From July 27 to August 12, the world's attention will turn away from collapsing economies, wars, politics, and other challenges of the modern world to watch the 30th staging of the modern Olympics in London.
This year's Olympics are particularly special for the Diaspora communities of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, whose 50th anniversary of independence falls in the midst of an Olympics where several outstanding athletes from across the Caribbean are expected to shine.
The London Olympics that today's Caribbean athletes will face however has transformed since the first small and humble band of West Indian teams went to London for the 1948 Games. In addition to medals, accolades and national pride, our athletes today may also pursue another lucrative prize – the wealth of endorsements and brand sponsorships that awaits the triumphant.
The litter of global brands in today's Olympics was not always so when the modern Olympics launched in 1896 in Athens, Greece. Initiated by French baron Pierre de Coubertin, the modern Olympics sought for peace and the "amicable trials of muscular strength and agility" among all countries.
"We shall not have peace until the prejudices which now separate the different races shall have been outlived," said De Coubertin.
Those "amicable trials" then meant that athletes must compete as amateurs. But while the Olympic Games grew from just 214 athletes from 14 countries in 1896, to an anticipated 10,500 athletes from 205 countries in London, it was not until 1971 that athletes could accept endorsements, payments or prizes. By 1986, professional athletes like American basketball players were permitted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to compete in the Olympics
Before 1971, athletes were sponsored by family members or their governments, not private companies seeking to advertise on athletic accomplishments. Not even outstanding athletes like Jessie Owens could be financially compensated for his achievements at the 1936 Olympics in Germany. Athletes ran for personal achievement and the pride of their respective countries.
There are many people who firmly believe that the modern Olympics have been tainted by the commercialism and inclusion of professional athletes, which arguably give some countries distinct advantages over others. It was not so long ago that sponsorships and advertisements stood as an antithesis to the Olympic spirit.
Some argue that the drive to win commercial wealth at the Olympics and other global competitions have also played a major role in the increase of banned drugs used to enhance performance. This perhaps more than any tasteless advertisement taints the Olympic experience for international audiences as our athletes soar ever higher and faster.
One solution, which is gaining traction, suggests that athletes should be adequately compensated from the beginning, permitting them to reach their highest levels of performance over several years, rising from amateurs to professionals.
Meanwhile, Caribbean sprinters in particular, especially Olympic champions, are finally earning unprecedented commercial success. In the end however, money-making at the Olympics for these Caribbean athletes may not prove to be the root of all evil. For too many of them, success at the Olympics means rescue from relative poverty, as many past Caribbean champions struggled even after their Olympic glory.
So for our fastest and strongest, money-making at the Olympics may also mean empowering their families and communities with their financial success. So many Caribbean athletics have shared their wealth with outreach programs to the disadvantaged. Brand sponsorship in the Caribbean has also expanded beyond the top players to also support rising stars.
And in the end, this is the reason why we will hope and pray to watch our athletes standing proudly on the victory podium while our flags rise in the air. A gold medal is not just a personal victory, but a triumphant upliftment for our people and our Caribbean nations.