By Dania Bogle, writing from Kingston
Jamaica is sitting on a gold mine of natural sporting talent and has reaped rich rewards in the 50 years since independence.
The country became the first English-speaking Caribbean country to qualify for the football World Cup in 1998.
It has claimed more than 60 Olympic Games medals since it first competed in 1948 and 80 World Championships medals since the inauguration of those games in 1983.
However, the achievements seem to have come in spite of less than ideal circumstances and without all the necessary infrastructure in place.
When the country claimed a record 11 medals, including six gold, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, many thought that the time was ripe for the authorities to begin to lay the framework to develop a solid infrastructure.
Calls were also made for the appropriate backing for athletes to reach their full potential.
Four years later, after another record setting performance in London 2012, athletes are still crying out for support.
Two-time Olympics 100m gold medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce made an appeal upon her return to the island from the Games.
“Where is the support from our government? We are looking forward to a relationship that can blossom,” she said.
Even the reward for the achievements of athletes such as Usain Bolt seemed inadequate.
A much more subdued celebration than the one held in 2008 following the Beijing Olympics is being planned for the athletes this year.
This time around, the government had made plans to compensate athletes financially for their performances in London.
Each athlete who won a gold medal earns one million Jamaican dollars (US$11,000).
Silver medal winners get JA$750,000 (US$8,375) and bronze medalists $500,000 (US$5,585).
For each athlete making a final, JA$350,000 (US$3,900) was the reward, while each participant took home $250,000 (US$2,792).
For a relay gold, JA$3 million (US$33,000) was the bounty, while silver fetches $2.4 million (US$26,800), and the bronze medal-winning team collected $1.8 million (US$20,000).
This means that Usain Bolt, who helped to make Jamaica a household name worldwide by winning the top titles in the men’s 100m and 200m at London 2012, will walk away with the largest sum, followed by Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce who won gold and silver in the individual sprints and was a member of the women’s 4x100 relay.
Paralympian Alphanso Cunningham, who won the javelin at the Paralympics, earned JA$1m (US$11,000).
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller presented over 50 athletes who competed in both games with monetary rewards during a concert which featured the likes of musical legends Marcia Griffiths and Freddie McGregor, and more recent heroes such as Beenie Man and Konshens.
Money for the awards and celebrations will come from the state-run Sports Development Foundation/CHASE Fund, followed by the private sector, the tourism ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister.
The government was guided by the proposals of the Athletes Celebration Committee which held its first meeting August 24.
The offering pales in comparison to those of Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada, where gold medal-winning javelin thrower Keshorn Walcott and 400m gold medallist Kirani James were showered with real estate, in addition to large sums of money.
The Minister without Portfolio with responsibility for sport, Natalie Neita-Headley, stated the financial position at a press conference to welcome Fraser-Pryce home.
“We want to ensure that we can’t do what Russia did, we can’t do what America did but we can do what Jamaica can do,” she said.
Ms Neita-Headley, in the meantime, told Caribbean Intelligence© that she would love to see Jamaica competing in as many as 20 sports at the Olympics Games in 10 years.
She said that the government had already started discussions about how to get the ball rolling.
The plan is to focus on eight sports for the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“I think it’s one of the areas [where] we have to go back to the drawing board, to see how best we can allow for Jamaica to participate more widely in the areas that we don’t consider to be conventional sports,” she said.
“[Areas in which] you might not necessarily medal in 2016, but by the time you get to 2032, you’re looking at Jamaica being very strong in another eight or 10 areas of sports,” Ms Neita-Headley added.
Jamaica has to date competed in a number of sports at the Olympics - badminton, bobsled, boxing, cycling, equestrian, track and field, ski, swimming, taekwondo and weightlifting.
The country has won only one medal outside of track and field - a bronze in men’s cycling, earned by David Weller in 1980.
Michael McCallum did come excruciatingly close to winning at least a bronze medal for the country at the Montreal Games in 1976 as did some Jamaican swimmers, including Alia Atkinson who finished 4th in the 100 metres breast stroke at the London 2012 Olympics.
“I think we perhaps need to a new look at how we’re giving funding,” said Ms Neita-Headley.
“How we distribute funding, how we allocate across the board, to focus on those areas, to focus on a few more disciplines and to take it in a systematic way over a number of years.”
As it relates to the infrastructure, she said: “We’re developing bilateral relationships with other countries to assist in preparing us technically and providing us with coaches from other countries.”
National sports policy
The 30-year-old GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, which was built with aid from the Cuban government in 1980 and which currently trains physical education teachers, is expected to become a fundamental part of the process.
“Not only to be training persons in certain areas of sports, but that they’re going to also be equipped to take on swimming and other things,” Ms Neita-Headley told Caribbean Intelligence©.
Jamaica’s Football Federation President, Captain Horace Burrell, has joined the call for the government to invest in sports development.
He has suggested borrowing funds to build 13 multi-purpose stadiums across the country.
A new National Sports Policy, outlining the approach, has yet to be tabled for approval in Parliament.
Ms Neita-Headley says nine consultations with relevant stakeholders have taken place since she assumed her post in January and that the document should be ready by December 2012.
“There is a policy writer on board who is redrafting to ensure that all that is taken into consideration,” she stated.
Meanwhile, the first vice-president of the Jamaica Olympic Association, Don Anderson, told Caribbean Intelligence© that one of the first steps would be to start building on the existing 40-plus local sporting associations.
“Over the next four years, we have to start to help building those sporting associations and to have a public sector/private sector partnership, to ensure that we can move them forward.”
Mr Anderson was unable to say what size of budget the venture would need.
“It is virtually impossible to quantify that, but we certainly have to do that, because we have to put in place the financial and other support to ensure that we can get there and equip ourselves very well,” he concluded.