If a nation does something for 100 years, they will get it right. Jamaica’s “Champs” has been staged for 100 years. So when Usain Bolt burst onto the scene it was not by accident. Jamaican athletes have worn their yellow and green in front of thousands of cheering supporters for 100 years. When Bolt’s coach said that there is a line of top performing athletes just waiting to dominate the world’s track and field stage, he is not joking. The world is literally flocking to Jamaica to train with the best and absorb whatever is on offer.
As Chair of the cancelled Caribbean Games 2009, I attended the 100th Anniversary of Jamaica’s premier track-and-field event. This activity is indelibly seared onto my consciousness and feels like yesterday. The invitation was extended for me to attend “the premier track-and-field event of its kind in the world”. That’s how it is positioned and “Champs” as it is fondly known had humble beginnings before becoming the “Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships”.
Apart from having consistent sponsorship “Champs” represents the Athlete’s moment of glory on a home stage. Imagine the impact on a young athlete of running in front of a packed to capacity stadium (more than 25,000 persons). When that Athlete makes it on the world’s stage he/she has confidence because he/she has performed at home and drunk of the energy of his/her own people.
In addition, “Champs” is a grass root activity for which the average Joe Jamaican will find an old school tie or socks or t-shirt or undersized shorts and proudly strut their stuff at the games rooting for their secondary school and re-living long lost memories. When an activity assumes the cultural significance of “Champs”, it is an easy sell. But “Champs” is more than the expression of sport and culture, it is the culmination of years of hard work.
In a recent interview with Larry Romany, President of TTOC (the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee) he alluded to the Jamaican model for the development of athletes and said: “Jamaica puts a physical education teacher, a qualified physical teacher into every school, but more than that, each physical education teacher in Jamaica is actually qualified in track and field so they are a coach as well as a phys-ed teacher and they go into the system, and that is why Jamaica has had such success because there is a focussed attempt, a strategic intent on creating track and field stars”.
What is so difficult about implementing such a model in Trinidad and Tobago? We need to recognize that our only resource is our people and there must be significant investment in their development but lest that sounds hollow, I’ll quickly add that the investment is really finding a way to ignite the fire of patriotism which is now dormant.
During my Caribbean Games experience, my mantra was “Sport must become the weapon of choice for our youth”. I still believe in the potential and possibility of this statement but it will only become a reality when we devote the time and effort to craft the strategy for the sport industry. Of course, this has been done before but our leaders choose not to build on previously laid foundations but to smash any bases that exist. As blood fertilizes our land and our people flounder it is urgent that we put a strategic plan in place to capture the imagination of our youth and fire up our people’s passion for sport. Whatever we do, there is the grim recognition that it may be another generation before we reap the rewards. But if action is taken now, my generation may pass-on confident in the knowledge that our future sports persons will thrive in a nurturing, passionate environment.