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Countries Need To Nurture Home Grown Talent

by Tony Kelly
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Tony Kelly resident Diabetes expert

At the recently concluded 50th Carifta games the Caribbean athletics competition held in the Bahamas,  Courtney Williams from Happy Grove High School in Portland, Jamaica won the gold medal for the octathlon. It is normally the decathlon but for some reason only eight events formed part of this particular track and field competition. That though should not detract from his phenomenal success and I am immensely proud of his achievements especially considering that school is not renowned for a depth of  athletic talent.

On doing some further research I discovered that he finished fourth at ‘Champs’ in the decathlon held in the national stadium in Kingston shortly before, where he was beaten by three high school students who are not Jamaicans. This apparently meant that they were ineligible  to compete at the Carifta games for Jamaica and rightly so. I really like that ruling by the Carifta games governing body as it sends out an all-important message to the competing countries and gives everyone a fair chance to succeed.

Back in the 70s I used to compete at what was then called ‘Boys Champs’ in the 400, 800 and 1500 metres for my alma mater Happy Grove High School  and one would often hear then about certain high schools ‘buying’ which is a form of poaching,  promising/potential athletes from other high schools in order to win that prestigious athletics competition.

I find it rather disappointing that this practice has gotten in my view progressively worse where boys are being brought in from Africa and other Caribbean countries to attend high schools in Jamaica in order to  perform at the annual ‘Champs’, five days of athletic competition which conclude prior to the Easter holidays. I recall in the past reading that a policy was in place that when a student transferred to a new school, it automatically ruled them out of any athletics competition for an entire academic year. Not sure that is still the case.

The situation that I have outlined of what could be regarded as an influx of  foreign athletes to Jamaica  clearly deprives local school boys/girls of trying to make the athletics team for their school as they become demoralized, lack motivation to compete and give up trying since they don’t stand any chance against the ‘imported’ super athletes. The various athletics governing bodies need to go back to basics and stop this practice which is heartbreaking and soul destroying for young minds and is not a progressive way to develop the abundance of talent that needs to be nurtured.

Some of us who are track and field aficionados will remember the 1980s saga of Zola Budd, a White bare footed middle-distance runner from South Africa who was unable to run for her country because of  the 1948 – 1984 Apartheid (racial segregation under the all-white government of South Africa). She was granted British citizenship and a UK passport  in a record ten days following the intervention of the then home secretary Leon Brittan, one of the worst cases of queue jumping ever reported in order to compete for Britain. Quite rightly that controversial  government decision caused a lot of consternation and resentment.

There are some die-hard athletics supporters who have immense loyalty to certain high schools in Jamaica, a country well-known on the world stage for its track and field prowess who will defend the so called ‘buying and poaching’  policy to the hilt. I do not like it at all as it deprives others from succeeding. It is unacceptable, immoral and indefensible in every way and needs to be disbanded.

These similarities exist in the English Football Premier league where some of the  well-established clubs do not have a single player of English origin in their entire squad.  How any of these aspiring and talented local footballers expect to make the grade to top professional football if they are being denied the opportunity to compete for top clubs let alone shine on the world stage for their country? Millions of pounds are spent investing  and buying players from abroad and the really talented local footballers do not stand a chance as money and agents are the determining factor. Is it any wonder England has never won the football World Cup since 1966 even though it claims to have invented the game of football?

I really like the Manchester United model developed under the then manager Sir Alex Ferguson back in the nineties where he made sure to have a youth academy which focused on home grown talent who went on to dominate the premiership and other top flight European competitions for the longest while. Just wish other clubs would adopt that principle in order to hone in on the abundance of youthful talent that is around so that they can get a look-in, a chance to shine and at least pardon the pun, make it a level playing field.

I also like the French football approach which embraces and allows asylum seekers and refugees to play for the national team, hence so many talented Black players are usually in their squad and deservedly so.  Remember France has won the FIFA World Cup twice, two UEFA European Championships, two FIFA Confederation Cups, one Olympic Games gold medal and were runners-up in the recent FIFA World Cup to name a few of that country’s outstanding achievements. That proves the point of how they have made sure to adopt and be more open in their entire nurturing and selection process.

There is a clear argument of going back to basics  especially in reference to ‘Champs’ in Jamaica and the selection process in terms of who should be eligible to compete. Investing time, energy and resources in the  talent that needs nurturing  at the grassroots level in local communities should be of paramount importance and a top priority.  Certain high schools with their clout and power along with  their past students’ associations need to have this curtailed  by more stringent rules and regulations so that they are  unable to continue this practice of ‘buying’ athletes in order to better their chances of winning ‘Champs’. Below is a link to an article addressing this matter presently: ISSA Limits the Number of Foreign Students Who Can Participate in its Competitions

Tony Kelly

Tony Kelly

London born Tony Kelly of Jamaican parents grew up in Jamaica and returned to live in Birmingham in 1979.
He is a graduate of Mico Teachers’ College and taught in Kingston high schools prior to working for 30+ years as a middle manager in central and local government with an emphasis on equity, equality, diversity and inclusion. He has a masters’ degree in socio-legal studies from the university of Birmingham.
For over a decade Tony has volunteered as a diabetes ambassador firstly for Diabetes UK and now for the National Health Service – Birmingham and Solihull Clinical Commissioning Group. A multi-award winner doing a yearly average of 150 health and well-being events, locally, nationally and internationally focusing on type 2 diabetes. He was diagnosed with this medical condition 18 years ago. However with a combination of physical activity and diet he has never taken medication thus proving with the right mindset and discipline it can be achieved.
As a diabetes advocate/activist Tony will continue delivering the message of healthy options to readers of CaribDirect.com .


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