Editorial

Sport academies the answer to 'academics vs sport' debate

Saturday, October 06, 2018

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Last month in this space we hailed the initiative of Mr Peter Gould in launching the Mount Pleasant Football Academy as having the potential to transform Jamaica's football.

In summary, the academy on an 88-acre property in St Ann is providing scientific football training for 55 boys, 11-15 years old, alongside a high school education directed by the Ministry of Education.

Such academies are to be found in many other countries worldwide; however, it is a first for Jamaica which is underdeveloped in terms of any professional approach to sport.

As is well known, the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA), through its various high school competitions, has been a cornerstone of Jamaican sport going back in excess of 100 years.

Yet, as is frequently pointed out, sports is no longer just recreation as it largely was when ISSA, comprising school principals, was first formed.

Sport is a multi-billion-dollar business that is growing in dollar value by leaps and bounds. It is also an internationally recognised career path — not just in terms of direct competition, but also as regards support systems and structures.

Let's consider for a moment that football, considered the most popular sport on the planet, is gathering momentum at a phenomenal rate in the world's fastest-growing economies in populous Asia. It is mind-boggling to contemplate its worth in monetary terms, just a few years from now.

Hence the current debate about what should be the proper balance between academics and sports in Jamaican schools.

However, it can't be forgotten that Jamaica's school leaders have as their primary mandate the task of providing a well rounded education inclusive of traditional academics and, increasingly, in building technical and vocational capacity. Inevitably, sport takes a back seat.

Indeed, as we understand it, schools receive relatively little from the Ministry of Education in resource support for sport.

It's in recognition of their primary mandate that school leaders have for decades imposed eligibility rules for high school student athletes, focusing on such aspects as classwork scores and the governance of transfers from one school to another.

But, as we have said, the world is changing at a phenomenal rate and sport must now be recognised as big business.

In all of this education is also changing, as is exemplified by the formation of the Mount Pleasant Football Academy.

It needs to be recognised that, while Mr Gould's intuitive may have been largely influenced by his love of football and his desire to lift the sport to a higher level in Jamaica, he is also responding to universal market realities. His investment is undoubtedly high risk. But if it goes well he will be starting to recover his money in a few years from trading highly skilled players to some of the world's top clubs.

We look forward to the day when there will be other dedicated academies such as Mount Pleasant serving other sporting disciplines as well. When that day comes, the current debate regarding the balancing of sports and academics will become largely irrelevant.

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