OHARAThe 2015 ISSA Champs has come but certainly not gone. The organizers were handed a lightning bolt, no pun intended , by the championship most stellar athlete, Michael O’Hara, the athlete of the meet, the future of track and field and the uncrowned prince of the post Bolt era. What was the bolt you might ask? One that hurts the championship in the pockets.  Michael, for all intent and purposes, was the latest victim of AN athlete abused by a cooperate giant that when left unchecked , creates the ideal environment for a perfect storm.

This is the scenario. O’Hara is now a ‘Brand Ambassador’ for the oligarch Digicel. On winning his second race of the championship, O’Hara removed his team’s track outfit to reveal the message “Be Extraordinary“, which happens to be the tag line for Digicel. The problem is Digicel is not an official sponsor of the meet, LIME, the other oligarch is. Before hundreds of thousands and an international market , Digicel brand message was broadcasted. They paid nothing for it, well technically speaking , almost nothing.

To add insult to injury the TVj announcer, on praising O’Hara for his spectacular run, acknowledged the tag line by saying  O’Hara was indeed ‘extraordinary”.  So there we are, one fool making many fools. It was not until after the meet that the effect of this bolt was felt. But then it was too late. The damage was done. Digicel was successful in its whore mongering. LIME lost. The battle has begun.

  “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”                                       Verbal Kint/Kaiser Soze, The Usual Suspects

The question is did ISSA know of the Digicel sponsorship of its athlete? Did O’Hara’s school, Calabar, know of this? What about his coaches, didn’t they know their ‘student athlete’ was a brand ambassador? And if all parties concerned knew about this branding, was it presumed that the Devil did not exist? Was it assumed that a conflict would not arise and all’s well in the treacherous world of gaining market share by these 2 giants?

Another question that shouts from the mountain top is can ISSA define who is a ‘Student Athlete”? In light of the fact that Digicel is showering money on a supposed ‘amateur’ athlete, does this still make him amateur ? It should be noted  O’Hara is not the only ‘sponsored’ athlete. Jaheel Hyde from Wolmers is ‘sponsored ‘ by LIME. Things that make you go hm.

The answer can be found  in the response from the ISSA Vice President Keith Wellington who was quoted in the Daily Gleaner:

“There is no regulation regarding amateur status,” explained Wellington, who is also principal of St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS). “… ISSA has no regulation that speaks to professionalism in high-school sports.” Daily Gleaner March 31, 2015

There lies the problem. ISSA was blindsided by money. For years the status quo was to beg and borrow to produce this annual gala and as the proverbial saying goes, ‘Beggars have no Choice” , ISSA declined their responsibilities  and if not declined , certainly had no idea of the perfect storm they were brewing.

It is evident ISSA has never seen their gala as Big Business. LIME and DIGICEL did. That’s why they sponsor the event. ISSA has never seen the need to establish definitions of the word ‘Student Athletes’ or who is an ‘amateur’ as they never considered that these ‘student athletes’ would ever be attractive to leading brands. LIME and DIGICEL did and in the absence of any code from the governing bodies, they jumped and took advantage of the loophole. Greed won. Beggars lost.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” — Albert Einstein

Jamaicans have a peculiar talent of always acting after the fact. It is often called ‘reactive”‘ instead of being proactive. The development of commercialism within athletics is new only in Jamaica despite the occurrence of events happening right under their nose. Our professional athletes, headed by Usain Bolt, the most high profiled athlete in Jamaica , are all packed and branded by millions of dollars of commercial deals. Companies like LIME and DIGICEL don’t sponsor events  out of sheer warmheartedness. Its an investment with expected  returns.

A brand like CHAMPS offers every sponsor the rare opportunity of increasing market share from an influential group, Schoolers, resulting in increased ratings and revenue. How could ISSA not see this and organize itself over the years to ensure the money from their sponsors are used as defined in their Articles of Association? Moreover ISSA is known to be a staunch defender of the ‘student athlete”  and  they want their students to achieve the highest  academics first and foremost above all sports. But how can they not exercise due diligence to protect its athletes, ensuring their future is protected from commercialism , especially since so many of their athletes go for higher learning in the USA and get integrated in the hallowed halls and strict standards  of the NCAA? Reality is merely an illusion it seems.

It is time to wake up. For decades ISSA has created the illusion that their sole purpose was to defend the concept of amateurism within higher education and the public accepted this  trick and  sanctioned by the JAAA. ISSA was widely recognized  as “the guardian of the great Jamaican tradition of school boy sports but somehow ISSA has lost its way.

LIME and DIGICEL in their business of sponsoring ‘student athletes’ have eroded the line of who is an amateur and who is a professional. O’Hara’s action is tantamount to that. His statement that it was all his actions is to be viewed with suspicion. At the very time he unveiled his jersey , Digicel tweeted their relationship with him. A coincidence you ask? It makes you go hm.

The argument is stale  and the public is recognizing the absurdity of the arguments of Digicel , O’Hara, LIME  and ISSA. and they range from ‘Its not my fault” to ISSA’s concern of the ‘abuse of their athletes’ to Lime’s concern over the ‘guerrilla marketing” by Digicel.

Its all hog wash. ISSA actively sought sponsorships and in so doing  embrace commercialism of their product CHAMPS, except on a single issue – Athlete Protection. Admission is reality: Words from the President of ISSA:

“I have to confess that this is something that we will have to get expert advice on,” Small said. “ISSA, as an organization, will have to sit and look at this to make sure that corporate Jamaica does not infringe on the rights of the students and schools, and really what we saw in this case was something entirely new for us”.

Those words are from an embarrassed President that must look its biggest financier in the eyes saying those 3 famous words..”I AM SORRY.” Seriously?  The damage is already done. Sorry cannot fix it. Wake up ISSA and smell the coffee. There needs to be less commercialization and more due process in College sports. Stop begging like a beggar and act like a professional holder of a brand that needs protection from the virus of corporate financing.

ISSA has a brand that if well organized can rake in millions of revenue  for the organization. It is the biggest brand in Jamaica that can provide valuable and much need resources for the stake holders involved – the Schools. The present status quo that is used to govern their modus operandi is only creating a world of comforting illusion.

ISSA seems to be a group of noble and distinguished beggars and beggars are not choosers. Stop taking your position of authority as society’s claim to fame and start putting in the sweat and brain power as leaders of professional amateurism in Jamaica. Corporate money is good, it is needed,  it is to be encouraged but left unchecked it creates a stink odor, an odor that not only stretches from Red Hills to Mona , but also the shores of the US and beyond,

“Where we are, there is a dire need to re-evaluate how we do things and to make the changes,” Wellington said. “I don’t think we can continue as we are … I wouldn’t say it’s a crisis situation, but it’s important.”

You have it wrong Mr Wellington. You have a crisis. Greed has won. LIME and DIGICEL runs athletics, not your organization. The claim that CHAMPS is an amateur sport is an illusion and to balance the juggling act of commercialism and the so called student athlete is untenable. ISSA is not protecting anyone expect filling the pockets of their coffers. It is wrong, it is abuse, it is bordering on commercial slavery. Wake up. Get your act together.  Think on this quote from Voltaire:

“One day everything will be well, that is our hope. Everything’s fine today, that is our illusion.” — Voltaire