Founder and current CEO of Team Jamaica Bickle, and motivator, Irwine G. Clare Snr., OD, is a visionary. Clare will tell you that the concept of Team Jamaica Bickle, Inc. really started in 1993. The idea behind the name Bickle, a Jamaican slang for food, was to elicit discussion to get more people involved in the sponsorship of Jamaican athletes participating in the Penn Relays. Having attended Penn Relays prior to 1993, Clare was disturbed by the hostile environment; there was no warm welcome for the Jamaican athletes and so he decided to take action to change all that. In 1994, the organization was formed as a not-for-profit corporation and soon after became a 501(c) (3) organization.
Prior to 1993, there was not much support for Jamaican athletes who were participating in the Penn Relays, Clare observed. Yes, the Jamaica Progressive League would host a reception after the games for the athletes, Clare said, but by then the athletes would be starving, not having the financial resources to facilitate access to nutritious food. Ben Francis, a legend for Vere Technical High and who created a superior athletic team, will testify to the fact that he had no food for his athletes. Irwine remembers the story about a group of athletes back in those days that was staying at the Sheraton Hotel. A bucket of Kentucky Chicken was brought to the athletes. The bucket of chicken was left on the table and, by the time they left the room and came back, the chicken was all gone; the empty bucket remained. The athletes were starving.
Irwine racked his brains as to how he could help to improve the condition of our athletes. He approached Vincent HoSang from Caribbean Food Delights and, after much back and forth and discussion, Vincent HoSang agreed to become a sponsor and has continued to be one even now. Most of the responses to his request for potential sponsors had been negative, Clare said, but with the help of people like HoSang, they have been able to provide somewhat for the visiting athletes and conditions are much improved.
Irwine Clare has taken Team Jamaica Bickle beyond sponsorship of the Jamaican Penn Relay Teams. They support other Caribbean athletes from Grenada, St. Vincent and The Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Bahamas, and Guyana. Although Grace Kennedy is involved in sponsorship, there are many companies that can also step up as sponsors, Clare believes. For the current year, I was told, Calabar, Jamaica College, and Kingston College have already spent $46 million preparing for Jamaica Champs. A million dollars is a million dollars.
Our international athletes, by competing at the Penn Relays, are housed in surrounding areas of Philadelphia. For example, in the town of Valley Forge, which is North East of Philadelphia, where the athletes are predominantly housed, the economic impact of Jamaican athletes living in that city is $860,000 U.S. for the week of the Penn Relays. The University itself gets an endowment for the event, but it does not necessarily translate to benefiting the athletes in providing for their daily needs.
Our athletes need:
- Meals and other refreshments
- Ground Transportation: daily shuttle service from the hotel to the Sports Venue, airport Transfers for arrival and departure
- Discounted Hotel Rates
- Physical Therapy, medical services, Physical Services, mentorship, Lawyers.
Conditions have been inching forward through the years, improving in small steps. The Jamaican Flag was the first foreign flag to fly at the Penn Relays in 2012. The flag was also presented to the president of the University by The Most Honorable Portia Simpson Miller. The Prime Minister attended the Penn Relays in her capacity as Minister of Sports. According to the President of the University of Pennsylvania, the flag flies because of the support and the spectacular contributions that Jamaicans have made over the years to the Penn Relays and the athletes, Clare explained. However, on a day to day basis, the plight of the athletes is not known by most attendees. The vibrant colors of Jamaica convert the venue into a sea of black, green, and gold, and the spirit of the attendees rocks the stadium. Most are unaware that the athletes they are cheering on and are proud of have to struggle to get there. The entrance fee they pay does not go directly toward the benefit of the athletes.
It has been asked over and over, “what do we as Jamaicans get for our huge contribution to Penn Relays?” Not much, Clare stated. The athletes who come to compete at Penn represent different schools. It is not a representation of Jamaica, so to give concessions to one group would violate the NCAA rules (National Collegiate Athletics Association). It simply means that concessions would have to be given to others also, so each school must raise its own funds and bring that to the table. No one school can be given preferential treatment.
Irwine Clare is to be lauded for agitating for change but he is to be commended for jumping in and making it a better world for these athletes who are coming to America, the big unknown, operating on faith and an eagerness to participate.