‘Jamaica, Treasure Island’

We were in the check-in line at Fort Lauderdale airport when a man struck up a conversation with us.
“So how long will you be in Jamaica?” he asked.
“We live there,” we said.

“You. Live. There?” he practically stuttered. “But you guys look okay!” We burst out laughing and assured him that we were quite okay. Then he gave free rein to his homesickness, vowing that “one day, one day, I am coming home”.

It would be foolhardy for me to say Jamaica does not have serious challenges, particularly with crime and unemployment, but we must refuse to allow the best of us to be defined by the worst of us.

How could we see the winning ways of our athletes in Australia, and not say we are okay? Certainly, we would be disrespecting the glory they have brought us recently at the Commonwealth Games.

Jamaica rewrote the history of the Games, becoming the only country to have ever copped all the sprint events and ending the Games with a whopping 10 gold medals, four silver and eight bronze.

In their best moment our Sunshine Girls tied with the mighty Australia as they grabbed that last goal in the final second of the match.

Sherone Simpson (right) embraces Veronica Campbell after winning the gold medal in the womens’ 200 metres. (Photo: AP)

A report on the Commonwealth Games website, headlined “Jamaica, Treasure Island”, marvels: For a small nation, Jamaica has performed exceedingly well in Athletics. Jamaica has a population of just 2.7 million (less than Melbourne alone) and a look at the record books shows that Jamaica consistently performs beyond expectations on a global basis in Athletics.

“Gold, silver and bronze medals are hanging around the necks of many Jamaicans, both men and women. There have also been medal-winning performances in the field events of Seated Discus, Shot Put, Decathlon, High Jump and Javelin. This fine group of athletes has among its number many record holders, including the fastest man on the planet, Asafa Powell.”

Here is the list of our gold medallists:
Asafa Powell – 100 metres
Sheri-Ann Brooks – 100 metres
Maurice Wignall – 110 metres hurdles
Trecia Smith – triple jump
Sherone Simpson – 200 metres
Omar Brown – 200 metres
Tanto Campbell – Elite Athlete with Disability – Discus
Bridgette Foster-Hylton – 110 metres hurdles
Women’s team 4x100m
Men’s team 4x100m

The fastest human on the planet – on the planet! – is not only Jamaican, but he lives here, and has a Jamaican coach, the genius Stephen Francis, who is also the coach of gold medallists Bridgette Foster-Hylton and Sherone Simpson.

So here is my question. If Jamaica can produce this kind of result in athletics, a sport that requires discipline and sacrifice, why have we not translated our triumphs on the track to national glory in other fields of endeavour? The answer must lie in leadership. Our athletes, coaches, sports association leaders, are among the most professional and generous.

Indeed, Jamaica’s own Mike Fennell is chairman of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, signalling the respect in which we are held throughout the world. Teddy McCook is the IAAF representative for the Caribbean and North America.

JAAA President Howard Aris is in a class by himself. My family regards him as a hero. It was a very tough phase of our lives, there were transportation problems when my late father, disabled by illness, required physiotherapy.

A young Howard Aris would leave his office, drive his car to our house, take my dad to his office where he could benefit from specialised equipment, then drive him home again. This was his regular practice over an extended period, and never once did he ask for extra compensation. What a kind man!

Significantly, Mr Aris is a member of Team Portia, and if anyone can bring a new sense of compassion to the suffering people of Jamaica, it must surely be him.

As Portia Simpson Miller makes her grand entrance into the history books this week, she can examine the approach of our sports programmes to re-engineer this country, so that its gifted people will finally be able to find a way forward in a nurturing environment.

Politicians should understand that if they partner with the real heroes of this country, those that have walked the talk and delivered the results, they will eventually stand taller on firm footing. The searchlights of the media are on, and we are going to do our best to reveal the true stars of Jamaica and vindicate their sacrifices. The corrupt and the inefficient must have no hiding place.

Mrs Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, the new president of Liberia, who will be attending the festivities for the inauguration of Portia Simpson Miller, has declared war on corruption in her country, and recently travelled to the United Nations to press for the extradition from Nigeria of her predecessor Charles Taylor so he can face the UN-backed war crimes court in Sierra Leone.

Not only Simpson Miller, but all politicians can learn lessons of courage from this woman who returned to Liberia and fought for the Presidency despite numerous threats on her life. It is only by joining with such leaders that Jamaica will throw off this pall of fear, disheartening to the honest and stifling to the disadvantaged.

We want a Team Jamaica that looks like the team we sent to Melbourne, honed by hard work, not devious connections, decorated for excellence, not for palm-greasing mediocrity. Mrs Simpson Miller, this Treasure Island can bring you medals in every field of endeavour if you dig through the layers of self-interest to bring our people into the light of a new day.

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Jean Lowrie-Chin runs an Advertising/PR Agency, PROComm, in Kingston, Jamaica. Visit their website at www.procomm.com.jm