Please, Mr Bolt, no cricket, football or NFL

Wignall's World

Mark Wignall

Sunday, August 19, 2012

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AFTER his magnificent triumphs at the 30th Olympiad in the 100 and 200-metre sprints and the 4x100-metre relay, Jamaican superstar athlete Usain Bolt has indicated that he has other sporting interests, such as T-20 cricket in Australia and playing in the NFL.

Even before he had completed his assignments at the Olympics he had indicated that he would be interested in playing football for Manchester United should he get an invitation to do so.

I'm assuming that this is all just an additional part of the playbook in the Bolt theatrics.

In speaking to someone who knows him, he said, "Usain is a six feet five-inch baby. He is a walking stand-up comic, part-time, prankish schoolboy, and definitely a party animal. But, to be serious, if he says tomorrow that he wants to take up competitive cycling or something way out like mountain climbing, I believe if he sets his mind to it, there is no stopping him."

After his second-place finishes in the 100 and 200 metres to Yohan Blake at the National Trials, some of us were given the luxury, perhaps for the last time, of doubting him. At the Olympics he once again stamped his dominance on the world by completing a double-triple from Beijing to London. One is almost scared to say it because it will be the ultimate test of sprinting endurance, but it is likely that at age 29 in Brazil, Bolt could complete a triple-triple.

Should that happen, even he would be too much for himself then.

There is always the risk of injury in sprint training and competition. If he intends to compete in Rio in 2016, as I believe he will want to, why would he risk facing hostile pace bowling in cricket? Despite all of the safety gear now used in cricket, all it would take is a full-length ball coming at 90 mph ending up on one ankle to place a severe dent in his track career.

Football is a major contact sport. The likely injuries in that sport are many, but again, the feet are the most exposed and prone to sprains, strains, minor fractures and torn muscles.

The NFL, or 'American football', is an exciting sport, but of all the three (cricket, football, the NFL) the risk for major injury there is the greatest. One of the greatest stories never told is the hundreds of American NFL players, not the big stars, who end their careers with major head and spinal injuries.

One is hoping that Bolt, in making these overtures with more than public stridency, is simply titillating the world's audience by extending his post-race theatrics to one step beyond his 'To the world' stance. I say this because he must know, just as I do, that involvement in those sports at that level involves risk of significant irreversible injury that cannot be worth it, should he wish to make Rio 2016 a reality.

Mr Yohan Blake, please ease up on the growl

I would be the last person who would want to deny Jamaican speedster Yohan 'The Beast' Blake his long moment in the sun.

Training out of the same camp with Bolt, it is difficult for the young man not to want to craft and market his total image in the same expert and easy manner as Bolt has done.

Where Bolt seems a natural in his image marketing and the world audience has warmed to him, my personal sense is that Blake seems to be trying too hard to mimic Bolt by doing his 'beast' pose (screwed-up face, arms partially extended forward and the fingers simulating a beast about to pounce) for the cameras.

I am no marketing guru, but while I know it is made up, it comes across to me as made up. It shouldn't be so, and lacks a certain fluidity and grace. Really now, I am forced to ask myself, how can a snarl be graceful?

In addition, snarling to a cameraman may be one thing, but doing so to the world while on the medal podium seems somewhat out of place.

Usain Bolt is a hard act to follow. Yohan Blake is his own person, but at this time Bolt casts a rather long shadow on others.

I have no problems with Blake's antics except to the extent that I believe too much effort is being applied to make them seem overdone.

CURE must be congratulated

Words like 'landmark' and 'unprecedented' were mere understatements to CURE's victory in the courts recently, which saw a legal ruling which said that JPS monopoly licence which barred other players in the power generation market was illegal.

CURE's co-founders, Richard 'Dickie' Crawford and Betty-Ann Blaine, did what none before had ever done. They took on the 'established system', challenged it in court and won. Which only proves the point that power doesn't willingly cede its status; it has to be openly and skilfully challenged and it takes real, actual people to do it, not just grand ideas floating around in our heads and failing to spill out in action.

Attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman spoke with me many weeks ago and was ecstatic about his findings while doing legal research. Over the telephone he sounded as if he was about to burst.

"Mark, we are going to win this one. I cannot see any other outcome," he said.

Of course, precedent in our laws becomes 'law' once it is brought forward and established in a formal setting in a court of law. As counsel for CURE, that is what Wildman used, and it carried the day.

Unfortunately there are some harsh realities that have to be faced.

OK, we already know that the JPS power generating grid is ancient and highly inefficient. We know that consumers in Jamaica pay about US$0.40 per kWh, one of the highest rates anywhere and certainly about the highest among our regional trading partners.

We now know that the court ruling opens the market to new players, but what would be the mechanics of that?

First, let us totally rule out a new company placing generators on the ground and laying out a new network of poles or lines throughout the island. To me that is not only unlikely, considering the relatively small size of the Jamaican market (approximately 600,000 customers), but it would be a financial disaster for the new player and the customer.

If the Government's 19 per cent share in JPS could be converted into its ownership of the distribution network (poles and lines) then certainly the Government would be in a position to lease these lines to JPS and any other player at a reasonable rate.

The other question is, would a new player need to run new lines on the old poles or would the present lines be 'split' into zones? Another important consideration is, how many players could the system reasonably admit before the grid morphs into a ball of confusion?

If it should turn out that the value of the distribution network is worth in excess of what the Government's stake in JPS is, what then? Would the Government need to pump taxpayers' money into JPS to enable the Government the freedom to establish a level playing field for all players?

My greatest fear is one that has dogged this country for too long. System inaction. The wheels of any and everything important in this country spin only at dead-slow-ahead speed.

It is quite likely that five years will run off and all that will have been established, after the court ruling, is our heightened awareness that competition is needed to effect a lowering of electricity rates. Nothing else.

JPS will be lobbying to maintain the status quo at the same time that other small providers will be making proposals to the Government. One hopes that it doesn't end up as two ends pushing against each other with neither gaining any new ground.

Digicel responds

In responding to my column of last Thursday, ‘If Red Stripe can do it, why can’t Digicel’, Mr Harry Smith, non-executive board member of Digicel, wrote me the following.

‘Dear Mark,

‘Thank you for the surprising personal mention in your article titled ‘If Red Stripe can do it, why can’t Digicel?’

‘I too congratulate Cedric Blair on his appointment as GM of Red Stripe. I worked with him when I was at Red Stripe and he is a solid guy. I wish him well.

‘On the matter of Jamaican nationals heading up operations at Digicel, our Irish chairman has recognised the Jamaican talent at the CEO level. We have in fact had Jamaican CEOs in markets within the Caribbean and as far as the South Pacific. These include Tanya Menzies, who started her career as a customer care executive before going on to launch the Digicel brand in several markets and become CEO of Digicel Tonga and Digicel Vanuatu — one of only a handful of female CEOs across the Group. Sean Latty, another Jamaican, is the chief executive officer of Digicel St Kitts and Nevis. Chairman of the Digicel Jamaica Foundation is Lisa Lewis, another Jamaican ‘foundation’ employee. When I left Digicel I was in a ‘C’ level role as chief customer relations officer, which was a senior strategic role in the company as well as being the founding chairman of Digicel Foundation. As you stated, I along with Tony Chang now serve as board directors in the Jamaican company, which is not to be scoffed at.

‘I know you meant well as a patriot, but the article could give the impression to readers that Jamaican nationals do not occupy senior leadership positions within the Digicel Group. It could also make other nonnational CEOs of multinationals a tad uncomfortable working here in Jamaica.

‘As for Digicel today, the new CEO, Andy Thorburn, comes to Jamaica with 30 years of international IT and telecoms experience working with some of the biggest brands and companies across the globe and I am confident he will lead the Jamaican business into the next phase.

‘Thanks for your continued interest in this great Jamaican company, but I just thought that for fairness I would provide information so that the other Jamaican Digicel CEOs can be celebrated."




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