Yesterday I received with great interest the latest news on Calabar athletic star Michael O’hara. The report was entitled “O’hara will run at Penn Relays”. I was even further surprised, but thrilled to learn that he had a legal team, of at least three attorneys, both local and overseas based. They had successfully filed an emergency application to the Philadelphia courts to challenge the decision of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletics Association (PIAA) to ban O’hara from running at the Penn Relays. Think about it: a school boy, just over 18 years old, assembling what is clearly a high profile legal team to successfully mount his challenge so that he can run at a Penn Relays. After all, for some it’s just a Penn Relay race, and I hear that the athletes are competing in the biting cold Pennsylvania weather.
It is, however, clear that track and field is big business. Big business in Jamaica, and the United States. Just a few weeks ago I flirted with the notion of trying to get a grandstand champs ticket to go see our high school athletes compete on the last day. I had to perish the thought as quickly as it was born, as I understand that tickets were sold out a few minutes after they went on sale. In fact I hear ISSA chairman’s call for the government to consider building a bigger venue in order to accommodate more persons for events like Boys and Girls Championships. People from all over the world jet in to see the event, and overseas media, gear companies, colleges and universities all converge to witness what is obviously one of the great events of amateur track and field.
But then, I observe that Jamaican children are always running. Even now my mom often sends out my younger brother: “run go round to the shop….” As younger children, we would literally run to the shop and return in a jiffy. We were always racing each other. I grow up observing people like Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell, and had heard of Donald Quarrie and Merlene Ottey. Then Bolt and Frazer-Price burst on the scene. Bolt in particular displayed the power of his brand with everything from his signature pose to a documentary feature. It seems that our athletes are now opening their eyes to the possible business of track and field; and they are doing so from a much earlier age.
Michael O’hara pulled off a stunt at this year’s champs. At the Lime sponsored event, upon winning, he exposed an undershirt with the writings “Be extraordinary” a tagline from Digicel. The general consensus appears to suggest that this was a case of ambush marketing, although the rules were silent as to what was allowed. Shortly after, Digicel announced that O’hara was its newest brand ambassador. While I am not privy to the details of the arrangements between O’hara and Digicel, or Jaheel Hyde and Lime for that matter, I have no doubt that these athletes will be well taken care of.
As long as they continue to shine, as soon as they leave school and are no longer amateur, we will see those signing lucrative deals with sports apparel companies, and appearing in advertisements, and becoming entrepreneurs as a result of track and field.
Athletes such as Bolt have sought to invest their monies by venturing into areas such as the restaurant business. Courtney Walsh, a cricketer had previously taken a similar route. Many athletes will not make it as big as Bolt, since we can have only one Olympic champion at a time in each event. However, as youths engage in sport, they should be encouraged to be aware of the entrepreneurship opportunities that exist. For many, it can simply be a means of supporting them through high school, or funding tertiary education through a scholarship. Truth is, the entrepreneurship landscape is becoming more and more varied. .