There is certainly justification for the Government to be ecstatic, like other citizens, at the Olympic triumph of Keshorn Walcott and, on behalf of citizens, reward the nation’s second Olympic gold medallist for his superb achievement. But was enough thought given to the number, value and appropriateness of the financial and material gifts given to the 19-year-old gold medallist?
In such a situation, it is the government’s role to be rational and exercise prudence and forethought, and to be careful not to get carried away by popular sentiment or to attempt to gain political capital out of it. How do other countries reward their athletes? Has any consideration been given to that?‚
A meme doing the rounds on Facebook compared Walcott’s gold-medal win and the consequent rewards showered on him with those of multiple medal-winner and record-holder Usain Bolt. What might the government have given Bolt if he were from T&T, it speculated. Tobago? The fact is that so hastily were the awards announced that there was little time to consider many of the implications of rewarding young Keshorn in this way and so lavishly.
As with so many other aspects of governance in a country that is still relatively young, there are no criteria and systems in place on which judgments can be based about making awards to national achievers. Perhaps there should be a set reward for Olympic athletes. Certainly the timing, nature and proportionality of such awards need to be carefully considered, rather than being left to depend on the whim of the government and the state of the Treasury at the time — or even the number of other winners.
For instance, will all gold medallists be entitled to gifts of the same monetary value, now that a precedent has been set?‚If ten people win gold next time, will they each get houses, land and cash?‚What is a reasonable quantum for the country to expend in this way?‚Should such rewards only be for gold medallists, or only for Olympic athletes?
What about those who achieve in non-Olympic sports?‚Do their hard work, self-discipline and sacrifice count for less?‚Should they be doubly penalised, if their sports are less popular and their achievements not watched by an admiring world?‚Has the Government thought about the kind of psychological effect this abundance of awards and rewards can have on young Keshorn?
It is easy for a young man to lose perspective. If he is made financially secure, and indeed even wealthy, on the basis of a single — even though singular — achievement, what will that do to his motivation to continue developing his potential for further growth and development, both as an athlete and a person?‚
At 19, he may have a long Olympic career ahead of him. What can he expect to be given if he wins gold again in 2016, and beyond? The award of a university scholarship and the‚Government’s promise to develop a programme of field coaching are certainly apt.
But in considering the ripple effect of young Walcott’s achievement on his peers, it must also be asked: what are the expectations created among other young people by this kind of largesse? No matter how hard they try, very few can realistically hope to win Olympic medals or to be given a house and land by the government.
As with the public holiday proclaimed with only a few hours’ notice, the government’s good intentions seem to have led it to act with needless haste in making an announcement that might have been better delayed and mulled over at more length.
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