessarily liars. His organisation has not put out the public figures to challenge Ms. Shirley’s contention. According to press reports, when asked Dr. Elliott said he may have figures “tomorrow”. Aha! Soon come! It’s not ready yet. This is three months spent doing what to confirm or deny a detailed set of statements by a former JADCO executive.KickingAndScreamingFuller

I don’t want to get into the internal politics of JADCO, just whether it seems to have any idea what it needs to do to convince the public that it is in charge of testing our athletes at home.

Today’s Gleaner calls for the resignation en bloc of the JADCO board. It’s hard to disagree with that proposal, if only to put in its place some people who seem to understand the need to communicate clearly and openly and in timely manner.

An expert in the dope testing world commented on the radio yesterday that whatever has happened to Jamaican athletes, the program is not dirty and does not have systematic doping: he mentioned that a total of ONLY 20 Jamaican athletes had ever returned positive tests. If that’s the case, why is that not part of what JADCO tells the world.

The whole JADCO affair is a bit strange, not least because it’s situated within The Office of the Prime Minister, which gives its relative silence a somewhat different tinge. Is it the national political wish that we be fed a diet of silence?