The 2013/2014 School Boy football season has kicked off. For many youngsters the training during the summer holidays was well worth the sacrifice since they now have the chance to show off their skills on the field of play. However, far too many of our youngsters continue to struggle with participation in sports and their academic commitment. Gone are those days where colleges and universities would offer scholarship to athletes solely on the basis of their athletic prowess. Colleges and universities are now demanding that athletes have at least a minimum educational standard on which to build a fountain. Yet despite this reality many of our athletes continue to struggle to attain and maintain a 45 per cent average as outlined by the Inter Secondary Schools Association (ISSA). This sub-standard mark is overly generous by ISSA and the time has come for ISSA to re-visit this 45 per cent mark and set the bar much higher in keeping with the realities of this competitive world in which we live.
We should ask ourselves what measures are in place to offer student athletes additional support that a significant number of them require to ensure that they excel academically. Jamaica has had and continues to have a most distinguished and most enviable record in track and field over the decades. In the past we some of our internationally acclaimed athletes have had difficulty express themselves to the world as they struggle to find the words to say exactly what they wish. We have come a far way since those ‘dark’ days and certainly we must do all within our powers to ensure we never go there again.
The annual Boys and Girl Athletic track meet has played a critical role in the early development for many of our athletes who have gone on to win Olympic medals and other accolades. As a country we have benefitted tremendously, in fact Jamaica is now referred to as the sprint capital/factory of the world. However, despite all our successes on the track, it’s not about winning at all cost as some school administrators seem to believe. Too often our schools use these athletes in the hunt for fame and glory without ensuring that the academic side of these students are addressed. Too many of our high school age athletes are functional illiterates or illiterates and in most instances there are no programmes in place to improve the literacy and numeracy levels of these students. Most times these student athletes are from poor backgrounds. In many instances the parents of these athletes are not in a position to monitor or help much with the overall development of their child. The parents are themselves caught up in the euphoric rise in popularity of their child that they fail to see their child’s short coming and limitation regarding their academic development. In some instances these student athletes are treated as super stars by their respective schools. Many of them over time have developed negative attitudes towards the education system in general. In fact many students’ athletes are given preferential treatment to attend sixth form on the basis that they “play” a sport for the school.
Structured programmes with the necessary monitoring mechanisms must be put in place to adequate address the issue of poor academic performance among some of our student athletes a problem that has plagued sports over the years.
The time has come for a broader representation on the board of the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA). In order to have transparency and accountability we need to scrutinize principals more closely to ensure everything is done above board.
In the past we have heard of grades being ‘manufactured’ to ensure the participation of failing athletes, we do an injustice to our students and the society in general if it is that we facilitate cheating and corruption in order for fame and glory. Sadly, we continue to exploit and sacrifice our children at every given opportunity and across all levels of the society for self aggrandisement.
Masculinity in Sports
Ever since the beginning of time sports has always been associated with masculinity, indeed a hegemonic form of masculinity. Of course we can only define masculinity in relation to other forms of subordinated masculinities and femininity. Hegemonic masculinity is the term used to explain the criteria for being the ‘ideal’ man in a particular culture. In the Jamaican culture as in most western societies there is a popular belief that ‘real, men play sports. The term hegemonic masculinity serves as a model for all men and show how they “should” be. In the Jamaican context if a male does not play a sport or show interest in any sport he is viewed as a ‘sissy’ or worse his sexual orientation is questioned. As a results many parents, coaches and the wider society places undue pressure on males especially those who do not gravitate towards sports to get involved in some sports this is done oftentimes to the detriment of their educational development.
Sports provide males with an outlet to express their masculine traits. Involvement in sports also provides males with the necessary skills to become productive members of the society. Skills such as good citizenship, cooperation, the value of hard work are all desirable and needed in the society. On the other hand it can be argued that modern sports are partially to be blamed for a masculinity that includes undesirable behaviours and ideals. For example, males should show little or no reaction to physical pain; this double standard is reinforced very early in the lives of our children. If our son gets injured on the playfield we tell him to stop crying and ‘man up’ while our daughters are comforted and reassured that all will be well. Men should be physically big and those boys/men who do not fit this hegemonic mould of masculinity are likely to be ostracized. Small men/boys are likely to be judged as inferior and are likely to be labelled with negative and derogatory terms in our patriarchal society.
Sports help us generally to stay fit and healthy regardless of our sex. The involvement of sports aids in social skills such as the interaction between peoples and cultures, as well as building team work and fostering a spirit of camaraderie. Mentally, sport lowers the risk of anxiety and depression. In spite of all that was said we should not take advantage of our school aged athletes and throw them to the wind after they would have passed the age to compete.
The Ministry of Education has remained too silent on the issue of sport involvement and education. Indeed the Education Ministry has a great role to play by crafting the policy framework necessary which will help guide our schools, as well as, to assist in the holistic development of our athletes. Our children are the future of the society and we must ensure that we take all possible measures to ensure a bright future for all our students regardless of their socio-economic background.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.