In support of Maylee: T&T must compensate athletes for national service

After the call for employment from Trinidad and Tobago national senior women’s team football captain, Maylee Attin-Johnson, I had to comment; because it’s an area that I have always felt was a grave injustice to national athletes.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Maylee Attin-Johnson (centre) signals during their 1-0 FIFA Play Off defeat to Ecuador in Port of Spain on December 2. Looking on are teammates Arin King (left) and Kennya Cordner. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago captain Maylee Attin-Johnson (centre) signals during their 1-0 FIFA Play Off defeat to Ecuador in Port of Spain on December 2.
Looking on are teammates Arin King (left) and Kennya Cordner.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

It is safe to say that many national athletes from different sporting disciplines have the same problem. As an ex-national hockey player, I understand the general sacrifices and commitment of the players.

While some people are asleep, most national athletes are up training to excel in his/her sport. After training they go to school and complete assignments or work an 8-4 job before returning to train again in the evening.

Yes, it is a choice they have made. But here is why they should be treated differently.

I made that choice. I got a field hockey scholarship and attended UMass (the University of Massachusetts) in the United States where I got my Bachelor’s degree in Sport Management before I did a MBA in Business Administration at Temple University and returned home.

I decided not to represent my country for my eight years at UMass so that I could focus on not only my studies but also NCAA competition. I also initially choose not to play for Trinidad and Tobago when I returned so I could concentrate on my career.

However, a change in jobs opened a window for me to return to the national team and, in my latter years as a player, I went on to play at the Commonwealth Games, Pan-Am Games, CAC games and qualify for a 2003 Indoor World Cup in Germany.

It was not easy though because there were many times when my responsibilities for my country clashed with my full-time job. After the World Indoor Games in Leipzig I quit and continued on my career path.

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago hockey ladies prepare for international battle.
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago hockey ladies prepare for international battle.

There are many athletes who gave up their sporting duties for their career, which adversely affects the national team. But why should they have to choose?

Being a national athlete is a job and it is not easy to have two jobs at the same time. Wikipedia defines a job as an activity, often regular, and often performed in exchange for payment and any activity that requires mental or physical effort is work. By that definition we can conclude that all national athletes are working for their country; and most without pay.

When national players excel, the entire country benefits from the exposure and international recognition, which can lead to financial gain through tourism or sales for local companies who sell products overseas.

Brian Lara, George Bovell III, Ato Boldon, Keshorn Walcott and Dwight Yorke as well as our national football hockey, cycling, rugby, swimming, cricket and other sporting teams have, at one time or another, all brought positive recognition and marketed our tiny islands. Just like, more recently, the Ministry of Tourism used an exhibition football game against Argentina game to promote Trinidad and Tobago.

National players benefit from exposure and recognition in competing abroad; but they receive little to no financial gains. Why the imbalance? What are the reasons for not paying national athletes or ensuring that they are gainfully employed?

The imbalance occurs because there is rarely any recognition of the players’ value to their country.

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago government feted Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago government feted Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.

There is also the need for policies to ensure consistent performances from our teams and players. Consistency is defined as steadfast adherence to the same principles, course or form, which is needed in developing an athlete or team.

In my opinion, to ensure consistency in any athlete’s development, there needs to a balance of physical health, knowledge building, financial and family/love support. Should there be an imbalance of any of the four highlighted elements, inconsistency in performance will be the result.

In this blog, I am focusing on financial support, in the form of compensation or employment.

The Trinidad and Tobago government and National Governing Bodies (NGB) need to develop policies to ensure all national athletes are compensated for their services to country. We all recognize the value of a performing team and athletes. Therefore, we need to create a balanced environment through policies, which will support national athletes.

Being a national player is not a part-time affair, it is a full-time job and everyone else gets paid in their respective job. Athletes are required to train three to five days a weeks for two to three hours per session. We cannot seriously treat those athletes the same as everyone else in the workforce in terms of compensation and time off.

If we want our athletes to succeed, we either have to pay them to play or find jobs that would fit into their schedules. Without that, we are fooling ourselves and taking advantage of our national athletes.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago track star Jehue Gordon won gold at the 2013 IAAF World Championship in Moscow. (Courtesy
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago track star Jehue Gordon won gold at the 2013 IAAF World Championship in Moscow.

There are several government ministries with diverse employment opportunities that can benefit our national athletes. I suggest creating a job agency for them, which will assist in finding our athletes jobs based on their qualifications in an environment which will support their schedule.

I am not an advocate for mediocrity or entitlement. I am an advocate for excellence; and to excel requires balance.

You will note that I did not highlight the role NGBs should play in looking after athletes. That is another topic.

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  1. Football and cricket players already get per diems AND match fees. In theory anyway.

  2. I think per diems should be a flat rate Kester and sporting bodies that cannot afford to give players better should do so. Then we can have something separate for gold, silver and bronze or qualifying for a major competition like a World Cup or the Olympics.

  3. That’s a good suggestion Lasana Liburd where replacement labour is possible.

  4. My question though is this, I work with an official of thr NAAA so I’m aware of the logistical nightmares he has when they take 50 – 70 athletes to CAC, Pan Am, Jr. Pan Am, world Juniors etc. If the suggestion is to categorize the hand outs/per diems/stipends the track athletes many of whom are world ranked can demand higher stipends than all other national athletes.

  5. Wonderful discourse, I am still unsure about it though but I must admit the brain storming has left me further from an answer as most of the points are excellent.

  6. A stipend compensates them for their time. So that can be a consideration too. Our country can afford it. Although I agree that employment and flexible jobs might be the biggest priority.
    How about if the Government pays for replacement labour when national players are away from their jobs even in the private sector?
    That way another national benefits with a little extra money and work experience too and the disruption to the hiring company is minimised.

  7. I am of the firm view that all athletes who represent their country at tournaments abroad should be paid a stipend based on the number of days that they have to spend away from home. This stipend is to assist with expenses that they would not normally incur if they were in their country e.g. in a cold country you need proper clothing, items like chap stick, sometimes vitamins, items of other types of clothing and sometimes even food if you have allergies etc.
    Then there is the issue of having an employer who has nothing to gain by giving an athlete time off for national duty as opposed to an employer like Petrotrin who at one time absorbed the majority of this country’s national athletes in whatever jobs they were qualified to do so when you got your scholarship and returned home you would have received favourable consideration if there was an opening and then you would be given the necessary time off for training etc. I get the impression that this is no longer so but when I worked there, it was the norm.
    Then we have the incentives if you medal while representing the country and for the life of me, I cannot understand why some standard cannot be used depending on the level of the competition to say that if a national athlete wins a gold medal at Carifta he or she will receive $10,000, a silver medal $7,500 and a bronze medal $5,000 and this would pertain to all the sporting disciplines then if you win gold at the Olympics you will receive $100,000, silver $75,000 and bronze $50,000 and this will apply for all the disciplines etc as opposed to an athlete winning a medal and then all kinds of payments including house and land and the naming of planes and all kinds of incentives are given in no structured manner.
    I think Sherlan’s point is that for all the sacrifices that are made by athletes who very often love the sport and make sacrifices for the game, no consideration is given to them for promoting their country during their college years and when they take part in tournaments e.g. the Captain of the Ladies Soca Warriors feels that they have represented the country proudly and have obtained their degrees and they should be given permanent jobs in the fields in which they are qualified e.g. sports management in her case and in the case of Akheela Mollon, I believe it is psychology. To me, that is a very reasonable request especially if there are vacancies in the private or public sector. She feels that being a national athlete should count for something and I agree with her point of view because those athletes who study and train abroad add great value to our national teams when they represent the red, white and black because of their intense training and fitness levels when they are at college.

  8. But I think we deviate a bit from employment and flexible jobs to, money/stipend. Issuing a stipend doesn’t give the athlete more time to train and “excel”. How far can a stipend go ?

  9. Perhaps a stipend rather than a per diem is appropriate.

  10. Good point Brent. I say a minimum per diem for all national athletes. For the sporting bodies that can pay better like football and cricket, then let the do so. And priority housing and health care once you hit a certain number of caps be it 25 or what have you.
    Kenwyne Jones wouldn’t need it. But maybe a Marvin Phillip, Carlyle Mitchell or Devorn Jorsling would be happy for it.
    A job agency is an interesting suggestion too.

  11. I think the big issue is in most sports the athletes are considered amateurs. So for us to compare amateurs to professionals is not a good example. The Dream team that plays in the Olympics does not get the same treatment and accommodation as the field hockey team. Problem with this situatuon that we are proposing is funding sports but when you pick and choose you willl run into problems.

  12. I was wondering why go and invent the wheel because there’s a lil contradiction now in what u said in the comment before. You are correct we should really take the methods that have been successful and adapt to suit our needs. So you as an ex-national hockey player can probably point these young women in the right direction wrt Sports Management and creating employment for themselves.

  13. There is no comparison to me between the hundreds of hours of work to get on to a national team and welfare. When you are a waiter at a restaurant, a bank clerk or a receptionist, you have the benefit of meeting lots of different people too.
    But you still expect to be paid for your work.
    Is there a financial value for Trinidad and Tobago in what these athletes do? I think most people in marketing and tourism will say: Yes.
    If so, is it really unfair for athletes to expect more than just a trip?
    Who works for a company that doesn’t pay them when they are sent on overseas assignments?
    Steel pan players get a stipend for playing in Panorama and they deserve it.
    How can we tip the guy who carries our grocery bag to our car and yet find zero value in what athletes do when they represent the country? And that includes the ones who don’t medal.
    We can always set standards for compensation based on length of service, amount of caps and medals.

  14. They have years of advantage with their policies and professionalism in Sports. Sports Mgt started is 1966 in the US, 48 years ago. UWI started in 1999, 15 years ago as a minor. There are few trained sports professionals. You would agree that we need trained and qualified sports professionals to change the landscape of the sporting industry in TT. So, we can’t compare, we can learn from the more established countries and adapt to our culture and unique market and experiences

  15. Sherlan, pls explain what you mean by there’s no comparison with other 1st world countries.

  16. There is no comparison with other 1st world countries. We need to develop our own policies base on our athletes needs and unique experiences. A lot has been said from different angles, which is noted.

  17. Trinidad has a serious dependency culture and I’ll say no more.

  18. I think we’re all saying the same thing in different ways.

  19. Hard to disagree with Carlos Lee on that last point. I guess this is norm worldwide across many team sports mainly – indivdual competitors like track stars, tennis players don’t really have this issue. Even in 1st world nations you don’t get payed much if at all for representing your country. In most sports it the leagues/clubs that turn players into millionaries. Its an interesting dilemma which in football for example has led to UEFA deciding to scrap international friendlies & implement a national league from 2018 & the constant club vs country battles across many sports.

  20. Playing for ones national team is not a career. Players are not guaranteed a spot on a national team. It’s based on merit. If they perform consistently and have an impact on the team, they get selected. If they don’t they get the axe. Do you pay a player a salary every time he/she gets call up for duty? Do you find that player a job when he/she gets a potential one-off call up for duty? This is crazy. Who is going to foot the bill? This proposal to pay players sounds more like a Welfare Program. Another 10-days program. Another government handout. By playing for the national team, players are afforded an invaluable platform to showcase and market their themselves and their talents. It’s like posting your resume globally for the world to see. As a result of the global exposure, some players get professional contracts; some players get academic scholarships worth thousands of dollars; some get opportunities in the print and visual media as sports announcer, etc.; some get priority for jobs in their non-sporting disciplines, because the private sector often look favorably at having a “famous” colleague//athlete on their payroll. We don’t need a Welfare Program that pays national team players and perpetuates a dependency on the state, what is needed are programs that can educate our athletes about how to maximize and take advantage of the opportunities playing for the flag brings. Programs that teach them how to use their unique talents to market themselves to potential employers. Programs that teach them how to access academic scholarships. Programs that teach them how to negotiate with their employers, so that they can be afforded the time to train and represent the national team, without fear that they could be fired for failure to complete their tasks and responsibilities. It’s time we stop the gimme gimme syndrome that has been institutionalized by various governments. This dependency culture need to be curtailed.

  21. There is no lack of precedent for other persons such as Teachers, Police, Fire, Nurses who serve their country.. to get preferential treatment particularly when it comes to at least getting a ” a foot through the door” i.e Housing for example. There is even legislation which directs such.

  22. A post-mortem is definitely in order as you said, Savitri Maharaj…hopefully if they do it honestly, and establish some form of corrective action for the future, the team can really benefit.

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