My heart was broken when 1968 track and field Olympian Michael Fray apparently died by suicide in 2019. Over the years, fellow Olympian, javelinist and multi-event thrower, Olivia McKoy, has popped up with stories about her mental and financial well-being. Discus thrower Jason Morgan shed tears on national television over the mistreatment of our national athletes. Hundreds of Jamaican representatives, from when the first A in the JAAA stands for amateur, died in obscurity, misery and abject poverty.
There are others that are just legends and annotations in the history books. We probably know the Helsinki quartet, Don Quarrie and Merlene Ottey. For some reason, we don’t hear as much about Deon Hemmings and Tricia Smith, but at least this generation knows about them.
How many people remember these steps led by Ronetta Smith, Davita Prendergast and Shereefa Lloyd? And what about Jermaine Gonzales? Does anyone know that it was Michael Green (Roach) who put William Knibb High School on the map by making the Olympic and World 100m finals? We remember Claudine Williams and the Turner triumvirate of Inez, Yvette and Janice from Vere Tech. Does the name of Merlene Fraser, who at 17 anchored the Jamaican 4×100 team in the semi-finals for her first world gold medal in 1991, ring a bell?
How many remember Inez winning gold in the 800 meters at the Commonwealth Games. Certainly we remember Davian Clarke, Roxbert Martin, Gregory Haughton and others. But do you remember Dennis Blake? How about Howard Davis and Devon Morris?
Let’s get even closer. Who asked about Shericka Williams and Rosemarie Whyte, missing since their last appearances in the world championship? How is Lorraine Fenton? Who remembers Dianne Guthrie, Cathy Rattray, Ilery Oliver and Rosie Allwood?
SOME TARNY MEDALS
In my 50 years of passion for athletics, many have come and gone and only a select few have “ate good food”. Too many track and field athletes have nothing to show for but a few tarnished medals. And these are the lucky ones. Many have struggled, never winning a race, jumping or getting rid of. Trust me; Anastasia Leroy and Ashley Williams train as hard as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson Herah and Shericka Jackson. Athletic training hurts more than having someone in your organization lie to you. A person’s earnings in sports often have nothing to do with their efforts.
Pushing your body beyond the normal limit leaves permanent injuries. Every retired athlete has a physiological condition that they carry for life like a nickname. Many get worse after retirement.
Every single person who has represented this country in my beloved sport has worked and trained harder than the mule on Bongo’s weed cart. But like the mule, unless someone puts some seed money in for them, there will be no sapling and no fruit to harvest later.
Flashback to 1984 when Bertland Cameron, fresh after winning Jamaica’s first gold medal at the World Championships in Athletics, stopped midway through the 400m semi-finals and started again despite his serious injury at the thigh. Watch the race on YouTube and rock out! I can tell you what was on Bert’s mind. He wasn’t just racing to beat Antonio Mackay and Innocent Egbunike; he ran to escape his native poverty. Injuring his leg was the risk, as he had no choice but to keep running.
If he was making the kind of “butter” that these elite athletes are making now, he might have quit, because another payday was on the road.
I fully support the proposal by the Jamaica Administrative Athletic Association (JAAA) to apply its five percent constitutional tax on elite athletes to create a “welfare” fund. My disagreement is the wellness term, however; because we all pay “dues” to organizations. We pay dues to unions, which bargain on our behalf as a collective. Some workers may benefit more and others less. But that’s how you build a society. The strong helping the weak.
EARNED THE RIGHT
Workers who have worked for the glory of the nation have already earned the right to be supported; it’s not welfare; it is social protection and welfare. The argument is no different from that concerning the police and other “officials” who have served the nation. We judge a society on how we treat our vulnerable.
Not all athletes, or even workers for that matter, have good business and financial planning acumen. A successful athlete married a banker. So, even though she has not received any material support from him, she knows how to manage and where to put her money for the future. Financial planning and retirement management is a profession. This requires a lot of expertise in this complex financial world.
There are quite a number of financial institutions that administer pension plans and sell pension plans. However, less than 20 percent of the salaried workforce enjoys a post-retirement provision. In fact, with the new scourge of contract work, a smaller and smaller part of the workforce is involved in any kind of formal work-based arrangement to take care of them after the end of his working life.
Our National Insurance Scheme (NIS) may have been aptly named when it was inaugurated in the 1960s. 60 years, before being able to benefit from it. Right now we are living another 10 years after the NIS trips.
However, most athletes retire at 40, and many are hobbled. Therefore, what the JAAA need is not just a fund. It needs a well-run and properly invested “trial” of an unemployment, severance and retirement package, such as can be found in Barbados.
JAAA very insightful; though you incited sighted detractors without vision.
– Dr. Orville Taylor is chair of the sociology department at the University of the West Indies, radio show host, and author of “Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets.” Send your comments to [email protected] and [email protected]