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Sports and nation building
published: Sunday | August 24, 2008

Robert Buddan, Contributor

So many things came together for Jamaica over the weekend of August 16 and 17 and the days after on the country's long road of nation building. Almost 100 years ago in 1910, the High School Athletics Championships (Boys' Champs) began. Girls' Champs followed in 1957. Together, they have become one of the most successful high school athletics meets in the world. Norman Manley was the first track star produced by the high-school system, when in 1911 at Jamaica College, he clocked an astonishing 10 seconds over 100 yards, which would have put him in the Olympics final at that time. Jamaica then entered its first international competition in 1930, the Central American and Caribbean Games and its second, the Empire (Commonwealth) Games in 1934. Douglas Manley became another schoolboy star when he equalled his father's record. Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley were schoolboy and then Olympic stars in 1948 and 1952.

Things sped up during the period of decolonisation. In Jamaica's first Olympics of 1948, Cynthia Thompson became the first Jamaican female 100 yards finalists. Jamaica won its first gold in 1948. By 1952, Jamaica already astonished even itself by placing 13th among the medal winning countries at the Helsinki Olympics, ahead of its coloniser Great Britain. That, along with the victory of the West Indies cricket team over England in 1950 inspired the confidence the country and region needed to believe they could be independent. Sometime after 1948, Rose Leon asked Alexander Bustamante, the chief minister, to ask the governor for 50,000 pounds to build a national stadium. The governor did not provide it. The same Norman Manley's administration built the stadium at which Jamaica raised its flag of independence in 1962. Jamaica's new national anthem, that now heralds every Olympics, was sung there for the first time.

Talent and competition went hand in hand with institution building after Independence. That same stadium, in the same year of Independence, hosted 14 countries for the Central American and Caribbean Games. Jamaica's schoolboy teams began to show their supremacy in the Penn Relays from 1964, which inspired the Gibson Relays inaugurated in 1970. The stadium hosted the Commonwealth Games in 1966 and the Youth Championship at which Usain Bolt announced himself internationally in 2002.


The Cubans made a major contribution though the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, which opened in 1980. It trains many of our successful coaches. Tertiary institutions like G.C. Foster College and UTech complemented the contribution of the high schools to the development of our athletes. Through them, each decade produced new Olympians, Herb McKenley, Lennox Miller, Donald Quarrie and Merlene Ottey being among the top names up to the '90s.

It takes a people to build a nation and a nation to build a people. Sports are important for physical and mental development, for national pride and self-esteem. Sports develop talent and bring out discipline. They bond classes, races and communities in shared pride. They vanquish racism's claim that certain races have greater ability than others. They match nations talent for talent regardless of size and resources and show that human determination levels the playing field. Sports prove the importance of investing in people and confirm what Jamaicans have been saying all along, its people are its greatest resource.

It is 60 years now since Jamaicans first entered the Olympics. Beijing has been the climax of all that has gone before. We have won a record number of gold and of medals overall, incredible numbers for such a small country. I suspect that our coaches and athletes are going to be in greater demand overseas and the recruitment drive for our valuable skills that is devastating our economy and society will extend to athletics. We can resist this if we carry out the next steps in our sports revolution.


The next step in the revolution in Jamaican athletics is just beginning. It has already started with great promise. UTech and the Maximising Velocity and Power (MVP) Sports Club there lead it. But it will continue to depend on the high schools and Champs, and the complementary work of G.C. Foster College. Some of Jamaica's most outstanding men and women 100-metre finalists in these Olympics are from the MVP club - Shelly-Ann Fraser, the gold medalist, Sherone Simpson, the silver medallist; Asafa Powell, world record-holder up to May, and Michael Frater who put in his personal best time at the Olympics. Other MVP athletes like Melaine Walker (gold), Sherieka Williams (silver), and Bridgette Foster-Hylton (finalist) are among our top athletes. UTech/MVP athletes made up 22 per cent of the team to Beijing.

If the last century set the groundwork, the new century is already building on it. UTech/MVP have provided home-based coaching and facilities for Jamaicans who would otherwise have gone overseas or gone nowhere. Donovan Bailey, Lynford Christie and Sanya Richards, for example, have won medals for Canada, Britain and the US Still, the local pool of talent is overwhelming. The Louisiana State Universitys track coach said, "In Louisiana, at a high school track meet, we'll find maybe one or two athletes that could be good enough (for the university's track programme). But, in Jamaica there are probably 50 women ready to fit right into the programme every year."

Unfortunately, the training facilities at UTech are second-class compared to those of US universities. Another step in the UTech/MVP mission, therefore, is to upgrade its facilities. In July, UTech announced that it needed $65 million to upgrade those facilities. It needed to upgrade its gym and gym equipment, scoreboards and indoor track surface.


The state of MVP facilities apparently caused Germaine Mason of Jamaica to switch to doing high jump for Britain for which he just won silver. Sixty-five million dollars seems little to ask for. If 'pay' is to be based on performance, then UTech fully earns its 'pay'. MVP hoped that the performance of its athletes at the Beijing Olympics would be enough to make its case. It has more than done so. Puma's sales reportedly increased by two million pairs in one hour after Bolt's 100-metre victory. Can Puma help MVP?

Appropriately, the Jamaican sprinters, Fraser, Simpson and Stewart made history by taking gold and joint silver in the 100M on Marcus Garvey's Birthday. It evoked Garvey's exhortation, "Up you mighty race", accomplish what you will". Garvey also spoke of the individual and collective efforts that go into nation building. He said, "There is no force like success, and that is why the individual makes all effort to surround himself throughout life with the evidence of it; as of the individual, so should it be of the nation." Jamaicans have well surrounded themselves with success, as individuals and as a nation. Nation building though is an ongoing process that requires raising our levels higher and higher. The revolution is sports require the nation's full support to bring out the talents in our communities for this. After all, the success of the schools is that they reach into the communities where the Jamaican talent really lies.

Robert Buddan lectures in the Department of Government, UWI, Mona. Email: Feedback may also be sentto

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