11 November 2014 | Posted in Quick-Fire Questions | by Michael Long
With no fewer than 18 Olympic and World Championship medals to her name, Jamaican sprinter Veronica Campbell-Brown is one of the most decorated female athletes in track and field. SportsPro caught up with the 32-year-old at this year’s Doha Goals Forum to discuss her philanthropic work, the quest for gender equality in sport, and the growth of track and field worldwide.
Why did you establish the Veronica Campbell-Brown Foundation?
In 2010 I started the foundation in Jamaica to be supportive to girls at the high school level. We start from the beginning of their high school enrolment and go up until graduation. We cover their school fees, anything they need to go to school. We also provide mentorship where we motivate and uplift the girls. I decided to start the foundation because I realised there was a need in Jamaica - there are a lot of students who are not able to go to school or they may not go to school because their parents are not able to find all the money they need. I wanted to play my part. As a female who received a lot of help growing up, I understand what its like to have someone to lend a helping hand. I am very passionate about giving back. My foundation just focuses on girls because I can do more; you cannot help everybody but you have to just find the people you can. I am passionate about helping girls and so those are the reasons why I started the foundation. So far I am the only one funding the foundation but we are looking into ways to raise funds or gain corporate help so we can give scholarships to more girls, because I feel like there are so many girls that need help and I feel like I am not doing enough. I want to do more.
How many girls have you helped so far?
So far, four girls. A couple of them will be graduating in 2015 and after graduation we are thinking of taking on more. But based on the funding and based on [the fact that] it’s new, we are still building, we are still developing. Our hope is to take on a bulk of girls every year or every school term, so we can have new additions to the foundation.
You say you want corporate support for your foundation – do your personal sponsors currently help fund it?
Actually no – I haven’t received any. As I said the foundation was started in 2010 and I am the main funder of it. I will take money from my competitions to run the foundation, to take care of the needs of the girls.
"My duty is to continue to speak about issues like inequality for women and to try to work with women in sport in particular to try and close the gap."
Are you in discussions with your personal sponsors or the partners of the Jamaican Athletics Association about receiving some assistance?
Those are good ideas. I have never explored those possibilities but those are good ideas; something I should look into.
As you have got older and your career has developed, have you felt a greater responsibility to help the next generation of athletes?
Everything I have achieved is through sport and I’ve been helped growing up by having positive people in my life and by having the support I needed to be the person I am today. When I was young I knew that when I was able, I would have to give help because what good is it when people help you but you don’t help anyone? It’s something that I hold dear to my heart and as I grow older, I feel like I want to do more on the philanthropy side. It’s almost like I want to help everybody but it’s impossible. So I’ve started in Jamaica with the foundation and it’s my hope that in the future we can expand to other third-world countries or even first-world countries where there are girls with needs.
When you were growing up, did you see a lack of opportunity for young girls who were bidding to become professional athletes?
I received support when I was younger from outsiders. My parents helped me as best as they could but I was lucky to have a few companies who were behind me in high school to supply food items and equipment. Those little things have done a lot for me, and so I realised that it doesn’t matter how small it is, we need to give back because we can make a big difference in other’s lives.
You also currently serve as a Unesco goodwill ambassador. What does that role involve?
I am designated as a Unesco ambassador for gender equality in sport. My duty is to continue to speak about issues like inequality for women and to try to work with women in sport in particular to try and close the gap. Because I realised that women are not as celebrated, women do not receive equal pay. In my sport, women run the same distances as men but at the same time their payment is way larger than ours. So those are some of the issues that my mandate allows me to speak out on, and I hope that women can continue to work together to work towards closing those gaps.
What, in your opinion, is the secret to Jamaica’s success in athletics?
I think that a lot of Jamaican athletes see sport as a way towards a better life and there are a lot of gifted athletes in Jamaica – it is so competitive. Because of the competitive nature of Jamaican sport, particularly in track and field, and the need to have a better life, people are motivated and work hard. Those are some of the things that keep Jamaican athletes performing well at the highest level. From high school level they are motivated and they know the importance of hard work and pursuing one’s dreams.
What is your fondest memory from your career?
Winning the 200m in the Beijing Olympics 2008 is my fondest memory. It was a great race, I ran a fast time and even today I am still chasing that time.
Looking at track and field globally, what can be done to further grow the sport commercially?
I think track and field is a very special sport and although we have a huge audience, I think we still need to create an even bigger audience. I feel that track and field needs to be more publicised. Track and field is more popular in Europe, the Caribbean, certain parts of Asia but there are other countries like America where track and field is not as popular as some other sports like basketball or American football. I believe that we need to work towards developing track and field, make it more appealing and more visible. With that we would be able to get more sponsors for track and field, to be as successful and as loved and well-watched as other sports.
How can the IAAF go about doing that? What needs to be done to widen the exposure of track and field outside of Olympic years?
Based on my experiences when I talk to people, they know when the Olympics will be held, they’re excited about the Olympics, but the world championship, which is track and field’s biggest competition, a lot of people don’t know where it is held or what it is. I feel that we need to educate, we need to let people be more aware of what is going on in track and field, and that will help us to get more people to follow and know the meets and the championships, not only the Olympic Games. People need to know more.