For a developing country like Jamaica, sports have been a unifying force and a source of human capital development for the nation’s citizens. However, many of our success stories have been achieved from the most menial of resources as sporting bodies in Jamaica have struggled to attract proper sponsorship from corporate Jamaica and to secure proper investment from the Government.
Most of the nation’s top athletes have come from very humble beginnings whether it be from rural Jamaica or inner-city communities where their exposure to proper sporting facilities is few and far between. That speaks to their abilities to triumph regardless of their circumstances but imagine what the possibilities could be if they did have access to proper facilities. There are very few proper surfaces for Jamaicans to play football, cricket, netball, or to run track on. Jamaican communities tend to have a lot of poorly kept dirt fields used as football fields and community centres with rough asphalt courts.
If we examine the major sporting facilities across the island, we will find that many of them are dilapidated, not up to international standards, or in need of urgent upgrading. In the recent past, the local football top flight league and Schoolboy football competitions have been played on some of the worst football fields imaginable which impacts the quality of football being played.
Sports tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism with an increasing number of tourists interested in sporting activities during their trips. Tourism and sports are interrelated and complementary. Sports as a professional, amateur, or leisure activity involves a considerable amount of traveling to play and compete in different destinations and countries. This is a market that the Jamaican government and respective sporting bodies should be aiming to tap into, however, the last major sporting event hosted in Jamaica was in 2007 when the Caribbean islands jointly hosted the Cricket World Cup tournament. There have been no real steps to build on that and a big cause for that is the lack of adequate sporting facilities.
Investment in sports and sports tourism is not just about the management and operation of mega-events; it also concerns offering consumer-specific sports and tourism-related services and experiences to the sports tourist. You will encounter significant issues trying to acquire memorabilia or merchandise for most sporting disciplines in Jamaica. For instance, getting your hand on Reggae Boyz Jersey, West Indies Jersey or an official Jamaican Olympic tracksuit would be extremely difficult.
Additionally, there is no local sports museum that honors the great talents that our small country has seen over the years. Money from sports tourism could be redirected into grassroots and youth sports programmes to ensure we have an ever-revolving door of talent in all sporting disciplines.
With popular local sporting disciplines like football and track and field struggling to get adequate sponsorship, the much smaller disciplines face a much bigger hurdle to convince sponsors, potential athletes, and fans alike to buy into their product. For instance, the Jamaica Open golf tournament is easily the biggest event of its kind here on the island and was being hosted by a major hotel and, only a handful of persons show up for that event, usually hosted at the Half-Moon Golf Course. The organizers cannot attract athletes like Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who would, in turn, attract larger fan turnout and greater media coverage.
Jamaica Rugby Football Union (JRFU) chairman Jerry Benzwick, recently complained about the lack of sponsorship for the sport from corporate Jamaica who he says aren’t interested in investing in growing smaller local sporting brands and disciplines. He wouldn’t be lying either as it is clear there is a clear discrepancy between the sports that get most of the already menial corporate sponsorships. There is also very limited sponsorship for athletes with disabilities which is a sad indictment on corporate Jamaica. This is reflected in the constant struggles faced by the Jamaica Paralympic team every time they are to compete in international competition.
Along with persons with disabilities, female athletes regardless of their success have received a lot less funding than their male counterparts for instance the Reggae Girls. The female football programme in Jamaica had been cancelled by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) in 2010 when the organization stopped funding all women’s programs. Things changed due in part to the intervention and support of Cedella Marley and her family.
The Reggae Girlz moved from being almost extinct to qualifying for the last FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 in France, becoming the first Caribbean team to play at the tournament. Even then, despite this being the most talented crop of Reggae Girls to ever assemble in the black, green and gold and maybe the most talented group of footballers Jamaica has ever had at any one point, the team has still struggled to attract sponsorship and support.
Despite doing very well at global netball tournaments, the Sunshine Girls have been poorly sponsored and supported for the better part of two decades. Despite exporting several of the best talents in the game overseas to Australia and New Zealand, names like Jhanele Fowler, Shamera Sterling, and Shadian Hemming, there has been no real growth in the sport.
All island parish competitions are few and far between, disorganized, and lack proper funding. Netball was predominantly played in Jamaica using a club system but those were centered mostly in Kingston and St. Andrew but the talent exists island-wide. There have been netball tournaments where several teams have had to withdraw because of the difficulty in affording transportation from their team bases to the match venue at the Leila Robinson Courts in Kingston.
For a developing country, Jamaica must maximize all its resources to foster and propel development, and in Sports Investment and Sports tourism, Jamaica has a treasure that needs to be harnessed. There also needs to be equity in sponsorship across popular and not-so-popular disciplines, between men and women, and sponsorship that is inclusive of athletes with disabilities.
There also needs to be a more collaborative approach between the sporting bodies and the government, there seems to be too much pride, ego, and corruption that has only resulted in the athletes and by extension the sport to suffer. No matter the sporting discipline or area, there always seems to be a Jamaican athlete that excels there, imagine if resources allowed for many more Jamaicans to have the opportunity to properly participate? The possibilities are endless, it is time to act, time for long-term change.