Athletes are ambassadors for health, that is a general concept. The moment the athlete becomes a professional and goes internationally is when the athlete then becomes an ambassador for something bigger, like a sponsor, a country, and even a culture. The responsibility can bring similarities to that of government ambassadors, where the role is to bring the core ideals and principles to foreign entities.
The purpose of this writing is to clear up a misconception of who we are and our intentions.
I was born in the United States to a Samoan mother. Although that makes me American, my core values are developed by the way I was raised. I was raised in a Samoan culture, a culture of loyalty, honor, family, and among other noble traits. Unfortunately, I couldn’t control where I was born, but I can control what I represent.
I was talented enough to make several USA National teams, including an Olympic Team. For those that know track & field, the USA team is also known as the “hardest team to make”. The task is so difficult, that there are athletes who rank top 10 in the world and still fail to make the USA team. The team is arguably the best; therefore, the athletes represent the best. But, I never felt that representing the “best” was sufficient for my purpose, so I left.
A large part of my family lives in New Zealand and Australia, so that was my initial direction. Although I would have qualified for Australia’s A-Standard Team that pays $80,000 a year, it wasn’t a great enough reason to choose them. I wanted my efforts as an athlete to provide opportunity for others, not just myself. With my unique experience and knowledge, I could become an ambassador to and for Samoa.
I have reached levels in the sport that few have achieved, so it was a perfect opportunity to bring something with me, and that became the nation of Samoa. Samoa deserves honorable recognition by talented athletes, and not a pity clap for unqualified athletes. Samoa should never grace the bottom of the results list, that is not representative of the culture.
It took an unnecessary amount of time to make the switch official (communication, process, etc.), so patience was practiced. However, what I lack patience for is the politics that go along with power given to elected officials who refuse to do their job. Officials (Federation Presidents, Olympic Committee Presidents, etc.) were worried that I wanted to “take” something, or possibly force them to do the work they were elected to do. Well, it’s about time work starts to be done.
There is nothing I would want to “take”. Free Trips? I am an elite track athlete, sponsored by Adidas, that makes a living by racing. Out of the 300+ meets I have travelled to for competitions, three (3) of those trips have been for Samoa, partially paid by my own money. There are arguments that it is an easy way to make an Olympic Team. Alex Rose and myself qualified for the Olympics by our own merits (hitting the qualifying standards), a feat that an average of 25 athletes in the world accomplished in each event. We were one of those athletes.
Samoa was no longer on the list for countries with “unqualified athletes”. There were three (3) countries in Oceania that had qualified athletes for 2016 Olympic Games in Athletics, Australia, New Zealand, and Samoa.
It is not an easy task to be an internationally elite athlete, but for our efforts, we are rewarded with more scrutiny, laziness, and lack of loyalty. We don’t ask for money, but funding does aid in the process. When I hear that the best rugby team in the world pays their athletes 20WST a week, I see disrespect. No wonder they can’t live up to their full potential, because they are treated with ignorance, while the high authority steals their earnings.
The goal is to create wealth for our culture. If you think that you will be rich by funneling money from your sport to your own pockets, then you don’t understand the true meaning of wealth. Sport is bigger than being famous and rich. It is about highlighting the true talents of a nation. We are ambassadors for our country. Therefore, we should be treated as such. Money spent on bettering these athletes is an investment that could enrich Samoa. Why would any team or person visit Samoa if they see how their own athletes are treated internationally?
From the three (3) years I have represented Samoa, I have seen officials do nothing but get free trips, trips spent lounging in sponsored hotels while athletes eat processed food. I have seen officials get elected not off merits, but friendships. I have seen decisions being made about sports they have never attended or know anything about. I have even seen sport funding being spent on bar tabs that date back over 3 years in Apia bars!
That is not the country I was raised to know. All I ask is that officials do their job, and if you can’t, step down for someone else who can. I am more than happy to find well qualified individuals that would be happy to make the change. Athletics Samoa is doing a great job, but they are only a subset of SASNOC. Athletics is not the only sport in Samoa. Prove to me that I made the right decision to represent Samoa, a country rich in culture, loyalty, and honor.
Jeremy Dodson is a Track & Field Olympian who struggles with the idea of perfection, hoping to break the barrier we place on ourselves so that genuine living can take place for everyone.