Dalton Myers | Our athletes need greater protection
The fallout from the sentencing of former USA gymnastics team doctor and a physician at Michigan State University, Larry Nasser took another turn when news emerged earlier this week that the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is making moves to remove the US Gymnastics as the governing body for that sport in that country.
This comes on the heel of the resignation of the CEO who was chosen to help with this process of reform. The USOC indicated that it seems unlikely that the necessary reform can come from within, and as a result, it may need to intervene.
This is a very interesting move, extending the ripple effects of what happened at the USOC for many years. Nasser was found guilty and sentenced for sexually abusing gymnasts under his care for many years.
Meanwhile, a tribunal in Britain has learnt that there was a "toxic relationship" between British Taekwondo coaches and medics. This is because it is believed that athletes' welfare was being sacrificed for winning medals at the Olympics as British Gymnastics and others are believed to receive increase funding based on medals won. This resulted in concerns about injuries to athletes and their general well-being. As the tribunal hearing continues, this is definitely a case to keep an eye on.
In Jamaica, we have not had such fallout but both cases make you wonder who protects the interest and welfare of athletes in competitive environments. Locally, many persons have complained about the ill-treatment or overworking of athletes at all levels, from high school to professional realms but there is no formal functional sports oversight body to which athletes feel that they can make a genuine complaint, and have it dealt with
Professional sport is very competitive and funding is often heavily dependent on performance. Most sporting associations and sports equate success to mean medals. In our unique situation, the welfare of athletes seems to rest with their track clubs, their agents and/or managers. Athletes will trust these persons as they tend to hold the keys to contracts, funding and moral support. While we may want to believe in these handlers, history tells us that we still need to pay keen attention to issues such as sexual assault, physical abuse, overwork and psychological abuse that can affect the welfare of our athletes.
Take due care
If athletes' welfare is not taken into consideration then we may lose some very talented athletes, or other issues such as mental health may affect some of our athletes. We could lose some as they no longer trust the system and stop training for national teams. Another challenge is that at the professional level we tend to believe that these athletes can take care of themselves. This, unfortunately is not really true.
I believe that there needs to be national support for the well-being of athletes. While there is a Jamaica Athlete Welfare and Development fund still ongoing out of the Ministry of Sports, this is in no way meeting most of the needs of our sportsmen and women. I also believe that the Institute of Sports (Insports) needs revamping. Government should use that body as the organisation to focus on developing high-performance athletes. It should still focus on youth development but as part of a more structured programme that seeks to guide athletes from youth to professional levels. Within that space, the Institute could also have a division that caters to athlete welfare.
I think the framework is there. In fact, the Government had done a great job in implementing a National Sports Policy which provides an outline for national sport development. What is now needed is proper implementation to achieve the various objectives.
The truth is that if we have a case here in any sport in Jamaica similar to that of US Gymnastics, then the difficulty will be ensuring protection for the athletes' well-being and exposing what Associations might be doing. Like the USOC, the Jamaica Olympic Association is the custodian of the Olympic Charter in Jamaica and can play a role in revamping any sporting association.
As we continue to support our sportsmen and women, let us look out for the signs that they may be facing challenges to their well-being, or that their welfare is not being supported.
- Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to email@example.com