Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Sir Hilary Beckles wants Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean to start cashing in on the success of regional athletes.
Addressing the university’s annual council meeting at the Cave Hill Campus last Friday, Sir Hilary said while the Caribbean was in the top three when it came to athletics among Commonwealth countries, the region was simply “not getting any money out of it”.
He argued that other countries have recognized the potential of earning millions off the success of athletes from the region, and have created jobs that he believed could have also been created in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
“Where is our sports manufacturing taking place? Vietnam, South Korea. Where are the plants, the factories that are making all the gears and equipment, creating employment, venture capitals and entrepreneurs, where is the business of sports? It is not in the Caribbean. The Caribbean is seen as performers, we must perform for the world but we must not make money off of it,” complained Sir Hilary.
“If you consider for example, Puma has endorsed Usain Bolt. It moved up the chain as one of the top elite sports equipment manufacturing corporations. Is there a Puma plant in Jamaica? Where are the Puma plants, they are all over the world, not in Jamaica. This is not right. We cannot be seen as minstrels, we have to get the wealth out of our performance,” he insisted.
The sports enthusiast and historian contended that the Caribbean had “a right to transform our performance into profit”, adding that the university was willing to lead the discussion on the matter.
“We have to problematize this . . . We have to drive those debates,” said Sir Hilary.
Recalling the West Indies world dominance of Test cricket several years ago before ending up “at the bottom and facing extinction”, Sir Hilary expressed fear that the same might face athletics in the region because the current treatment of the sport was unsustainable.
“When a society produces excellence and loses that excellence there has to be an explanation for it. What is our fear, that Trinidad and Jamaica, having excelled in track, Jamaica especially, having dominated world track in the post-Usain Bolt era, in the post-Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce era, that we will fall away, that we cannot sustain that which we have created, that is our fear.
“Can you imagine Jamaica not winning a gold or silver medal in an Olympics in a 200m, 400m, 4x400m? It is unimaginable, but it has happened in cricket, and therefore we as a university have to take this on right now as a serious project – sustaining of excellence,” said Sir Hilary, who pointed out that the development of sports in the region was part of the university’s Triple A Strategic Plan 2017-2022.