Non-selection and Abstention – The Case of Jason Morgan

Article by: 
Bernie Panton
May 2, 2017

During last year’s Heroes’ Week celebrations in honour of our triumphant Rio Olympic team, a certain athlete sat quietly in his Louisiana home, still stunned and saddened by his omission from Jamaica’s team to the Games in Rio de Janeiro. Jason Morgan had placed fourth in the Discus throw at the National Championships in July, at which time, only Morgan and national champion, Frederick Dacres, had achieved the Olympic qualifying standard in the event. But Jason was not selected for the Olympic team by the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA).

This came as a surprise to many, since the prevailing practice was for top three qualifiers in each event to have almost automatic selection on our national track & field teams; particularly in cases, like the Olympic Games, where the main cost burden falls on the Jamaica Olympic Association and not on the JAAA.

Rusheen McDonald, after finishing fourth in the 400m flat, won a spot for that event as the third qualifier. Then, long jumper Aubrey Smith, whose allegiance was recently switched to Jamaica from Canada, was also selected as the second qualifier, although he had placed only 7t h at the Championships. This what we had come to expect from the JAAA.

So why was Morgan treated differently? So unusual was the decision that the JAAA’s president, Dr. Blake, felt obliged to make a statement on the matter. He was reported to have stated that there were two main reasons for Morgan’s omission. Firstly, that Morgan had a poor record of performances at the highest levels of competition and did not, therefore, deserve another chance.

Incidentally, Jason had previously won bronze medals at the IAAF Continental Cup and at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. I need not list the names of other Jamaican athletes, from whom much was expected, but who have tended to falter at the starting line in major championships. We would all expect that a caring administration would have provided support for all of these athletes and not rejected any of them.

Secondly, many season leading marks submitted by Morgan during his career ‘lacked credibility’ and were considered ‘suspect’ by the JAAA, especially those in his home state of Louisiana. That was an astonishing assertion, reportedly coming from the President. So if the local governing body has credibility concerns, what then should the IAAF have? But Morgan had set season leading marks, during his twelve year senior career, in places as disparate as Hawaii, New York, Philadelphia, Tennessee and in the two most recent seasons, Missouri. In fact, Morgan’s massive throw of 68.19m in June of 2015 was done in Pearl, Missouri and was the throw which qualified him for the Games by exceeding the standard. It was also the second longest throw world-wide in that year and was ratified by the JAAA as the national discus record. Let us take a look at Jason’s progression in recent years: International medals in 2014; national record in 2015, and then, not selected in 2016 to do an event, for which he had already met the qualifying standard. Strange, isn’t it?

Does anyone really believe that Morgan was left off the team to Rio because he was sub-par at the nationals? Or was it because of his public outburst after the Beijing world championships in 2015? His tearful complaints then sounded, to many, as being more a cry for help than a criticism of the governing body. He “had no shoe contract; had a full time job and had to train under di_ cult conditions without a coach.” We have not heard whether Jason’s statement attracted sanctions and if a hearing was convened. Or indeed, whether the allegations of dubious marks were ever investigated. It would be regrettable if the JAAA was to be seen as joining the small band of sports administrators, who elect to use non-selection to punish their athletes for actions, which they find embarrassing or inconvenient.

The long term effects of the Morgan decision may not be as damaging to Jamaica’s reputation as was that taken six months later to withhold support from Lord Coe’s crusade to rid the halls of the IAAF of the stench of corruption and doping cover-ups. These scandals threatened the credibility of the sport. As the issues swirled around his head, Coe took the extraordinary step of publicly calling on Jamaica and its legendary “knight in shining armour” to win the battle against the ‘evil’ presence in athletics.

Ever since the 1948 Games, Jamaica had been given a leadership role by the developing countries of the world and by some smaller developed ones. In exercising its role, Jamaica has always acted decisively and with passion.- not only in sport but also in matters of trade negotiations, music and race relations. With our recent dominance in the sprints, that image has grown considerably. The rest of the world wants to know Jamaica’s thoughts and direction. Abstention by the JAAA indicates that it cannot support the reform as presented; but the JAAA has to support the primary objective of engendering new trust in the IAAF, by empowering athletes, coaches and Federations; and reinforcing codes of ethics, integrity and antidoping.

Most importantly, Jamaica must be seen as supporting the reforms. The JAAA’s concerns about gender equity and term limits can be debated later.

Non-selection of qualified athletes, like abstention, is an abdication of responsibility. The JAAA has been entrusted with the important task of selecting national teams. Jamaica expects that it will be handled with sensitivity and an appreciation of the tremendous sacrifices which athletes and their families make in preparing for competition; and of the hard work undertaken in attempting to qualify for national teams and thereby earn that special honour of representing one’s country. Jason Morgan, national record holder, deserved that honour.