NATIONAL TREASURES The Rio Olympics are over and can claim to have been an athletic success. Pre-game warnings about guests and athletes running a great risk of being robbed, shot, falling sick with the Zika virus, or getting violently ill by coming in contact with sewage-contaminated water proved to be greatly exaggerated. Of course, there were reports of robberies and athletes and guests becoming ill, but so far, nothing on the scale of the pre-game predictions. Jamaica had a very successful Rio Olympics. We ended up with 11 medals, one short of the 12 garnered in Beijing, but with more gold than the record Beijing haul. Sadly, our nation says goodbye to the greatest male athlete of all time, as our ‘hero’ Usain Bolt has stated that Rio would be his last Olympics. The question for me (and hopefully the nation) is: what next? Without Bolt’s guaranteed three gold medals, will our medal tally suffer in Tokyo, the venue of the 2010 Olympic Games? The answer lies in planning. The nation’s sports administrators need to start planning for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics from September 2016. Talent of Jamaicans in multiple sports need to be identified and nurtured in order to qualify for the next Olympics. Once identified, these athletes need to be supported financially, medically and with the best coaching that money can buy. Yes, what money can buy; as a previous prime minister said, “it takes cash to care.” Money is a performance enhancer. When communism was rife, countries that realised the importance of sports would ’employ’ athletes in order to ensure that they could spend all their time practising (training), thus resulting in them being better able to win medals in games like the Olympics. Western countries frowned on this practice as these countries (albeit with the aid of drugs and corruption) dominated the medal table. With communism being defeated, what now entails is much of the same. Some of the countries that were most vociferous in condemning the practice of state-sponsored professional athletes now find themselves doing the same thing. In 1996, England subsidised the participation of its athletes in the Olympics to the tune of £5 million. They won 15 medals at the Olympics. This embarrassing result saw England subsidising sports to the tune of £54 million in 2000. England garnered 28 medals. In 2012, England subsidised sports to the tune of £264 million: England garnered 65 medals. This year (2016), England subsidised sports to the tune of £350 million and they surpassed that amount of medals this year. England gave their athletes £28,000 annually to allow them to concentrate on training. This is exactly what communist countries were doing in the past. This year at the Rio Olympics, England increased their medal tally and was just edged out on the last day of competition from second place in the medal tally. Back home, here in Jamaica, the Government has announced a subsidy reported to be in the region of J$60,000 monthly. It is a literal drop in the bucket, but a very important start that needs to be increased, especially with no present male superstar on the horizon. When one looks at the reality of an Olympic athlete’s financial support in the build-up to Olympic qualifying performances, it is soon recognised as very obvious that if it wasn’t for our natural west African genetic superiority, Jamaica would not be the world athletic power that it most certainly is now. We need to understand the potential benefits to be reaped from our athletes’ performances on the world stage. We need to invest more in their preparation (facilities, coaching, medical issues and anti-doping) and upon doing so with taxpayers’ money, we (Jamaica) need to ensure that these athletes are not exploited by greedy support staff, who see these athletes as a money tree and not as national treasures. It takes cash to care. Let us, with one accord, insist on a state-sponsored fund geared specifically for Olympic preparation. Our athletes deserve no less. Congrats to our Jamaican Olympians. You are all national treasures. Thanks.