For the umpteenth year in a row, Jamaica finished comfortably atop the medal table at the annual CARIFTA Games. Our young black, green and gold-clad athletics ambassadors churned out a slew of stellar performances that made millions of eyes and hearts across our home isle and throughout the Jamaican diaspora beam with immeasurable pride. Mine, too, were amongst those. Unquestionably, there was a lot to be proud of on the track. Unfortunately, there was also something of which one could not be so proud that repeatedly took place off of it.
While a student at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC), I had the privilege of coming under the tutelage of some of the finest instructors and practitioners within this field of scholastic and professional endeavour. Among these luminaries was the inimitable Ms. Fae Ellington, who once casually informed us that dining etiquette would be the topic of instruction during one of our scheduled Voice & Speech sessions. Many quizzical looks were fleetingly exchanged amongst us as we tried to arrive at the rationale behind what seemed an irrelevancy. However, in very short order, we all became avid supporters of Aunty Fae’s holistic development agenda.
On far too many occasions over the course of the Easter weekend, I found myself bracing for the worst when the Bahamian broadcaster’s ubiquitous trackside microphone was thrust towards the lips of one of our victorious Jamaican athletes. Of course, the composed and articulate manner in which many of the youngsters responded to the questions posed quickly tranquilized me. However, in a number of instances, I was left cringing and flinching as if I was having my tooth extracted by an apprentice mechanic using a rusty pair of pliers.
In my humble opinion, it would be prudent for the powers that be to take a leaf out of Ms. Ellington’s book by doing more to foster the holistic development of our young athletes. Why shouldn’t an hour of training be sacrificed on a weekly basis to facilitate the staging of a personal development workshop? Why shouldn’t some coaching on how to handle the interviewing situations they will inevitably face become a standard feature of their preparatory regimen? How about some dining etiquette sessions to prepare them for their numerous trips to Monaco to dine with royalty at the IAAF World Athlete of the Year gala?
More of us need to start appreciating that our athletes are not thoroughbreds down by Caymanas Park. Not a single one of them is War Zone, Eros or Restless Babe. Neither are they prisoners in a Soviet-era Siberian gulag. Neither are they chattel on an 18th century slave plantation. Neither are they grist for the mill. They are gems which need to be polished and shined to reveal their full, multidimensional brilliance.
It is about time that Jamaica starts giving a little bit more back to those who bring her so much acclaim, fame and fortune. It should matter not whether they are track and field athletes, footballers, cricketers, swimmers, golfers, or chess players.
On a related note…
At the 2013 edition of ‘Champs’, the conduct of some of our athletes was similarly worrying. There is no place in any sport for these ‘gun-fingered’ gestures I saw some male athletes aiming at supporters of rival schools. Neither is there any place for the dismissive ‘fanning off’ of said supporters. Of course, I accept that many of these athletes could have acted in a manner that ran counter to the instructions of their respective team captains, coaches and school administrators. Maybe they just got swept up in the emotional tidal wave generated by the charged atmosphere. Sadly, I fear that it is more a by-product of the pervasive culture of crassness that has overtaken us than anything else. Nonetheless, such behaviour should be stamped out post-haste.