Oral Tracey | Getting our sporting priorities straight
I read with dismay my colleague Hubert Lawrence’s column in last Thursday’s Gleaner highlighting that for the second year running, the Milo Western Relays would be held at the G.C. Foster College in St Catherine instead of at its customary home at the Montego Bay Sports Complex because the track at Catherine Hall is in need of major repairs.
It is bordering on a national disgrace that the only synthetic running track in the entire western section of the island, a government-owned facility, has been allowed to disintegrate to this level of disrepair. The imbalance is indeed startling between the single, rotting track in Montego Bay and the seven synthetic running tracks located in the relatively narrow geographical area of the Corporate Area and St Catherine. There are two at the Independence Park complex, one at the University of the West Indies, one each at Calabar High School, Kingston College, and at Jamaica College, with the remnants of another facility nestled in the hills of Sligoville.
The disgrace should be multiplied five or tenfold by the fact that so many of Jamaica’s athletics greats are originally from western Jamaica, including the greatest of them all, Usain Bolt, the pioneering queen herself, Merlene Ottey, and, of course, the legendary Veronica Campbell-Brown. Despite the significant private sector input into the installation of a number of the tracks in Kingston and St Andrew, there is also significant governmental expenditure that was poured and continues to be poured into the these facilities.
Ironically, it was just this past week that discussions resurfaced regarding the wisdom, or lack thereof of millions of dollars being spent on the designing and erecting of statues in honour of a select few of our elite track athletes.
While appearing to be politically expedient, it is also strikingly myopic that while the track in Catherine Hall is rotting away, a dozen million dollars or more is being spent for the photo opportunity and the hype of erecting statues for these superstar athletes who have all been handsomely rewarded financially for the use of their talent.
It would make much more visionary sense for this kind of money to be spent on developmental ventures, including the upgrade, construction, or at least the maintenance of existing facilities such as exist at Catherine Hall. The next generation of potential world beaters, who might otherwise get lost in the abstract vastness of the west and beyond, might very well have been discovered and unearthed by a simple appreciation of the basic no-brainer that to repair the single running track that serves more than half of the country’s population simply makes sense.
This is, of course, Jamaica, with our innate propensity to go for hype over substance. In that context, it probably will not resonate as it ought to, the decision to erect and unveil four statues and gobble up all the political mileage that ensued, instead of seeking to address such a glaring fundamental as repairing the running track in Montego Bay.
The long- to medium-term future of the next generation is evidently too intangibly distant to consider. The voting cycle is much more imminent and frequent, so expediency kicks in at the expense of the national good.
One hopes as we move into the new decade marked by the post, golden era of our athletics that in this transitional period, better vision and judgement will be applied to the decision making processes that guide the simple dynamic of setting our priorities right. At the moment, they are very wrong. Just ask the athletics public in western Jamaica.