A defining commitment for Rio 2016
– How far are our government and sport administrators willing to go?
By Nigel McKenzie
Jamaica is indisputably the quintessential example of this region’s inherent talent and capability when it comes to sport. Thus, one must presume that examples set or action taken by that island nation on sporting matters are keenly observed, if not readily followed and similarly executed by those of us with any ambition.
Natural ability is certainly not an issue when it comes to our athletes. In fact, it’s because of that gift that we have given good account of ourselves in various pursuits. We have matched and in some instances outdone the world’s best. There is an amazing resilience among Guyanese sportsmen and women, despite overwhelming odds – the lack of, or outdated facilities; denial of access to available facilities or their being poorly maintained; scarcity of sponsorship, etc.
It’s heart-rending. It shouldn’t be that way.
There has always been a reluctance to hold the relevant authorities accountable. It seems no one cares. Grandiose promises are made, and as time progresses, many of these assurances invariably fall by the wayside. Everything is blamed on the lack of funding, and the beat goes on.
There’s been talk since the London Olympics about where we need to go. And of course, the customary blame game. The Olympic Association will want to have its say, but honestly we can do without that because by now we know the drill, and it’s not only an irritant – “creditable performances”, “we need to improve”, “tiring travel”, “visa issues”, “lack of sponsors” – but pointless. It is cyclical. It happens every four years. Enough of the drivel!
The likes of Aliann Pompey and Marian Burnett have suffered as a result of it – proven world-class athletes who paid their own way to track meets the world over for almost all of their careers – while representing Guyana selflessly.
There was little or no help. If there was help, it certainly wasn’t enough. There was no fuss. How could there be any from either of those class acts? Even if asked now, they would be careful with their assessments of how they have been treated throughout the years. Their decency would constrain them. And there have been many others over the decades. For emphasis…Michael Anthony Parris. But that’s for another article.
Future stars must never have to harbour such silent despair.
And this is why whoever is responsible, if you are truly serious, I ask today that you publicly commit, within the next fortnight, to fully supporting teenage track star Kadecia Baird, financially and otherwise, from the date any such announcement is made, until the Games of the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
It’s called putting your money where your mouth is.
I’ll tell you why I start my campaign for the future with this particular athlete. It’s simple. She has the credentials. She’s got what it takes. By the way, did I mention she’s only 17?
For those who haven’t heard about Kadecia Baird, she is a student-athlete who resides in the United States, but has admirably chosen to represent Guyana, her country of birth. More succinctly, she currently holds the Caribbean Junior Record (51.04) in the 400 metres.
Let those three words sink in for awhile. Caribbean. Junior. Record.
In short, she is better than all in the region (yes, even the unstoppable Jamaicans), very young, and no Caribbean female athlete at her age has ever run that fast.
Do I have your attention?
Kadecia achieved the feat at the recent World Junior Championships in Barcelona, while finishing second to a superlative American named Ashley Spencer (50.50). I was highly impressed by Kadecia’s determined closing burst to secure the silver medal. Honestly, I didn’t need any more convincing.
So what are Guyana’s decision-makers waiting for? Isn’t this a no-brainer? Or is it that they want the mighty U.S. to take her from us? Just remember for the record, she made herself available to Guyana first.
The authorities will want to counter my request with: Why the rush? I state emphatically, it’s a case of use it or lose it!
To bolster my assertion of the urgency required, I will use as an example, young Jamaican swimmer, Alia Atkinson, who placed fourth in the 100m breast stroke final at the London games. The 23-year-old attended her first Olympics in Athens, eight years ago (Yes, she was 15). Not much was expected. Four years later it was Beijing, and a fair bit of improvement, but nothing to shout about. Then came London, and just being pipped for a bronze medal.
Well, the day before Alia took to the pool in London – on Saturday, July 28, to be precise – there was an interesting article in the Jamaica Observer and the following is an excerpt:
“The Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) and the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica (ASAJ) are sparing no cost to ensure that Alia Atkinson gets the best shot at making the finals in her three events here at the London Olympic Games.
Atkinson has been trying out her new high-tech state-of-the-art swimsuit that cost 450 pounds sterling that she will be racing in.
Martin Lyn, president of the ASAJ and the swim team manager, told the Observer that it takes Atkinson an hour to put on and take off the suit each day, 30 minutes each way.
“This just shows we are not sparing anything and we are taking this to a new level to ensure she does her best,” Lyn told the Observer.”
I ask the Guyanese authorities/administrators to take note of what I underlined: sparing no cost and taking this to a new level.
The following Friday, August 3, after Ms. Atkinson pleased Jamaican hearts with her effort, this headline appeared in the Jamaica Gleaner, “$Millions To Keep Alia Afloat”.
I will extract the points that I believe are pertinent to my article, in stressing that there is absolutely no middle ground for our authorities. You either have the money or pledge to raise it and without delay commit. Or shamefully lose a gem like Kadecia Baird, for which I can assure you, you will never be forgiven!
As mentioned, the Gleaner reported:
The sum of $19.2 million is what is needed to prepare three-time Jamaican Olympic swimmer Alia Atkinson for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, according to Olympic swim team manager and president of the Amateur Swimming Association of Jamaica (ASAJ), Martin Lyn.
Let’s pause for a while. 19.2 million Jamaican dollars is US$215,000. We’re talking about 43 million Guyana dollars…and that’s a single athlete. The report continues:
Alia Atkinson needs about US$4,500 per month to maintain her programme,” said Lyn.
“So for her to get and maintain an elite position, that’s the kind of money she needs and that’s the kind of support that we will hope for.”
Prime Minister Portia Simpson recently promised support for Atkinson’s 2016 Olympic campaign.
“I am going to speak to the Ministers of Finance and Education and the Sports Development Foundation and I appeal to the private sector, we have to partner to allow her (Atkinson) to continue her training programme. I want to say to her, help is on the way.”
Here’s my point. The Olympics finished just a week ago, and even before it ended there was a pledge from the highest office in the land as well as a call for private sector support and partnership. Is there any wonder why Jamaica is so progressive?
And so I refer to the start of this article where I spoke of those with ambition following examples set by that island nation, and I conclude with the following:
Are our authorities willing to go all the way with Guyana’s best hope for Rio 2016? Are they prepared to spend as much as is required on her? Will the Head of State, Minister of Sport, Director of Sport or even the President of the Olympic Association, heed the aforementioned request and pronounce definitively on an immediate commitment of full support for Kadecia Baird? This is a litmus test of their sincerity.
Chances are we may lose her if they don’t act early, and I shudder to think of the fallout.
The stopwatch has started and is ticking as deafeningly as ever. I honestly hope it won’t take a fortnight for it to be pressed.