Sport to rescue the Jamaican economy

Sofia Azzedine, translated by Florence Carré
19 Juin 2013

Native island of Bob Marley, Jamaica is also well-known for its Olympic medals and its famous sprinter Usain Bolt. The numerous titles won by athletes give the island an international outreach it could definitely benefit from.

Sport to rescue the Jamaican economy
The island state enjoys more victory per inhabitant in athletics than any other country in the world. In the future, all of these successes could become a source of national wealth. Moreover, it could allow the island to dispense with using subsidies from international institutions such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund).
Since her last-year re-election, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller clearly confirmed this will of a full economic and political emancipation.

Jamaica, which has been independent since 1962, is a constitutional monarchy and a Commonwealth’s member, which implies that its head of state remains Queen Elisabeth II. Today, this “Land made of Water and Wood” -as it was named by the pre-colonial Indians- is completely dependent on the IMF’s aid.
These funds are aimed at curbing its debt which represents 127 % of its GDP, according to the CIA World Factbook.

When criminality compromises tourism

Jamaica, far from being a haven of peace, holds one of the world highest crime rates, with 40.9 homicides for 100,000 inhabitants in 2011, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
This situation slows down national growth as well as tourism -which is one of the island’s main financial resources. In order to solve this problem, several leading figures such as PJ Patterson -former Prime Minister- chose to set up sport practise as a significant step for Jamaican economic development.  

Willingness to benefit from the sports field

Today, sport contributes to 2% of the Jamaican GDP. It constitutes a precious resource which needs to be developed by the state, according to the report of the National Development Plan untitled “Vision 2030” and published in 2009 by the Planning Institute of Jamaica. The sports sector will become a commercial activity directly linked to tourism. In order to reach this goal, this commission proposed several solutions such as professionalizing sports associations or linking industry to sports, for instance, by creating a Jamaican brand, etc.
Nowadays, the 3 most popular sports in Jamaica are cricket -inherited from the settlers and popular in the whole society-, football – with the national team called the “Reggae Boyz” revealed to the world during the 1998 World Cup, and last but not least, athletics which counts with current leading figures or former ones such as Merlene Ottey who was the athlete who won the most medals.

The youth at the strategy’s centre

Doing sports activities at school is also a British legacy. Jamaican children start doing sports as an everyday activity at school at a very young age. The classes are totally free and the activity was developed through interschool competitions across the whole island. In 2009, up to 16.5 % of its population lived below the poverty line; therefore, getting a sport scholarship is a real chance to go to university and to escape poverty and criminalization for most children. 

With 81% of the children going to school, this institution seems to be satisfyingly developed in Jamaica. Thereby, young children tried to be selected by the best high schools since primary school. These pupils are competing during the Boys and Girls Athletics Championship –known as «Champs »- which was created in 1910 and takes place each year. The competition, followed by 30,000 people, gathers the best Athletics teams of Jamaican high schools. 

The Champs used to be invaded by American supervisors willing to find the gems and bring them back to the United States. Today, young people prefer to follow Usain Bolt’s example and stay in Jamaica, fitting in with the government’s goal to promote the training of talented young people at home.

Towards professionalization and infrastructures’ development

The number of IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) certified trainers doubled in fifteen years, increasing from one hundred and fifty to three hundred, allowing a professionalization of the athletes. In 2002, the new public-private partnership was set up. The Puma brand became the official supplier of the JAAA (Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association) and it has sponsored the Champs as well as athletics programs in seven different high schools ever since. 
The development of clothes and sports equipment brands, the multiplication of media able to broadcast the Champs on a financial basis, the signature of partnerships, the construction of infrastructures and the formation of sports experts, such as psychologist, doctors or managers are « a way to promote sport as the developing agent of Jamaica », said former Prime Minister, E. Seaga.  

According to D. Chung, author of “Charting Jamaica’s Economic and Social Development: A Much Needed Paradigm Shift”, sport will also impact on crime rate among the youngest population, through the teaching of values such as being fair play for instance.
From colonial cricket to the development of athletics, sport really belongs to both the culture and the history of the country. First influenced by the British power, Jamaica forms today many athletes, some of them known worldwide. The Prime Minister asked for this discipline to get private funds in order to make it a significant source of wealth for the state.