Leveraging Jamaica’s Soft Power Through Sport (Part 2/2)


This is part 2 of a two part blog series in which I talk about Jamaica’s Soft Power. They are based on a presentation I delivered on February 20- 21, 2013 at the Opening of a Sports Museum at the GC Foster College of Sports and Physical Education, Spanish Town, Jamaica – the first of its kind in the Caribbean, following which was a Sports Symposium where  academics, politicians and sports professionals gathered to discussion the development of sports in Jamaica. I talked about what Jamaica can do its leverage its soft power in the world through Sport. The following is the part 2 of my presentation.


Jamaican Sprint Relay team taking their victory lay during the Beijing Olympics 2008

Jamaican Sprint Relay team taking their victory lay during the Beijing Olympics 2008

Sport is already taking a certain aspect of Jamaican culture and values around the globe. Not just to the Jamaican Diasporic community in the United States and the UK but to Australia, Asia, Europe – every continent. Excluding reggae and our high profile music stars such as Jimmy cliff and Shaggy, sport is Jamaica’s greatest asset: Jamaica has been participating in the Summer Olympic Games for 64 years. The nation has achieved far more medals per capita than any other country at the Olympics. From the London Games of 1948 (and later Helsinki in 1952), three black men from Jamaica – Herb McKinley, George Rhoden and Arthur Wint – sprinted into athletic history, and set a precedent for the nation’s extraordinary sporting performance at these Games. This story is yet to be told and embedded in the psyche .

  • In the modern era, the likes of Merlene Ottey, Usain Bolt, alongside compatriots, Asafa Powell, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell Brown have set new bars of achievement in world athletics.
  • At the Beijing Games of 2008it was the first time (since the men from the United States did it in 1912) that all the medals in the 100m race were won by athletes from a single country.These stellar performances concretized Jamaica’s athletic know-how; catapulted the nation’s global sports brand, justified the label given to Jamaica – the “sprint factory” and truly has captured the imagination of the world. Yet we pretend it isn’t happening – waiting for cheap recognition of this from global media every four years.

What does  this mean for BRAND JAMAICA; why is Sport important to Jamaica’s brand?

Jamaican Olympic gold medalist, Shelly Ann Fraser -Pryce

Jamaican Olympic gold medalist, Shelly Ann Fraser -Pryce

Sport has become a core pillar of Jamaica’s national identity – how the nation sees and talks about itself, as well as its brand identity – how the nation positions itself in the world; how it expects other people to see and talk about the nation. This is not exclusive to Jamaica. Sport has always been a means by which powerful nations not only exhibit their skill and superiority, but also define and project their national image. In 1936, Adolph Hitler used the Berlin Olympic Games to illustrate German skill and the superiority of the Aryan race (Wikipedia, 1936 Summer Olympics). Sport was also, for America, another avenue by which to display its ability and exhibit its supremacy. Since American Jesse Owens accomplished athletics history by capturing four gold medals at these same Berlin Games, the world basked in America’s glory and stood in awe of the consistency of her achievements. Jesse Owens became the marker of such success and later, Jackie Joyner–Kersee, Carl Lewis, Marion Jones, Gail Devers and Michael Johnson, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gaye – who, individually and collectively, helped to further and embed American domination in world athletics, and advance its favorability in world opinion, and its national image.With the increasing awareness of Jamaica competitiveness in athletics comes something vital; comes the sense that it is not the nation with the biggest army that wins the hearts and minds of the world but one that tells the better story. What shall Jamaica’s narrative be?

 Jamaica’s Sporting Narrative

A Nation of the World’s Top Sprinters. At the moment, outside of Usain Bolt, no other Jamaican athlete has achieved the kind of global prominence and media presence he has. ‘Brand Bolt’ is not accidental. His management team alongside sponsor Puma exploited his physicality, aspects of his personality, his skill and Olympic stardom and built a global brand – which is still developing. The brands of Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Veronica Campbell Brown, Chris Gayle and myriad others is yet to be established. These are Jamaicans who have helped to shape Jamaica into an internationally-recognised brand in sport, and already influence how the world sees and understand Jamaica and its people. Our athletes are a ready-made corps of soft power, promotional ambassadors for the nation. Their brand images – if well positioned – can help to further shape the nation’s image abroad and mobilise returns in the areas of sports marketing and sports tourism. Every time I see Asafa Powell write a tweet, I think to myself, he should be spending his time writing a book about “Preparing to Race”.

Jamaican sprinters - Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell

Jamaican sprinters – Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell

A Nation with the World’s Leading Institute of Sport Technique and Education (that can attract student-participants from across the world). Of course there must be policies to further this agenda. An Education Policy for example to allow selected schools, colleges and universities (such as GC Foster) to expand their sports curriculum to accommodate foreign athletes who wish to be educated as well as do their training here. I am aware that there are individual students from the Caribbean and elsewhere who may already be here, but this is a mere drop in the bucket compared to what is possible. Semester abroad programmes now attract students to different countries. Students choose countries, which offer them a variety of tourism, education and professional development offerings. They want to immerse in the culture, learn about it while embracing study areas that will advance them towards their chosen fields. Targeting track and field athletes across the world is not a bad idea.

A Nation with the Best Athletic Coaches; A Nation of Geniuses in Sprint Technique (whom can promote their sport techniques and skills as a business). This is not a pipe dream. Nor is it extraordinary. A group of Australian athletes just left the island, having recently participated in a techniques workshop with Jamaican coaches. This shouldn’t be a one –off affair. This ought to be part of the new sport services industry complete with the right infrastructure and resources.

A Nation fashioning new models in Sport Cuisine (Or perhaps we are merely satisfied with the story that Usain Bolt loves to eat Yellow Yam).

usainbolt12A Nation with a talked about Sports Museum that is able to kick start the very lucrative Sport Tourism Market. This institution, a leading institution for Sports Education in the region can no longer afford to be as quiet as it has been for more than a decade. It exists in a country reknowned for sports and so it must use this glorious opportunity to position itself as a world-class institution. You have done amazing things, hosts major events, honoured sports players and workers; yet aside from a couple newspaper articles here and there, GC Foster is not known. No Twitter page – what is up with that? No blogs. Don’t leave your stories and narratives to the mercy of traditional media. Take charge of your own brand – promote the skills and achievements of your Faculty, students and graduates to the rest of the world.

This is what we mean when we speak of leveraging Jamaica’s soft power through Sport. We must begin to leverage our sporting EXPERTISE, SKILLS and TALENT. Our soft power lies in the global appeal of our skill and talent in track and field, and myriad other sporting disciplines; the enduring values of hard work, discipline, focus and other personal and professional dispositions which make our sprinters and other sports men and women succeed and become among the best in the world.

 Public Policy

I cannot conclude without talking about Policy and the role of Government. Government must enact its Sports Policy to further this soft power agenda. Jamaica has yet to capitalise on its status as one of the world’s most famous and popular nation brands. Being popular is not the same as being strong. So much work needs to be done to strengthen our national image. The Jamaican government has managed embed, through its Tourism authority a flawed and limited view of the country – A view that is skewed towards aesthetic factors such as sun and sea. Now it’s Usain Bolt running over the river and the sea. The Government has to get on board and reboot Jamaica’s image by promoting Jamaica’s credentials in business, the creative industries, technology and sport. Despite the fact that developing a unique national brand is a key strategy for nations that need to compete in a globalized world, there is no core “building BrandJamaica” programme underway; no government department working across sectors to promote the skills and achievements of Jamaica to the rest of the world. Our athletes have projected a compelling national image of Jamaica. The government must lead the way in capitalising on the potential of these developments.

How do we Effect this “Soft Power” Revolution– We have to tell Our Own Stories

Jamaican sprinter, Herb McKinley at the 1948 Olympic Games in Berlin

Jamaican sprinter, Herb McKinley at the 1948 Olympic Games in Berlin

The Jamaican government has opted for traditional mainstream media campaigns to market Jamaica. It has also depended on outsiders to tell the story of our achievements in their own way, playing up stereotypes and oversimplifying us. Traditional advertising campaigns are expensive and unsustainable. A content marketing strategy such as that being used in Australia is what we ought to be applying. It is more engaging and sustainable. Basically, content marketing is the art of communicating without selling. Instead of pitching beaches and resorts, we deliver information that makes the target public more intelligent. The essence of content strategy is the belief that if we, as a nation deliver consistent, ongoing, engaging valuable information to the world, the world will ultimately reward us with their business, students, tourists, respect and loyalty. The narratives that show up in the information circulating on the Internet are how nations are being judged. On one day the top stories will be the success of another Jamaican sprinter. The next day it can be a story detailing our homophobic intolerance or mushrooming crime that illustrates to the world that we remain an unsafe society. Ours is a complicated story. Violence and conflict is part of the Jamaican story. But ours is also civilizational story of pirates, a nation of the Maroons, Slave leaders, Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley and Usain Bolt. In other words – Our people are the best evidence we have that Jamaica, like other nations, is an inspired, creative, and globally-engaged nation.

People do not see a society for what it is. They see the stories they are told.  While our people are generally well-respected, are hardworking and affable, this is not always the picture of us out there. We are perceived to be idle laid back (that is the polite phrase for lazy and unconcerned); not very industrious; corrupt, homophobic and violent. The resort centric tourism model; the marketing of Jamaica as sun sand and sea does not match current reality. A more progressive and enlightened view of Jamaica is available and this is the narrative that we have to begin to tell. This is the story of our ‘soft power’. This is the new Jamaica – The nation is currently experiencing a cultural and creative Renaissance. Since Bob Marley and the Wailers captured the imagination of the world in the 1970s, Jamaica’s nation brand image has never been more poised for take-off. There was a time when we would never be caught dead in the Jamaican colours. Today Carbys and Sun Island cannot find enough shirts for the demand. It is our sport successes that are serving as the catalyst for this renewed national self-image. Sports have helped to build and advance a positive Jamaican brand internationally. Yet it is our responsibility to leverage this this global reputation capital and build a lucrative Sports Economy, and to use sport to build social capital and enhance social transformation at home.


Dr. Hume Johnson is a Political Analyst and Professor of Public Relations. She writes and speaks extensively on nation brand, civil society, governance and social movements. Her book Challenges to Civil Society: Popular Protest and Governance in Jamaica is published in 2011 by Cambria Press. She is the Founder of the Re-Imagine Jamaica Project. Please follow us at : https://twitter.com/search/realtime?q=Reimagine+Jamaica&src=typd. Write to us at ReimagineJamaica@gmail.com

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