From Beijing to Berlin: Sports, Politics and Jamaica’s Regular ‘Passa Passa’ on the International Stage!


The time to talk about effective sports management, leadership and developmet in Jamaica has long arrived. However, how fitting a time to discuss the implications for the long term development of our Track and Field’s programme, than at the end of the World Championships in Athletics (WCA) where Jamaica finished second with thirteen medals – seven gold, four silver and two bronze?

The historic events in Berlin heralded our dominance in the sport of Track and Field Athletics. This follows on the heels of Beijing, last year, where Jamaica announced its presence to the world as a Sprint World Power by bagging all the sprint events; in the process, setting three World Records and shutting out all other countries in the Women’s 100m Final from the medal podium.

But, there are still unsettling questions which must be answered meaningfully and for which the heads of the Jamaica Amateur Athletics Association (JAAA) and other sporting organisations in this country must urgently consider. What is the role of management in the development of sports in Jamaica, especially given where the JAAAs had the unsavoury distinction of being the management team that wrote to the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) – the world governing body, requesting that its own athletes be thrown out of the Games?

How does the JAAA’s rationalise leadership issues against those which recognise the need to market Jamaica as a stable and competent nation committed to the goals of excellence through hard and dedicated work? What too, is the actual role of the athletes in terms of this forward thrust into branding Jamaica as a positive place to do business, not only in the sense in which we are an athletic world power but also as a competent, organised and brilliant people capable of working hard, smartly and fairly?

These questions must be answered, not just because we are interested in putting management under pressure, but because implicit in their responses is an indication of where we wish to position Jamaica, in terms of sport as a tool for positive social, economic and political development. We are not just running on a track, we are also marketing a nation of people on a global stage. Good management is critical to this process.

Those who lead cannot just get into their positions, simply because there is a need to have people in suits at major sporting events on the taxpayer’s dime. Indeed, the very presence of the Minister of Sport at the Games clearly indicate the seriousness of the issues that are represented by Jamaica’s sporting traditions at the WCA level.

However, it remains to be seen whether the Minister herself contributed to smooting over any of the concerns inherrent in the problems which plagued Jamaica before as well as during and after the Champs. The move to throw out the MVP athletes from the meet and eventually not doing enough to respond to Veronica Campbell-Brown’s needs to be accomodated in terms of the configuration of the Women’s Sprint Relays were two of the lowlights of the Games.

Was Minister Grange’s role to ensure that issues like these were addressed before they escalated into the ‘passa passa’ that they eventually became? Indeed, the Minister in an interview with TVJ Sports on the final day of the Games said that, she spoke to the team and Campbell-Brown, in particular, about her feelings in relation to the Sprint Relay. What was not said by the Minister, however, is what the sum total of those discussions were and why they never resulted in Campbell-Brown showing up for the event.

In taking the matter further, particularly regarding the need for seriousness about Jamaica’s attitude towards sport development, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett claims that there were ‘front of house’ tourism initiatives which were being engaged in, by the Jamaican delegation who represented the nation in Berlin. However, Minister Bartlett also gave no explanations as to what actually were ‘front of house initiatives’ and how Jamaica stood to gain in a real way from seeing important ministers of Government cheering incessantly on television, alongside other mesmerised Jamaican and international spectators.

Indeed, the Minister’s response to the charges from the Opposition Peoples’ National Party (PNP) that, too many people formed part of the Jamaican delegation and that the costs were clearly prohibitive, in terms of Jamaica’s impending reopening of a borrowing relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), indicated no clear understanding of what Sport Development is. This is especially considering that the Opposition’s questions about the actual value which Jamaica recieved from sending as important a political delegation as that seen on TV, to Berlin, were very solid. Minister Bartlett’s challenging of the claim that fifty people made up the Jamaican delegation does not, after all, address the real issues in the those questions.

Certainly, there are more important assignments that Jamaica’s Tourism and Sport portfolios have to carry, other than ‘front of house’ marketing (in Berlin). Hence, given that there was Government representation at the highest levels at the WCA, the question of the real gains from the event are, indeed, warranted. How did we benefit economically from these activities? Will the heads of Sports and Tourism, indeed, the Jamaican Government, tell us what are the plans for visioning the role of Sport Tourism as an effective and powerful brand for which Jamaica is to become known?

What too, is the role of the young people in this initiative? Will they be trained not just to run but to also speak and represent Jamaica as true ambassadors? Where are the scholarship programmes for training people to become effective sport managers and marketers so that they can participate effectively in this very important sector?

Unless these questions are meaningfully answered, in the aftermath of Berlin and following on the opening credits of Beijing, then there is a very big hole in Jamaica’s future whether as a Sprint, Track or Sporting World Power. This is especially in a context where Sport Tourism is a clear economic opportunity for Jamaica, particularly when one sees just how full the stadium was in Berlin and all the media that were present at the event. Obviously, the spin-offs from this kind of promotion are untold.

The Tourism Minister is obligated, therefore, to state the details of the plan as to what ‘front of house’ initiatives were undertaken in Germany and how Jamaica stands to gain from such efforts. This might give a more appropriate indication of how we will promote ‘Brand Jamaica’ in future, using these World Championships as the launch pad.

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