By Paul Andrew Bourne, Dip. Edu., BSc., MSc., PhD (candidate in Public Health, Department of Community Health and Psychiatry, Faculty of Medical Sciences, the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica)
The recent display of supremacy of the Jamaican athletes in ‘Track’ at the Beijing Games (i.e. Olympics) must be contextualized within their sociopolitical realities. Although the ‘show’ at the show was primary on Michael Phelps in swimming and Usain Bolt in track and field, more so track than field, this article is not about non-Jamaicans (i.e. Michael Phelps or any other athletes), it is concerned about some realities that are there must covertly addressed on particular occasions. The paper is not either on historical milestone of three Jamaicans on the podium at the Beijing or the two single medals in one track event but it on the ‘poor’ athletes in Jamaica.
This day is an historical one in live of Jamaica, but it is also the opportune time for us to address many inadequacies, injustices, misfortunes and marginalization of poor Jamaicans. Sports, in particular ‘Track and Field’ for decades have been utilized (not abused) but ‘poor’ Jamaicans as that vehicle and avenue for redemption from the slavery of poverty and equally so is music. Over the years, ‘poor’ Jamaicans which is common across developing countries and in poor neighbourhoods in developed nations have had to use ingenious ways to alleviate themselves from ‘food’ poverty and ‘ghetto’ slavery. While the Usian ‘Lightening’ Bolt; Shelly-Ann Fraser; Shericka Williams; Melaine Walker; Asafa Powell; Nesta Carter; Veronica Campbell-Brown; Sherone Simpson; Michael Frater; and Kerron Stewart have established themselves as among the best in the world in their trade, they are still economically marginalized in their nations.
The aforementioned individuals are among a listing of champions (e.g. Arthur Wint; Herb McKenley; George Rhoden; Leslie Laing; George Kerr; Cynthia Thompson; Una Morris; Keith Gardner; Donald Quarrie, Marilyn Neufvelle, Audrey Reid, Michael Fray, Lincoln Belcher, then Sandi Richards, Gregory Haughton, Beverly McDonald, Raymond Stewart; Winthrop Graham J. Cuthbert; G. Jackson; Burt Cameron; Deon Hemming; and Catty Rattrey-Williams) who have made in this ‘proud’, but where are the sponsor, well-wishers, the politicians and the commercial agencies in the process leading up to this social reality (i.e. the world records, Olympic records, and the Gold medals). Most of the athletes have been ‘poor’ Jamaicans who are either from (1) ‘ghetto’ communities like Melaine Walker, Shelly-ann Fraser or (2) poor rural landscape like Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown to name a few who have placed themselves on the international arena with the assistance of the general group with which was aforementioned.
Where are the affluent among us (i.e. Jamaicans) on the international arena collecting medal and make the Jamaican anthem a delicacy on the lips of Chinese, Indians, Caucasians, Blacks, Jew, Muslims, et cetera? Poor Jamaicans who are continuously mauled, ‘blooded’, marginalized, forbidden, reserved for failure and misfortune must take themselves from the ash like a Phoenix and soar in the morning skies. I am appalled by the spirit of athletes, who are poor and frustrated by society, who must ‘labour’ for the affluent ones in the society. Looking at the crime statistics for the Jamaican society over the past 4-decades, is it possible and probable that we have ‘slaughtered’ some ‘Bolts’, ‘Walkers’, Afasa Powells, whose contribution could have been substantially more stellar than that of ‘Bolt’s world records’ or that of ‘Michael Phelps’.
The ‘rich’ among us are leaches, as their contribution can only be equated with ‘vampires’. They will find it difficult to sponsor an athlete, but they are first among the populace ‘to get out of blocks’ with con-gra-tu-la-tions. There is one young ‘poor’ Jamaican athlete that I would like to single out here as he ought to have been on the Jamaican Olympic Squad to Beijing, China, and he is Gonzales. He is one of nation’s primary 400 metres runners who has been injured for some time now, and ‘Is he getting the economic sponsorship from corporate Jamaica to aid in his development?’ The answer is a simple, No!!!!! The vampires are waiting for his return to extract the ‘blood’ that they we not able to enrich. We, no, they are waiting with con-gratulation complements, for Gonzales on his winning a medal on the international stage.
This paper is introspective, reflective, forceful, kind and cruel against a system which includes the politicians who continue to rape the ‘poor’ with disaffection. The time is ‘right’ for the repair of ‘roads’ to the communities of Bolt, Walker and Fraser; when all of this has been asked for by the ‘poor’ for decades. We, no, they bask in the triumph of the ‘poor’ Jamaicans athletes who continue to live in squalor with their families; and their gift is thank you. I like this, thank you or ‘congratulation for winning the ‘gold medal’ and/or the ‘world record’. It appears that this can pay ‘Gonzales’ medical bill’ or that of any other ailing athlete.
Another important issue that has eluded them (i.e. affluent among us including the politicians) is contribution of the ‘poor’ in their existence. During the tenure of the politicians, they basked in the magnificence of their reservoir of words (or emotive speeches) with which the ‘poor’ leverage as assistance on serving in office; but the time elapses with the voluminous works before they can address some of the concerns of this cohort of people. But from among the ‘refused’ has come Shelly-Ann Fraser, Melaine Walker, Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt who have rekindled the hope of the poor despite the efforts of the vampires (i.e. the affluent ones and the politicians).
I am not making a case for the sole development of ‘poor’ athletes, but for the modernization of discrimination of the ‘poor’, an end to their marginalization, the ceasing of ‘blood shedding’ in inner-city communities in Jamaica, the removal of the wanton disrespect for this cohort people, as they are the ones to substantially contribute to the development of this society on the international podium or landscape. Let us refashion this society, Jamaica, for the benefit of all and not the Caucasians, Affluent ones, Politicians or their families as prosperity and opportunities for each means a shared vision for all.
I await the new approach from here onwards in regard to how poor Jamaicans will be ‘con-gra-tulated’. One of the two tenet approach to the commencement of this exercise is the reevaluation of the salaries of ‘Prof. R. Simeos’ in comparison to that of the track and field coaches. In that, if accountability is the new thrust of government, then less money are spent on ‘Track and Field’ to that of ‘Football’ and the return of the former is unquestionably greater. Hence, we need to effective manage money in this society. The second aspect to this is the restructuring of inner city communities to reflect the lifestyle of at least middle class peoples in Jamaica.