Monday, August 24, 2009

Stars deserve a peaceful JA

Residents of Maxfield Avenue celebrate Melaine - make them 'free from evil powers'.

JEAN LOWRIE-CHIN | Jamaica Observer | Monday, August 24, 2009

As we watched our athletes, and heard the testimony of their parents, we realised that these amazing performers were raised in God-centred households.

Indeed, our beloved superstar Usain Bolt paused after breaking the world record in the 200-metre event in Berlin to bow his head, say a prayer and make the sign of the cross, his well-known pre-race ritual.

Primrose Palmer, the mother of Brigitte Foster-Hylton, could not watch her daughter triumph in the 110-metre hurdles because she was busy cooking for a church event.

Shelly-Ann Fraser's mother, Maxine Simpson, shouted "Thank you Jesus!" when her daughter flew to finish in the 100-metre event, and related how she counselled her to "put God before and I know He will bring you through".

I had the pleasure of an inspiring conversation, walking the streets of Beijing last year with Rev William Powell, the father of Asafa Powell. Rev Powell and his wife Cislyn are both pastors of the Redemption National Church of God in Linstead. I have also met the warm and godly mother of Melaine Walker, Jenefer Wilson.

Clearly, their faith in God and the example of their devout parents have played a role in the confidence of our athletes. As they mounted the winners' podium, received their medals and stood at attention, we reflected on the prayer that is our Anthem:

"Eternal Father, bless our land
Guard us with Thy mighty hand
Keep us free from evil powers
Be our light through countless hours."

In trying to figure out where we got our winning ways, I looked back at Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller, Outliers. Gladwell analysed the circumstances around the success of such achievers as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Amadeus Mozart and The Beatles. They may have been gifted, but they all worked long and hard.
"What's more," observes Gladwell, "the people at the top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder."

Before we go bashing the Jamaica Amateur Athletics Association (JAAA), we should know that it is made up of volunteers who work much, much harder than most. Only individuals who have represented the country in athletics are eligible to be members. Their leadership has included legends and fine individuals, among them the late great Herb McKenley, Mel Spence, Teddy McCook, Patrick Anderson, Donald Quarrie, Bertland Cameron, Brian Smith, Don Anderson, John Leiba, Denis Johnson, Adrian Wallace, Vilma Charlton and Headley Forbes.

These volunteers make up the most disciplined group I have ever seen, arriving on time for meetings, making meticulous preparations for meets, transparent in their actions and accountable in their results.

And so, beginning with the JAAA-JTA Primary and Prep School Championships, Jamaican children are burning up the stadium track from the age of six, in well-planned events that demand hard work and discipline.

These children are prepared by the unsung heroes of Jamaica, our coaches. The tough training means long, sometimes painful hours for coaches and athletes alike. It is only recently with the emergence of our golden superstars that we are hearing such names as Glen Mills and Stephen Francis. Delano Franklyn in his book, Sprinting into History reminds us that the G C Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, donated in 1977 by the Cuban Government to the people of Jamaica, has provided Jamaica with many excellent homegrown coaches. These include Michael Clarke, Fitzalbert Coleman, Edward Hector and Maurice Wilson.

Our volunteers of the JAAA and the Jamaica Association for Sports Medicine, committed coaches, steadfast corporate sponsors, public training and administrative facilities have given the country a strong foundation for sporting achievement. Franklyn also quotes Jamaica's Anti-Doping Sports Act (2008), born out of several revisions of the country's Policy against Doping in Sport.

One thing that has been clear about Jamaican sport, and in particular athletics, is that there has been no tolerance for indiscipline and unethical behaviour. It is regrettable that a genius like Stephen Francis has become so publicly conflicted with the JAAA. We all know that there will be trouble in the best of regulated families, but one should try to keep it in the family, not play it out in the press.

Norman Peart, manager of Usain Bolt, said in our phone conversation last Thursday morning, "I don't want to comment on that. There is good camaraderie in the camp. This is the athletes' work, their living - it is very important for them. Right now, it has to be about them."

However, there is an even more serious national issue. How could we have an attack on police officers last Thursday in the same hour that the country stopped to watch Usain Bolt and Melaine Walker? While they were running their hearts out for Jamaica, heartless gunmen were running down our good name! Clearly, the politicians and some in the private sector who have been arming and mollycoddling these gunmen have not been subject to the scrutiny of a disciplined, objective body like the JAAA.

We should not accept that our politicians can no longer control the monsters that they have created by omission or commission; they must be man and woman enough to deal with it once and for all. Look at the environment where some of our stars live! These communities will not see better days if the criminals (from uptown and downtown) are allowed to stay in charge of these hapless people who cannot cross from one street to the next, for fear that they are stepping into forbidden territory.

Let the discipline and values that helped to mould our athletes become the watchwords of our nation. We are sharing in their glory, but have we played by their rules? Could we run, in the light of day with no props or bribes, and win on our own steam?

Forget the fleeting razzle-dazzle of a grand welcome - instead, use the resources to make us "free from evil powers" so that our precious champions can have a homecoming to communities of peace and good order.

Jean Lowrie-Chin is the author of Souldance, a collection of poetry and commentary.

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