PNP – Stop the Pantomime

In Jamaica, the ongoing pandemic has halted the island’s theatre industry yet the opposition People’s National Party (PNP) has managed to keep the public entertained with its endless pantomime of infighting and inappropriate comments.

The governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration and their supporters are sitting back and having the time of their stewardship watching this farce playout scene-after-scene. The wider public and many comrades also stare with dismay at the drama from some of the people’s opposition.

The timing of the recent coordinated resignations of the 4 PNP vice presidents (Phillip Paulwell, Damion Crawford, Mikael Phillips and Wykeham McNeil) was poor but could a blessing in the long term.

But in this digital-active age where organisations are always streamlining to improve its strategies, operations and decision making, why does the PNP need to have 4 vice presidents?

As leader of the PNP Mark Golding needs to front-up and show a ruthless but fair side to his role.

Since his leadership win in 2020 Golding was not given a second to enjoy a honeymoon period. The political knives were obviously out from that Saturday evening when the results declared Golding the successor to Peter Phillips. Lisa Hanna, his leadership rival, was not present at the declaration or at Golding’s swearing-in ceremony. The gap between both factions just got wider and sillier.

The lack of a united front had driven the PNP to lose its way and they have missed numerous chances to put the Andrew Holness administration under sustained pressure given it’s below average performance in certain areas.

But over the weekend the public saw something that was welcoming, Hanna and Golding on the same platform displaying the kind of civility and united front that has been missing from the party for far too long.

But Golding has to do more to enhance his leadership and the fortunes of PNP.

Mini-reshuffle.

  • Despite the governments sluggish handling of health and crime the shadowing of these critical portfolios by those responsible in the PNP has been even worst.
  • Move Hanna from foreign affairs to a more substantial post (education, finance, health or even national security) that raises the profile any the PNP solutions to that portfolio. No point in Hanna (in the lower house) shadowing the foreign minister Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith who is in the upper house). 
  • Senator Peter Bunting (upper house) should not be shadowing national security when the minister Horace Chang is in the lower house.
  • Golding has to shadow Holness thoroughly. Meaning shadowing all the extended portfolios that sit within Holness office incl: economic growth, NHT, HEART NTA and especially roads and works.

·         Develop eye-catch realistic initiatives that would strike a chord with the public in the areas of National House Trust, crime reduction/prevention, early childhood, literacy, cannabis, constitutional reform.

·         Bring proposals to modernise the PNP. E.g. 1 vice president instead of 4. Allow the candidates running for president to do so as a joint ticket with their own VP pick. Having separate elections for both posts is too risky given that the chosen president and VP could be polar opposites in policy and personality.

·    Have a zero tolerance approach to those who make grossly offensive personal comments about JLP members and comrades.

·     Hire an effective and savvy communications director

Golding and Hanna’s presentation of a united front is a step the right direction to take. For the sake of Jamaican politics – no more self-inflicted banana slips please.

Too Late!!

Despite delivering the first female prime minister of Jamaica and having an well establish women’s movement, there is a perception that the PNP in recent years is anti-women. Comments made by senior male PNP figures in recent years has brought substance to such perceptions.

Over the weekend PNP VP aspirants Ian Hayles and Richard Azan stole the headlines with some grossly offensive comments against JLP MP Rhoda Crawford.

It is not the first time that a senior PNP member has used mental health as some laughing matter to attack the JLP. Stop it!

Golding needs to show some authority and kindly ask Hayles and Azan to remove themselves from the upcoming VP slots.

Golding is a smart guy and he must know that Hayles and Azan are not VP material. Hayles in particular has form in upsetting folks with his outdated and juvenile outburst on the political campaign. Hayles with a microphone is a political blunder waiting to happen and will make it difficult for the PNP to shake off its image of a political party in pantomime season.

The JLP has little way of displaying genuinely outrage given their code silence over the recent expletive comments made by government minister Warmington and the physical altercation scandal that force one of their own MPs to take extended leave from being a party member.

Hayles and Azan have since apologised with a statement that is so bizarre and poorly delivered. But the damage has been done. Golding should use this incident to cement his position as a no-nonsense leader who will not tolerate such poor behaviour from any of his senior colleagues, even if they are close allies. Will he?

Hanna and Patricia Duncan-Sutherland, new president of the PNP Women’s Movement, were right criticise the comments made by Azan and Hayles.

Maybe Golding should encourage Hanna and Duncan-Sutherland to replace Azan and Hayles as 2 of the 4 VP aspirants.

Further reading

The Gleaner: PNP women’s group scolds Azan, Hayles over Rhoda Crawford comments

L-R Duncan-Sutherland, Hanna, Golding, Mikael Phillips, Eugene Kelly, Duncan-Price

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Tokyo Olympics – Women’s 200 Metres (hopefully)

The 2020 Summer Olympics finally starts officially this Friday in Tokyo, Japan. But even though sports fans will be looking forward to watching the events it is still hard to fathom that no spectators will be at the venues.

Now, this is no surprise given the COVID-19 crisis has affected Japan greatly despite continued promises from officials that spectators would be allowed. I just thought such a promise was a delaying tactic to ensure the Games went ahead. All the recent opinion polls in Tokyo found its residents were strongly against their country hosting the Olympics.

Despite the billions invested by Japan into hosting the games some contingency/standby measures should have been in place so as to allow other nations to host certain sports especially where spectators could attend.

E.g. The athletics could have gone to Eugene, Oregon (host of next year’s World Athletics Championship) in a straight swop with Tokyo.

We all saw that empty stadia vibe in Jamaica when the great sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran an incredible 10.63 for the 100m. Such a momentous achievement deserved even a few hundred spectators in the stands.

Speaking of Fraser-Pryce, the event I am most looking forward to at the Olympics is the women’s 200m. 

Unlike the male sprint events the women’s 100m and 200 are stacked with quality. The 100m is probably down to who can catch Fraser-Pryce. But the 200m is just another level. There is no clear-cut favourite for the 200m. It is difficult to predict who the 3 medalists will be on the 3rd August.

The big guns for the 200m include:

  1. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica) – multiple gold medal winner who ran  a personal best of 21.79 when winning June’s national trials.
  2. Elaine Herah (Jamaica) – defending Olympic champion at both 100m & 200m with a best time of 21.66.
  3. Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahamas) – unbeaten in the 200m for 3 years until last month and has a best time of 21.74.
  4. Gabby Thomas  (US) – won the 200m at the recent national trials in 21.61, the third fastest time ever recorded.
  5. Dina Asher-Smith (UK) – 2019 world champion at 200m in a personal best time  of 21.88.
  6. Jenna Prandini (US) – came 2nd behind Thomas at the trials in a pb time of 21.89.
  7. Anavia Battle (US) – came 3rd behind Thomas and Prandini in a pb time of 21.93.
  8. Shericka Jackson (Jamaica) –  ran a personal best 21.82 for the 200m at the national trials behind Fraser-Pryce. Recently ended Miller-Uibo’s unbeaten run in the 200m.
  9. Dafne Schippers (Netherlands) – 2015 world champion in a time of 21.63.

It is rare for the women 200m at any championship event to have so many contenders that have dipped below the benchmark of 22 secs which separates world class runners from the good runners.

Schippers is the only one of the above-mentioned athletes whose form has dipped. All the others seem to be improving. Herah is said by her coach to be in the best form of her life. The same can be said of all the main contenders. Fraser-Pryce at 34 is better than ever. Thomas has come from nowhere and Asher-Smith’s  form looks awesome.

Then we can also add to the mix, Marie- Josée Ta Lou (Côte d’Ivoire) who has performed consistently well with a pb of 22.08.

Why are so many fast times in the 200m?

There is an ongoing debate on the advances being made in spikes technology. But I will leave such discussions to the experts to thrash out over the coming weeks.

Let’s hope all these athletes turn up and are not hampered by COVID-19 issues or niggles. But one or two could be physically and/or mentally drained after running the 100m earlier.

This should be a race to get the goose bumps going. The 3 semi-finals alone will be gripping to watch. As none of the top runners can take the semis lightly for fear of not finishing in the first 2 and dread getting drawn in coffin-box lanes of 1 or 2 in the finals.

The running track is likely to be super-fast so let us hope the conditions are perfect for sprinting and maybe a few of these runners will push each other to get close to Flo-Jo’s world record of 21.34.

Whatever happens in Tokyo promoters for the Diamond League circuit must ensure that most of these runners are lined for future 200m this season. Especially as the livewire that is Sha’Carri Richardson will be back from her brief suspension.

200m heats –  2 August (morning)

200m semis – 2 August (evening)

200m finals – 3 August (evening)

Don’t Blink

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The Briana Williams/Boldon Coaching Conundrum

Jamaica’s national senior and junior athletic trials – known also as the Olympic trials – concluded recently with some sterling performances especially from the female athletes.

One of the outstanding accomplishments at the trials was that of top 400 metres runner, Shericka Jackson.

Jackson opted out of her usual event to take 2nd place positions in the 100 metres and 200 metres, both in personal best times and thus booking her ticket to Tokyo. Both sprint races were won by the great Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce with defending Olympic sprint double champion Elaine Herah finishing third.   

In achieving those best times Jackson joined a select group of female athletes to run sub 11 seconds for the 100 metres (personal best 10.77 seconds), sub 22 seconds for the 200 metres (21.82 seconds) and sub 50 seconds for the 400 metres (49.47 seconds).

Many fans and pundits were surprised by Jackson’s performances at the trials. But if you know how her track club MVP operates those observers should not have been that amazed.

Jackson hinted at this new found speed at the shorter sprint distance in May when she ran a then personal best (11.02 seconds) in the 100 metres at a meet held at the National Stadium.

Jackson’s ascendancy at the trials was at the expense of the rising star Briana Williams who many expected to take the third spot in the sprint events behind Fraser-Pryce and Herah.

Williams,19, ran a personal best time of 11.02 seconds for the 100 metres on the same day as Jackson did a similar time in May.

By national trials in the 100m finals Williams’ (who finished 4th) time was 11.01 compared to Jackson’s astonishing 10.82. Williams also made the 200m finals at the trials but did participate.

Williams’ rise has been staggering under the tutelage of Ato Boldon, himself former Olympic sprint medalists and now coach as well as a sports broadcaster.

But in Williams’ two biggest races of her short professional career – the Jamaican national trials of 2019 and 2021 – Boldon was nowhere to be seen in the stands to lend support to his number 1 athlete and most prominent client due to his media commitments.

[In 2019 Williams also failed to make the individual 100m team for the World Championship. She came third in the 100m trials but was reprimanded after testing positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide that she took during the trials after feeling unwell.]

Boldon also works a commentator/analyst for NBC in the United States. NBC  covers the annual US National track and field trials with Boldon and the likes of  Sanya Richards-Ross in the commentary booth.

Both the US trials and the Jamaican equivalent happens generally around the same week and thus Boldon was in Oregon providing colour commentary for US TV audiences.

But given Williams’ star quality and potential, should Boldon have been in Jamaica to assist in her preparation for the trials? Yes.

A number of the US-based Jamaican athletes that took part in the trials spoke in glowing terms of the US college coaches who took the time to be there with them  in Jamaica.

Can Williams really have a coach who is not there with her in person for the big races?

This is an issue that the Williams camp will have to consider going forward as there are major championship events coming up annually. The speed at which Jackson has caught up with passed Williams must have taken them by surprise and raise cause for concern.

One thing we know and expect from MVP track club – that farmed out Jackson as the surprise package – is the churning out of more top female sprinters in the coming years.

It will be difficult to see Jackson ever revert to running the 400 metres given from her high school days 200 metres was her pet event. In Hungary recently, Jackson gave Shaunae Uibo-Miller her first defeat in a 200 metres race in over 3 years.

Given how fiercely competitive female sprinting has suddenly become – locally and globally – do not be surprised if the Williams camp decide to change tact in the medium term and opt for a more hands-on coaching setup to help in Briana’s development.

(See how quickly the Jamaican track media fraternity/public has suddenly forgotten Briana’s name since the trials )

There is nothing wrong or disloyal about top athletes changing coaches at such a young age. Maybe Boldon has taken Williams as far as he can. We know there are very good sprint coaches around who may be able to eke out more speed to get Briana into even the top 3 in Jamaica.

Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce switched coaches from MVP to join Reynaldo Walcott’s Elite Club in April this year. In the twilight of 34 year old Fraser-Pryce’s long career she is now running the best times of her life including sub 22 seconds for the 200m.

We saw at the recent US trials where Sydney McLaughlin, 21, decimated the 400 metres hurdles world record. In a post-race interview McLaughlin praised the work of her new coach the great Bob Kersee.

The 2022 World Athletics Championship will be held next July in off all places Oregon, USA, the home of Nike. As a Nike sponsored athlete Williams will be dead keen to represent Jamaica and her brand in the individual sprint events.

If the Jamaican and US trials are held over the same period next year – which is highly likely – the Williams camp should expect some guarantee from now that coach Boldon will be in Jamaica to help prepare Briana.

It is just not a good look when a young talented promising athlete such as Briana is thousands of miles from her coach during those career defining races.

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Past & Present RJR Crew: In Their Own Words

In order to get the slightest inclination into the history of Jamaica post 1962 there is no more a reliable source than the island’s local radio stations.

So it is welcoming to our ears that Radio Jamaica’s Beyond The Headlines has a segment on Friday evenings (6 05pmish) where host Dionne Jackson-Miller interviews current and former staff of RJR (now known as Radio Jamaica) who have worked for this influential radio station that started operations in the 1950s.

Over the past 12+ months listeners have heard Jackson-Miller interview a raft of journalist and broadcasters including Emily Shields, Cliff Hughes, Winston Williams, Erica Allen, Francois St Juste, Patrick Anderson, Dadrian Gordon, Lance Whittaker, Ed Barnes, Alan Magnus, Barry “The Boogie Man”  Gordon and numerous others including Marie Garth, a voice many of us transistorites had not heard on Jamaican radio-land since the early 1980s.

These 40+ minute interviews provide the listeners with a rare insight into how Jackson-Miller’s guests were initially hired by RJR – some applied, some were headhunted after leaving CARIMAC (University of the West Indies), some through word of mouth and another said she contacted RJR and told management that she had something that the company needed.

We also learn how these journalists/presenters honed their journalistic craft, developed a real passion for excellence and a love for their work and colleagues.

One of the consistent themes made by all of Jackson-Miller’s guest is the appreciation and support they received from many unsung heroes at RJR in  background  whether it be management, production or engineering e.g. Holford “Hol” Plummer, Jennifer Delisser-Lyons, Janette Mowatt, Courtney Sergeant and Dorothy “Dotty Dean” LaCroix.

We also learn from Jackson-Miller’s guests about some of the legendary colleagues that influenced their time at RJR; some of whom sadly are no longer with us today such as Uncle Neville Willoughby, Dorraine Samuels and the irreplaceable Hugh Crosskill Jr.

Jackson-Miller’s interviews with Cliff Hughes and Winston “The Whip” Williams were two of my favourites.

Hughes has a way with words and its delivery that made his conversation with Jackson-Miller  compelling listening such as his description of a near death experience during his coverage of Hurricane Gilbert (1988) with 3 other colleagues.

I did not know that it was Hughes – when at the publicly funded Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) – that first commissioned Entertainment Report/ER  3 decades ago as a 5-minute programme  presented by Anthony Miller. Today, ER (now 45 minutes) is required Friday night TV viewing by many with Miller still in the hot seat.

Williams (“Winston from Kingston”) from his early media days in the 1970s and 80s was electrifying backed up by his elocutionary remarks. Williams brought that same vigor and exuberance to his chat with Jackson-Miller. I loved the story of Williams fixing his big afro into perfect position and slapping on some cologne ahead of reading the news – on radio.

These interviews by Jackson-Miller are so essential in capturing the history of Jamaican media from those who were and still at the heart of its development.

For decades Jamaica had 4 radio stations – RJR, RJR-FM, Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) and JBC Radio 2. By the 1990s more stations came on board including Nationwide (launched by Hughes), Klas, Hot 102, Love FM, Kool FM,  Power 106 and IRIE FM.

Today, there are 25-30 radio stations (I’ve lost count) including some that are solely online. Many of the presenters across the current radio stations can trace their media roots and inspiration (directly or indirectly) back to RJR.

There is not a more poignant example of the importance of these interviews than when Jackson-Miller spoke to Michael Sharpe  -who sadly left us earlier this year – especially when Sharpe described detail his trailblazing eyewitness coverage of the US invasion of Grenada (1983).

I am sure there are podcast of these interviews somewhere on Radio Jamaica’s One-Spot Media platform.

Respect to Jackson-Miller for this excellent and very revealing segment.


 RJR 65th Anniversary Magazine – 2015

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Passenger Rail Services Returning to Jamaica?

Jamaica’s Transport Minister, Robert Montague, recently announced in parliament plans for the restart of the local rail passenger service on a restrictive access basis.

In a very brief statement on the subject of passenger railways Montague said:

“As for the Jamaica Railway Corporation, Madam Speaker, its workshop in Kingston has been restored and a solar light project there has been completed in order to restart the school train service from Old Harbour and Linstead via Spanish Town. We are working with the Jamaica Hertitage Trust to restore our station houses especially the Old Harbour Station.

In partnership with the JUTC and the Ministry of Education, we are hoping to move our children from Old Harbour and Linstead into Spanish Town by train. Then the JUTC will pick up and drop them off at the various schools in Spanish Town. In the afternoon the reverse will take effect. Along with the students, teachers, parents, health care and other essential workers will be prioritized for this service at first. Last Thursday, the train went to Linstead on a test run. This is not talk, this is a clear demonstration of the will of this government to build back stronger”

Montague went on to state this new plan for the railways was not all talk. Yet I have to quickly question the wisdom of trying to bring in a public passenger rail service and initially restrict who will be allowed on the trains. Red tape nonsense.

The vision from government looks short sighted, piece mealed and chaka-chaka.

One of the most shameful actions by both PNP and JLP governments since Jamaica achieved independence in 1962 was the lack of passion and vision to develop the then passenger rail service which sadly led to its complete closure by the 1980s.

During the previous JLP administration, Mike Henry, then Minister of Transport, in 2011 initiated test runs for passenger rail services to restart in the parishes of St Catherine and Clarendon. But when the PNP took power a year later, Omar Davies (Henry’s successor in the portfolio) quickly abandoned the pilot service.  Silly decision.

Just think, even though there is no passenger rail services in Jamaica yet the bauxite companies still use the said railway lines to transport their material.

Jamaica is flooded with numerous investments from China. Yet, if there is one area of expertise that Jamaica governments should have sought from their Chinese investors was in the development of a modern passenger railway network of railways and rolling stock.

We just need to look at how China has transformed the railways across Africa. Jamaica can look closer to home at their neighbours Cuba, where in 2019 that nation introduced modern passenger railway stock from China.

Speaking of railway expertise, Jamaica was one of the first countries in the world to have railway services in the mid 19th century. In fact that said Spanish Town to Old Harbour route that Montague mentions began operating in 1869!

One of the spin-offs of that period was that many Jamaicans were skilled in the area of railway construction and development and thus their skills were in constant demand across the Americas in the 19th and early 20th century in countries including Panama and Ecuador.

In Ecuador during the early 1900s up to 4000 Jamaicans worked on some of the most treacherous areas of the railway line including the famous The Devil’s Nose. Sadly many lost their lives during its construction and today there is a large cross in a local cemetery to commemorate the deaths of those Jamaicans.

Britain’s railway was saved post World War 2 by the significant input from people from the Caribbean including thousands of Jamaicans. Today, many Jamaicans can still be found at all levels of various organisations that oversee the UK’s railway and tube services from front offices through to senior management.

It is embarrassing that such a high level of railway expertise by Jamaicans living the UK has never been uitilised to its full potential back in their home country.

A modern passenger railway network is needed in Jamaica for so many reasons including getting people out of their cars which could reduce road fatalities and air pollution. Passengers train services will improve the overall efficiency of the economy in getting people from A to B in a swifter and less stressful fashion.

[Those who remember the passenger railways service in Jamaica will know that one thing about trains then – punctual.]

Imagine railway service that links the airport in Montego Bay to its Kingston equivalent and what that would do for the economy?

I will remain optimistic that one day, one sweet day that Jamaica will have the kind of modern passenger railway service it has missed for generations.

Let’s hope an innovative and modern nationwide rail passenger service becomes a centrepiece of the government integrated transport service. As certain parishes continue to get more densely populated a nationwide passenger railway service is needed more than ever.

Given the warm temperatures of Jamaica the government could look into bringing in expertise to develop a railway infrastructure run on renewable energy e.g. solar powered?

Back in the 1970s/1980s rail travel was my favourite mode of transport. In doing so I began to really appreciate how beautiful and scenic the island is from Port Antonio to Montego Bay/Kingston via Old Harbour.

Let’s all hope those folks mandated to deliver a modern integrated transport programme will understand that trains has to be a vital cog in any such system going forward.

More highways for vehicles is not the answer

Useful Sources

Early Jamaican migration to Ecuador and influence

https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/news/20150821/early-jamaican-migration-ecuador-and-influence

London Underground’s Windrush generation

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Shelly-Ann Delivers Landmark Performance on Jamaican Soil

When Shelly -Ann Fraser Pryce blitzed the 100m last Saturday at 9.15 a.m.ish to obliterate the national record in a pulsating 10.63 it shook the foundations of athletics. In becoming the 2nd fastest woman of 100m ever Fraser-Pryce did something on Jamaican soil that few expected but she had been hinting a possible sub 10.7 mark as one of her goals this year – and you know when Shelly-Ann sets her goals.

But in creating such a jaw dropping landmark Fraser-Pryce may have just have delivered the greatest sporting moment on Jamaican soil of which they have been many over the years.

My own top ten sporting moments that took place in Jamaica land-we-love in no particular order would be:

  • (Boxing) January 1973 at the National Stadium – George Foreman’s annihilating then undefeated and seemingly unstoppable world heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. Probably the biggest sporting event ever held in Jamaica.
  • (Athletics) May 1975 at the National Stadium – Filbert Bayi (Tanzania) broke Jim Ryun’s 1967 mile world record at the National Stadium
  • (Cricket) April 1976 at Sabina Park – India lost to a West Indies team that unleashed a 4-man fast bowling attack that caused havoc. The Indian team failed to bat out both innings due to injuries and fear of injury. It was the turning point for West Indies cricket and began an era of dominance across the globe.  Just a shame the public TV broadcaster – JBC – never kept the tapes.
  • (Cricket) February 1972 at Sabina Park – Lawrence “Yagga” Rowe (West Indies) scoring a double century (214) and a century (100 not out) on his test debut against New Zealand. Rowe had achieved legendary status at regional cricket and after what he did on his debut Yagga became a hero to those including Vivian Richards. The are some in Jamaica who would wish for Rowe’s existence to be erased for his sojourn to apartheid South Africa but no one can take away Yagga’s blazing start to his test career.
  • (Athletics) 2002 at the National Stadium – Usain Bolt winning the World Juniors 200m. Bolt in his own words summed up that moment.
  • (Cricket) April 1981 at Sabina Park – England’s opening batsman Graham Gooch slapped 153 runs against the fearsome bowling of Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall at a strike rate of 72%. It was brutal batting by Gooch with that heavy bat of his.

  • (Cricket) March 1935 at Sabina Park – George Headley’s 8 hour marathon score of 270 against England played a crucial part in part in the West Indies winning their first ever test series.
  • (Netball) March 2002 at the National Stadium –  Jamaica 46 – New Zealand  44 The Sunshine Girls first ever win over the perennial world champion – the Silver Ferns – was a major shock.  For decades Jamaica has been ranked in the world’s top 4 on a consistent basis but had never beaten New Zealand.
  • And Shelly-Ann last weekend. But no spectators were allowed for lockdown reasons.

My own personal favourite was Bayi’s performance as there is something captivating about any front running middle distance athlete who sets their own pace and breaks a world record in the process at the most unlikeliest of venues.

No surprise if the above top ten is revised before the end of June as Shelly-Ann, Elaine Thompson, Briana Williams, Kemba Nelson and other world class female sprinters will be lining up for the women’s 100m (and possibly 200m) at the Olympic trials. Because one thing we learnt for sure from last weekend’s buzz was that 10.5secs for 100m on local soil looks possible.

Plus, we could see at least 4 Jamaican female sprinters dip under 10.9 seconds in the same race should conditions allow.

But to the government, follow the example set by other nations and allow even some of the public medical staff to attend the Olympic trials. Those staff deserve a special day out and Shelly-Ann and co merit even a few fans in the stadium to watch more sparks fly.

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Jamaica’s Public Accounts Committee – Setting a Chaotic Example

The Jamaican paliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing last Tuesday decended into more farce as some of the government (JLP) and opposition (PNP) members turned the proceedings into a car-crash of a kangaroo court in their quest to humiliate their guest – Pamela Monroe-Ellis, Auditor General.

For the latest 2 PAC sittings Monroe-Ellis has been at parliament to respond to the audit report conducted into her office by the internal auditors from the Ministry of Finance.

The shouting, the self-serving and lack of respect shown by some PAC members  towards Monroe-Ellis even drew criticsm from former prime minister Bruce Golding (JLP) in a letter to the Jamaica Observer

Julian Robinson’s (PNP) chairmanship of the PAC has been underwhelming since he succeeded Mark Golding. Yes, Robinson is chairing a committee filled mostly  of JLP members but he is not displaying the political finesse required for such an important position.

[The main role of the PAC is to scutinize audit reports on public bodies filed in parliament by the Auditor General’s Office and question key individuals relating to such reports such as senior civil servants and heads of public agencies.]

At a previous PAC hearing in February Robinson was taken to task on his overall stewardship by government member Mrs Juliet Holness and it seems he has not recovered from that public mauling.

During last weeks hearing of the PAC Robinson should have ensured that the auditor general delivered her opening statement uninterrupted. But less than 3 minutes into Monroe-Ellis opening statement she was constanlty disrupted by some government PAC members.

The quality of the questions raised by some members of the PAC towards the auditor general was nothing short of substandard and borderline ignorance. Some questions gave the impression that MPs came to the sitting under prepared. Such as when one member asked Monroe-Ellis what was her qualification – information that is freely available on the website of the Auditor’s General Office.

Government members such as Heroy Clarke shouting and raving was just out of order. Plainly this manoeuvre was hatchet job to get at Monroe-Ellis given that her audit reports into government spending has caused much embarassment, resignations, sackings and public outrage over how public money has been misused.

The government members of the PAC seem to spend much of the last 2 sessions obssessed about why Monroe-Ellis was not present at the entrance/exit interview with the auditors from the Ministry of Finance.

If only member Holness (a former auditor) was there at these 2 sittings then she could have told  her colleagues that auditors rarely discuss their audit plans/findings with the head of the organisation under review.

Normally the head of the organisation under review delegates that role to a senior go-to-person for the auditors to consult and update. The head of the organisation may be part of the exit interview if serious failures have been detected in the audit especially if potential criminal behaviour has been flagged.

The melodramatic response by some PAC members towards Monroe-Ellis on who she spoke to in the media all seems to be a red herring in order to just publicly shame the auditor general. Such questioning about media contacts crossed a line that the media needs to take note.

So after 2 sittings little has been discussed about the actual findings of the audit report into the Auditor General’s Office and thus the PAC continues to waste precious time and public money on pointless issues and point scoring.

Maybe at the next PAC sitting with the auditor general, member Holness will be there to keep her underlings in line and raise the standard of questioning and behaviour.

On the other hand, chairman Robinson has to take charge of the proceedings in a more controlled and shrewd manner.

Further reading

Gov’t members hound auditor general in media leak inquiry – Daily Gleaner

Mystery solved PAC meeting caused Monroe Ellis to miss exit audit – Daily Gleaner

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Blackmore’s Commanding Grand National Triumph

Jockey Rebecca Blackmore keeps giving us reasons to applaud her breathtaking exploits on the racecourse.

Having won Saturday’s Grand National at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool, England on Minella Times, Blackmore enshrined her name in sporting history for eternity. She became the first female jockey to ever win the 4m+ race that can be ranked as one of the most demanding activities in all of sport.

The Grand National is the biggest horse race in the world and Blackmore’s just went and won it with a superb piece of riding over 30 fences.

Blackmore was in 2018 one of my 6 persons of the year for coming so close to becoming champion jump-jockey in Ireland. Her runner up was as good as winning given how competitive jump racing in Ireland.

Having earned so much acclaim for finishing last month’s Cheltenham Festival as top jockey you wondered what further superlatives could Blackmore pull off for the season.

In Saturday’s big race Blackmore had Minella Times in the right place throughout the 9+ minutes. A habit this young Irish jockey tends to do in all her rides.

The reaction of Blackmore’s win by race announcer Rupert Bell on Talksport Radio and his colleague Lizzie Kelly (a former top-top jockey) in the commentary box was radio gold. Just raw passion for the moment.

Winning the Grand National is no easy feat. It is never just about how good a horse or jockey is to win such a prestigious event. Some of the best horses and jockeys in British and Irish racing history have not come close to winning the National.

Blackmore is just unique. Full credit to Minella Times‘ trainer Henry De Bromhead for giving Blackmore the top job in his stable. The way De Bromhead talks about Blackmore is just respectful and mature.

Blackmore has simply saved racing given recent scandals and the pandemic. So this period of Blackmore mania is great for racing and all of sport.

So what else is there for Blackmore 31, to do in 2021?

Well, she is currently second in the Irish jockey Championship and has every chance to over haul leader Paul Townend before the season ends in a few weeks time.

Blackmore occasionally rides (& wins) on the flat as well, so don’t be surprised if this superb jockey has further success during the summer at Royal Ascot, the classic races in Ireland, England and France.

On 28th September 2018 Blackmore rode a winner on the jumps at Downpatrick racecourse and later that said day she went to Dundalk racecourse and won a race on the flat. A unique feat in modern horseracing.

Let’s hope Blackmore’s racing agent is on the phone to top flat Irish trainer Aidan O’Brien to get on a horse for her to ride in the Epsom or Irish Derby for June.

‘I’m really quite emotional., You’re told from a young age that you can’t do it and Rachael has just proved that you can.

“I’m sorry I don’t mean to be emotional but it means so much and she’s such a nice girl. She really does deserve it.” – Lizzie Kelly, retired jockey

Rachael Blackmore: 'It's just a dream' - the Irish jockey's family react to  her becoming the first woman ever to win the Grand National - Independent.ie
Prodigious

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West Indies vs Sri Lanka – Man of the Series: Garfield Burford

The Sri Lankan cricket team’s tour of the West Indies came to an end on Friday with the 2 test series against their hosts both ending in good draws. Due to the ongoing pandemic all of the international matches (West Indies won ODI & T20 series) were held in the beautiful bubble of Antigua and Barbuda.

Yet one of the highlights and indeed surprises of the games for me was the radio commentary of the matches from a certain Garfield Burford from Antigua and Barbuda Broadcasting Service (ABS).

Burford is well known to Jamaican viewers for years as a co-anchor for CVM-TV’s flagship daily evening news and host of a weekly current affairs programme on the said tv station. At all times on CVM-TV Burford came across as impressive and well prepared. A quintessential professional.

Burford rose to global prominence when he covered then US President Barack Obama’s visit to Jamaica in 2015.

In 2016, Burford left CVM-TV in Jamaica and moved on to ABS to work as a consultant/broadcaster. The next time I saw Burford on screen was when he interviewed Dominican Prime Minister, Roosevelt Skerrit in 2017 in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of parts of the Eastern Caribbean.

So it was surprising to hear Burford’s voice in the commentary box during a number cricket matches in Antigua & Barbuda. I was not even aware that Burford liked sports. But according to Burford’s former colleague, Orville Higgins (host of Sports Desk on Klas fm), Garfield is a passionate fan of cricket. You could feel Burford’s fervour for the sport coming through during the matches.

Burford’s commentating during the matches was smooth, flowing, lively, informative and engaging. He was well researched, quick on his feet, ego-free and just a breath of fresh air.

Burford came across as a natural in the commentary box and had no trouble pronouncing the names of the Sri Lankan players, unlike numerous commentators across the globe that comes to mind.

If Burford had not moved to Antigua & Barbuda maybe this golden moment would have missed him – and us listeners.

I do hope Burford’s cricket commentating skills is not restricted just matches played in Antigua and Barbuda, that it develops and opportunities to do similar gigs will come his way.

Burford proved over the shortened West Indian regional cricket season that he is too good to just discuss news and current affairs and that a permanent seat in cricket’s commentary box is more than deserved.

Government of Antigua and Barbuda
Allrounder
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Cheltenham Festival 2021 – Red Letter Week for Blackmore

During this extended period of shutdowns, lockdowns, meltdowns, social distancing and sanitization overload, thankfully horse racing has been a welcome distraction for those who follow the sport, especially in the UK and Ireland.

Many folks that’s known me well over the years would be surprised to learn that I am a big fan of horse racing, but not just any old horse racing.

I like some sports with a certain degree of passion. But when it comes to horse racing such personal enthusiasm is on another level – especially jump racing, Irish jump racing. Yet it has nothing to do with my wallet because I have not gambled for years.

Maybe that love of horse racing goes back to my childhood days of 1980s Old Harbour, Jamaica where I  sat on horses at a farm in the community during the summer holidays. Old Harbour from the 1910s to the 1960s was the centre of Jamaican horse racing with its Little Ascot race track hosting race meets until it was officially closed in the late 1950s. But the track and grand stand (then described in the 1920s as futristic ) remained in use until it got sold off.

There was even a time when I had my own riding boots and headgear for a few sessions in Central London. Long story.

But there is something about horse racing in the UK and Ireland that has always stimulated my brain cells. Yet the racing in Ireland is a sport that deserves wider coverage and greater rewards, which leads me on to reviewing last week’s Cheltenham Racing Festival held in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England.

Cheltenham Festival is the Olympics of jump racing for the thoroughbred fraternity from the UK and Ireland. Each year, those 4 days in March brings about one of the best sporting theatres you will see anywhere.

The crowds are generally buzzing, the atmosphere is raucous and friendly and the horses and jockeys deliver endless excitement from the Tuesday to Friday. The emotions of the stable staff, owners and trainers is something to behold.

But with the pandemic still with us, thankfully Cheltenham Festival 2021 show went ahead.

No crowds, no owners, no bookmakers, not even the amateur riders were allowed at the Festival. But the horses, jockeys and media gave us socially distant fans a celebration of racing to remember.  But top British race horse trainers such as Paul Nicholls, Dan Skelton, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Colin Tizzard may think otherwise given they had no winners over the 4 days.

Not even the ghost of the disgraced Irish trainer Gordon Elliott’s ban could overshadow what was a terrific amphitheatre of racing and in particular the continued success of Rachael Blackmore who finished as top jockey of the meet with 6 winners. A tremendous feat when you think of the numerous heavy falls Blackmore had during the week from a number of horses.

The Irish winning 23 of the 28 races came as no surprise. Irish racing over the past 2 decades has been top draw, fiercely competitive at all levels and horses never stop delivering excellent finishes. Their trainers and jockeys consistently give great informative interviews to the media.

The prize money is far better in Ireland and Graded (top class) happens Sunday to Saturday unlike in the UK where such races occur mainly on Saturdays.

Throughout the season the Irish raiders have cleaned up on some of the big handicaps on UK soil. No doubt an Irish horse will start favourite for the Grand National despite English trained Cloth Cap currently holding that lofty tag.

Even one of those British wins was rather hollow this week given Galvin was only running under an UK tag because his real trainer, Gordon Elliott, received a 1 year suspension just days earlier for sitting on dead horse while posing with his phone.

Despite Elliott’s ban some his horses manage to do well under the names of other trainers knowing full well he will return to the stables. This did leave a bad taste in some punters mouth.

But Rachael Blackmore is just something else. Like I side 2 years ago about her rise to the top of the Irish jockey circuit ‘let’s just be lucky to have her and enjoy her success”.

Blackmore has this knack having the horse she is riding in the right place and with a winning chance. She is tough and uncompromising when fighting for a good position in the races. Her male colleagues know that any little gamesmanship from them in the race would not ruffle her.

It is really tricky to pick out which of Blackmore’s 6 wins was her best because they were all super smartly judged rides. Her victory on Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle) has to get a mention and the mare remains unbeaten and a people’s favourite.

But her ride on Allaho to win the Ryan Air Chase was breathtaking given the speed that horse was going over the last 5 fences. Even Allaho’s trainer Willie Mullins (top trainer at the Festival) was taken aback by the horse’s performance.

Full marks to the media who placed a tiny camera on jockey Harry Cobden in the Ballymore and we were able to see Blackmore on Bob Olinger just crept up next to Cobden and find 3 extra gears and just whoosh away Bob Olinger flew.

 

Blackmore’s main trainer Henry de Bromhead also had remarkable Festival winning 6 races and achieving the rare feat of triumphing in 3 of the big championship races of the meet (Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, and blue riband Gold Cup with Minella Indo).

Blackmore jumped off Minella Indo to ride the other de Bromhead horse, A Plus Tard and came a close 2nd. The scary thing is that de Bromhead  still has Monalee at home still to come into the reckoning for the 2022 Gold Cup.

Delighted to see trainer Sue Smith won a big handicap with the timeless Vintage Clouds. A win for the North whose record at Cheltenham is never great.

Predicting winners or placed runners at the Cheltenham Festival is near on impossible. But I do like to put my wits down for the big meets and to my surprise I did pick 16 winners and 6 runners up including the 1-2 in the Gold Cup.

Easy-peasy it may seem but studying Irish form in real time meant to me for Cheltenham have one simply strategy – avoid English trained horses.

I even managed to select Joe Kidder in the Fred Winter who won at a staggering 80/1, odds that baffled me given trainer Noel Meade was up to something with winning pilot Sean Flanagan, who literally flew into Cheltenham from Ireland under his new pilot licence.

The Gold Cup won by Minella Indo, under a spare ride for Jack Kennedy, was just a terrific race. The riding was superb. The runner up, A Plus Tard, under Blackmore did not jump as well as expected but fought relentless to try and reel in the winner.  Kennedy and Blackmore were just exceptional throughout the 4 days and it was fitting that they fought out the Gold Cup.

Despite winning 6 races Blackmore must thinking what could have been had she stayed on Minella Indo. But you have to say Kennedy looked so smooth and relaxed on Indo from word go.

2 Cheltenham Festivals ago Kennedy, on a hot favourite (trained by Gordon Elliott) chased home Blackmore who won with Minella Indo at 50/ in the Albert Bartlett.  [3rd was the aforementioned Allaho]

Who would have thought that in 2021 Kennedy would win the Gold Cup on Minella Indo from Blackmore and not a Gordon Elliott horse in sight?

That sums up jump racing for you. There’s always drama, a story or 2, the odd scandal and in the end, racing fans cannot wait for the next instalment of the Cheltenham Festival. version 2022.

But for now Blackmore’s brilliance is something to treasure.

Rachael Blackmore crowns dream week with more Cheltenham Festival history | The Independent

Blackmore – 6 of the best

 

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