Saturday 4 July, 2020

A view from the outside: Win at all costs at Champs?

Calabar star athlete Christopher Taylor appeared to be unfit during the just concluded ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Athletic Championships.

Calabar star athlete Christopher Taylor appeared to be unfit during the just concluded ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Athletic Championships.

With Karyl Walker


Mi nah bleed blood fi make money - Bob Marley

The 2019 version of the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Championships is now over and the winners have taken the spoils and the losers left to lick their wounds, revamp and come again.

Tears have been shed, broad smiles have been flashed, records broken, new stars emerged and the spectacle that we call 'Champs' has once again lived up to its billing. The most prestigious high school athletics championships on the globe has seen the curtains come down.

And, like all the previous years, we have seen where student athletes have been unfairly used to satisfy the dreams of various alumni whose only goal seems to be to win at all costs. The welfare of the athletes after they leave school seems to be on the back burner as the instant high and thrill of victory in lifting the trophy seems to be their only goal.

It has been an uncouth and uncaring tradition for years where some star athletes are given a heavy load to carry in a bid to earn valuable points for school. Some athletes are even allowed to compete even though it is apparent that they are injured or not in the right state of fitness.

It seems that all that matters is to win the championships, no matter the damage that may be done to an athlete’s future.

The fact is that, no matter who wins Champs, the athletes are a national treasure and everything should be done to preserve their talent so that they can continue to keep Jamaica firmly entrenched as the elite sprinting factory of the world.

A simplistic review of Champs athletes over the years, who have shone inside the national stadium only to fall by the wayside, would reveal a lot of names who could have gone on to be world beaters.

This is not to say that the only reason a lot of these athletes have not matriculated to the professional stage and excelled is because they were burnt out by their coaches at Champs. However, that factor cannot be ruled out.

In all the excitement and race to the line for bragging rights, we should bear in mind that many of our Olympic and World championship medalists and top performers went to schools that have never been a permanent fixture in the top Champs teams list.  

For instance, who remembers which school Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Merlene Ottey, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Donald Quarrie, Danielle Williams, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, Deon Hemmings or Veronica Campbell-Brown attended when they are representing us in the black, green and gold?

During those moments when our athletes are bringing us glory, spoiling us to the point where a silver or bronze medal is seen as a failure, when the pot covers are clanging in Half Way Tree, Champs is a distant memory.

It is unfair to our young athletes who will eventually seek to carry on the legacy left by the aforementioned, to allow them to compete when they are clearly injured or not at their physical optimum.

It cannot be win at all costs.

Then there is the matter of mandatory drug testing at Champs.

Years ago, Dr Paul Wright  made a clarion call for this initiative to be implemented in order to ensure accountability on the part of the student athletes and their handlers.

It is not clear whether ISSA heeded his call, but I again implore the organisers of this stellar event to put in place measures to ensure that our athletes and their handlers are held to world standards.

Yes, we are a nation of great athletes and we are naturally blessed with athletic talent, but human beings are not perfect and we cannot allow loopholes in our system. If coaches will allow an athlete to compete knowing the athlete is injured, just to amass points for the immediate high of victory, then who is to say what they may goad the young, impressionable minds of the youth to ingest?

There have been comments made by former athletes that Jamaican athletes may be using performance enhancing substances hence our recent dominance of the sprints. We need to ensure that our young athletes, the future of our track and field programme, are protected from those who may influence them to stray from the straight and narrow path of hard work to attain success.

Time for drug testing at Champs.

That is my view from the outside.


Karyl Walker is a multi-award-winning journalist who has worked for Loop Jamaica, the Jamaica Observer, the RJR Communications Group and Nationwide Radio among other media entities. He now resides in South Florida.


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