Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jamaica Needs to Capitalize

Like many small nations, Jamaica suffers from a distorted view of itself. The government, representing a population of just over three million, struggles to find its place on the world stage. And remarkably, this island-nation consistently churns out the best sprinters in the world. Jamaica has squandered countless opportunities to re-brand itself. Will it once again ignore the immense value of its athletes? In my opinion, the most important politician in Jamaica is not the Prime Minister, but the Minister of Youth, Sport & Culture. And to that end; if Bruce Golding wants the Jamaica Labour Party to continue its previous election successes, he should assume the responsibilities of that cabinet position as well; sending a clear message to the world and its people, Jamaica's true strength lies in its youth, its sports, and its culture.

Right now Jamaica is in a state of euphoria and national pride over the eleven Olympic medals won in Beijing. How long will this euphoria last? If I had my way, it would last forever. Golding has an opportunity to step in and re-prioritize his administration's goals right now. The Minister of Youth, Sport, & Culture is a crucial appointment, and Golding would do well to re-commit himself to it.

Here are a few of Jamaica's failures to capitalize on the global attention its athletes receive. In 1998, Jamaica captured the world's attention at the Winter Olympics in Calgary with the debut of its bobsled team. Two Americans, George B. Fitch and William Maloney, came up with the idea after realizing pushcart races in Jamaica were similar to bobsledding. They decided to use sprinters since bobsledding requires a fast start, but got absolutely no help from the government in securing top sprinters. When the team returned to the Olympics in 1992, they stunned their critics by finishing in 14th place, ahead of the United States, Russia, France, and Italy. The two man team finished in 10th place, ahead of Sweden. The Jamaican government did nothing to support these athletes, despite huge international interest. Millions of dollars in free publicity to the country and its tourism-centered economy, were completely wasted. For Christ's sake; Disney made a movie about them! And yet you couldn't (and still can't) buy a Jamaican Bobsled Team T-shirt! The government's public relations / marketing machine focuses strictly on tourism, with little effort going to promoting national pride and positive role models for the nation's youth.

Here's another one; Jamaica's national soccer team, the Reggae Boys. In my opinion, they are the most under-utilized natural resource the country has. The government does little to support the team. Yet they inspire every kid on the island to practice hard and stay clean. Want to control crime? Control the youth. A strong national focus in a public relations / marketing push is the answer. There is nothing wrong with Pride Of Country.

The blame for these failures, has to fall on the office of the Minister of Youth, Sport, & Culture.

The opposition party should well understand the importance of that cabinet position. The People's National Party, under Prime Minister P.J. Paterson, sat Portia Simpson-Miller in the post. This was, in my opinion, a move to sideline her rapidly ascending political career; putting her in a "no win" situation, and moving her out of the action. It didn't work. Simpson-Miller took the ball and ran with it. The PNP's Old Guard could not derail her popularity and natural charisma. While living in Jamaica, I had a very brief meeting with her to present my plan to create an all-Jamaican pro wrestling promotion. It was a wild idea; but she immediately understood the national pride and entertainment value to the country, and the value of creating full-time jobs for many athletes (unlike many investors I met with). Her successes and hard work in her cabinet post could not be ignored. She became the PNP's nominee, and then Jamaica's first female Prime Minister.

To Minister Golding and the JLP; move this cabinet position into the Prime Minister's portfolio. As many may remember; P.J. Paterson added the Minister of Finance duties to his own. Here is Goldman's chance to publicly acknowledge the importance of national pride and positive role-models for the country.

In this post, I am only dealing with Jamaica's athletic achievements. Jamaica's has made great contributions to music internationally; in many different styles (reggae, ska, dancehall, etc.). But, one has to wonder if the government can't do more to preserve and promote Jamaica's unique music culture.

Regardless; I want to add my congratulations to Jamaica's Olympic medal winners. Usain Bolt, Melaine Walker, Shericka Williams, Shereefa Lloyd, Rosemarie Whyte, Novelene Williams, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart, and Veronica Campbell-Brown. You have inspired my son, and I thank you for that.

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