By Rashid Hall
Firstly let me congratulate the Minister and those who made the recommendations to her, for pushing through this idea that spending the allocated money for celebrations on athlete development support is a much more effective and impactful use of funds for the cash strapped government of our island nation. For ages, athletes have struggled to maintain the basic requirements needed to maintain training and performance at a professional level. It must be noted that with most sports, an athlete will not see any real income until he/she reaches to a certain top percentile or level in the Sport internationally and to get there requires strong financial investment. The fact remains that the barrier of the cost of sport alone, has always hindered some of our brightest talents from becoming world challengers.
I read with disappointment though, that reports made in a local paper indicate the fact that this funding will be given to athletes from one sport only, in this country that we consider to be a “Sporting nation.” Justification for that claim is still to be determined as is shown exactly by the thinking used with this one sport only intention. While J$60 million is in the scheme of things not much funds at all, I do believe that it can be a strong step in the right direction of helping our athletes in their quest for success. Firstly, though not indicated, I will assume based on the limited amount that this funding will be for a one year cycle. It would also be additionally justified with the fact that Olympic games coming up as yet another test for our nation’s performances and athletes. This therefore means that time is of the essence and this programme needs to begin right away. Let us hope that those in position at the federation/s already had strategy plans and guidelines in place for the rainy day that luck would bring them the additional funding they have been working so hard to attain to help the athletes, one of their main objectives and purpose. I hope it’s not wishful thinking.
While the idea overall is great and one I have advocated for in my own small way, the concept being mentioned in the media as to how it will be activated should be given some deeper thought. There are ways to make this small amount more effective and efficient in my view. So if given the opportunity, this is how I would use J$60M to help develop our athletes over the next 12 months?
Unlike expressed, I would create an athlete welfare programme that is open to all sports for an estimated 40 persons, local or internationally based. The reason for the reduction in the number of persons is that to really help athletes succeed he or she needs strong support. It will almost be counterproductive to try to give everyone “something” but in the end stretch it so much that its barely able to make a difference and unable to really assist their needs to optimize their performance and reap true, measureable results. The programme would be open also, because though it is natural that it will be dominated by persons from the track and field sporting discipline, I believe strongly that we have other persons such as Gareth Henry in Badminton and persons in boxing, table tennis, golf, swimming and other sports who are very talented and have been close to the required standard and additional support and resources can be the extra push they need to make a strong effort to qualify for the Olympics. I would love to find a least ten, to show our commitment to not just star athletes from any one sport, but a level playing field for all those who have proven potential. Naturally to choose these persons an analysis would have to be done that includes current level/rank, past performances, talent identification, commitment levels, current level of support available etc and most importantly the submission of a strategic roadmap by the athlete and or federation as to how the monies would be used towards their development over the next 12 months. So how would I allocate the funds to these 40 persons?
$46M to create an athlete welfare programme:
$28.8M directly to the athletes- This would be in the form of a monthly payment to the athletes (quarterly payment can be discussed and agreed), of $60,000. This funding would be contributory to the athlete’s expenses such as accommodation, transportation, coaching etc as decided upon on a needs basis by the athlete themselves according to their current situation. I know personally having worked with athletes, that though not near their real costs, this would go a very, very, far way in helping to solve some of their basic needs.
$14.4M towards a nutrition programme- Calculated at $30,000 per month, this would be in the form of meal vouchers.
Yes, you read correctly, not cash. To help ensure tax payers funds are being used for what it has been designated for and to help with transparency, this is a strategy that ensures monies allocated for nutrition, is used for nutrition. I would partner with local supermarkets to be used as purchasing hubs and even hopefully negotiate a discounted price for our nation’s prospective world challengers. This would also open the door for corporate companies who are able to support in kind rather than cash, to play a role. When launching the programme I would also invite a nutritionist to do a one on one Sport event based session with each of the athletes so they are educated on what is considered the right nutritional diet for their specific event in their sport.
$2.8M for a medical scheme- In the search for greatness, athletes can of course experience many injuries. Medical expenses and the lack of being able to do prompt treatment have in the past impacted athletes significantly during their preparations. This scheme would ensure the athletes have adequate medical insurance to be able to address their medical needs immediately, including the known potential injuries that can occur depending on their sport.
International Competition & Travel
$4M- For most of our athletes, international travel for competition and experience is a key part of their development. This is particularly true for athletes in sports that have to gain a certain number of points or competition credit, to improve their world ranking and qualify for the Olympics. A lack of ability to attend international competitions has always been a setback for our athletes. The fund would also be flexible and can be used for overseas training camps as well especially if the athlete and his team are able to secure support from the international club/centre/organization that will host him/her. This aspect of the fund would be accessible to athletes who can show the purpose of the travel, the expected impact and the benefits. This would be directly linked to the strategic development roadmap they would have submitted prior to being selected for the programme.
Input of experts
$2M- Due to limited resources, not everyone will get to travel. In some cases it will be a more efficient of funds to instead, invite experts to the island to share their knowledge. Take for example the case of the throwing events in track and field, which we have seen strong improvements from our athletes in recent time and need to help them to maximize this potential. Rather than sending one or two athletes away for training, this allocation seeks to have a wider reach. A high quality coach from the USA or Germany for eg could be invited to conduct a two or three week training camp that would not only serve the athletes on the programme but also would be open to other potential athletes. This is one of the ways benefit can be spread to athletes and coaches beyond the programme without increasing the funding allotment thus creating a more long term benefit even beyond the 12 month period.
Facility Development & Equipment
$8M- I find it rather interesting that as the years go by and the benefit is even more proven, there is still a lack of acknowledgment as to the role that Universities have played in this rapid increase in success of our athletes. Just this week it was announced that the Bert Cameron and his “Blazers” track club will now be based at the MICO University. Why? Because they have seen how the MVP and Racers have significantly cut their overhead costs by partnering with Universities and gained leverage to use their resources and facilities. To ensure this continued success and encourage improvements, Universities (the training base of these athletes) need support.
Imagine in this aspect if UTech for example could put forward a proposal and access $3M to improve their weights room for athletes with proper equipment and maybe even a physio and massage area. Or if the UWI could access $4M to create a Mini Throws Centre with a designated allocated space at the Bowl with a proper circle, cage and the materials and equipment needed for each of the throwing disciplines. Not only would this benefit the athletes on the programe currently, but it would be a part of the physical legacy of the programme and could be the key to starting to motivate other entities to “chip in” and help to expand them even further.
We can look at Sixty Million Jamaican Dollars two ways. We can see it as a drop in the bucket when compared to the needs of our athletes or we can see it as Sixty million more than we had last year to go towards athlete development. For this programme to work, persons, starting with the athletes themselves must be held accountable.
They should sign agreement contracts when joining the programme, their team (entourage) should send quarterly reports to be reviewed by the panel (represented by a cross section of stakeholders including some from beyond the Sport world and public sector) and there must be established KPIs with which an evaluation can be done at the end of the period. Hopefully the results can be used as weight to convince the powers that be that it’s a programme we should seek to continue. In any case, in two hours I was able to construct a sample of how I would layout this allocation, maybe some things can be scrutinized, maybe some of my costs are more hopeful, but in reality those in power have a bit more time than two hours. What is most important is that this not be a knee jerk reaction to the public outcry for athlete support heighten by the fact that a electoral vote seems to be pending, but actually the honest and true intention to put in place a formalized structure with guidelines that will help to support the needs of our athletes that strive to do the best they can in their sport realize their dreams and make their country proud.
Rashid Hall is a Jamaican student currently pursuing an Advanced Masters in Sports Administration and Technology at the International Academy for Sports Science and Technology (AISTS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.