May 2017 Volume 14


Richard Hugh Blackford
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With twenty meters still to run, Usain St. Leo Bolt turned to his right and thumped his chest as his gazelle-like strides took him through the line in a World Record 9.69 seconds.

It was the Beijing, China Olympic Games of 2008 and Jamaica’s Bolt gave the world a lesson in sprinting that those who witnessed it will speak about for the rest of their lives. Jamaica would go on to dominate not just those Games, but establish a level of dominance in global track and field that had been brewing for decades before.

In fact, the island has enjoyed success at the sport for more than sixty seven years; success mined from the likes of Herb McKinley, Arthur Wint, Donald Quarrie, Lennox Miller, Merlene Ottey, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, and of course the gargantuan achievements of Usain Bolt, just to name a few.

In the last twenty years that success has become pointed enough that Jamaica is now viewed as the most successful track athletics country in the world. Any analyst of Jamaica's Track and Field success will tell you of the invaluable contribution that Champs provide towards unearthing talent, and how that talent is developed so that it supports the National program.

Jamaicans at home and abroad bask in the island's successes and the wild fanaticism which most of us display provides a kind of jaded view that a track and field career is at the end of most of the participants at Champs who provide points for their respective schools.

Don't get me wrong, Champs' contribution to the national athletics program is irrefutable, but to what extent do our athletes realize the kind of financial success that is so glibly spoken of?

From my perspective, the financial benefit of track and field to Jamaica is considerably overstated and is the result of our people's clear inability towards doing any analysis. Yes, there are students who have done well based on their sporting abilities but the best measure of that has to be conducted against a background of analyses of the hard numbers.

There are over 160 secondary (high) schools on record in Jamaica and each year these schools release into the society more than 30,000 young men and women through graduation. According to the 2016 Education statistics only 46 of these institutions are graduating with more than 40 percent of their cohort attaining five or more CXC passes.

In other words, 114 of these schools are graduating 60 percent of cohort with less than five CXC passes and even worse, 56 percent of these schools are graduating 80 percent or more of cohort that cannot pass five subjects.

At the same time, every year more than 3,100 students line up to face the starters at the ISSA Boys and Girls Championships (Champs) at the National Stadium. Anyone who takes the time to process the Champs results will notice that of that number only about 14-15 percent actually contribute points to their schools.

Further, of the number of students who trouble the scorers, about 80 students will be selected for athletic duties at Carifta, World Juniors etc. From that number only about 40 may move on to athletics at the senior levels and from that (if we are lucky) less than a handful will become world beaters.

It is important to note that funding participation at Champs is no longer an inexpensive undertaking and while most schools hold the actual numbers close to their chests, conservative estimates are that for 2017, the top five Boys and the top five girls’ schools together spent more than a half a billion Jamaican dollars to send teams to Champs.

To illustrate the magnitude of the expenditure, I am dividing the estimated expenditure for the ten schools by the actual 3,100 athletes that turned out for Champs 2017 which amounts to J$161,290.00 per athlete. Keep in mind too that this amount is for Champs only and does not include the cost of participating in the Penn Relays.

For most of the participating schools, it begs the question of whether or not the return justifies the kind of spending. At the other end, it costs approximately J$70,000 per year to provide our secondary school students with an education, of which the Ministry of Education (MOE) provides just about 50 percent.

That is why the Auxiliary fee issue was of such paramount importance because the MOE knows that it is under-funding the schools and could not realistically direct the administrators of these institutions not to impose the fees that they were charging.

Against a background of the cost of preparing a student athlete of the estimated $161,000.00 relative to the cost of providing for better academic results, could we not begin to treat the academic needs of each school with the kind of urgency with which we fund track and field activities? The amount of J$161,000 could easily subsidize the education of five students at J$35,000 per student, providing resources for classrooms, teacher performance bonuses and improve general education delivery across the island.

Collectively, more than 30,000 students graduate secondary school fifth form each year and more than sixty percent of those students will leave those institutions with less than three CXC passes because their schools could not find the money to supplement the MOE warrants, yet they could have found the funding to make a grand statement at Champs and for some schools, even more to send teams to Penn Relays.

It is estimated that approximately 15 percent or more of our graduates move on to universities and graduate with certification that allows them to find a permanent place in Jamaica or elsewhere in the world. These graduates provide much more far-reaching benefits to the country than the 1.29 percent of athletes that succeed from the athletics channel.

I would never suggest that we abandon our athletics program as there is no doubt as to its contribution to the island's visibility. Usain Bolt's heroics as well as that of Wint, McKinley and many others before him attests to the psychogenic effect on the Jamaican psyche. It is an important part of that definition of who we are as a people. Having said that though, we need to push beyond the hype that the televised images of the World-beating Jamaican on the track and realize that with the proper investment, many more Jamaicans can bring longer term glory to the country, themselves and their families if we channel more investment in education our population.

What I will strongly suggest is for a complete realignment of the arguments and the way in which we use scarce financial resources. We cannot use the successes of a handful of athletes to justify the expenses that our schools current outlay as it represents a mis-alignment of priorities.

We need to find a way to plug more money into the academic side because if we spend more of that money on education our ROI will be better that that of our athletic program. as you cannot un-educate a child.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a KC old boy, self-taught artist, writer and social commentator. He shares his time between Coral Springs, Florida, and Kingston, Jamaica. His website is

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