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By Neto Baptiste

Sports minister, Daryll Matthew, has warned that solving the issue of time off for athletes called for national duty is not as simple as passing a law.

Speaking on the Good Morning Jojo Sports Show, Matthew was addressing the perennial issue faced by many athletes forced to choose between their jobs and heeding the call to represent their country.

He said that although those employed by government are more likely to be given the necessary time, others employed in the private sector may not be as fortunate.

“It is not as straight-forward as passing a law that companies must give them time off with pay, because it costs somebody something. Athletes who work for government it is not generally a problem, but it’s a difficult thing in the private sector where you’re going to tell a company, maybe a small business and that athlete may be one of the key persons in that business, that you must give this person time off for three months to go to a camp. What happens to your business?” he said.

“Productivity is affected in your business, profitability is affected and maybe your business’ very ability to be competitive in the sector is compromised,” he added. 

According to Matthew, there has been dialogue in the past with the private sector as to an amicable solution but that the talks, which preceded that start of his tenure as sports minister, bore no fruit.

“I know they had started having some consultations prior to me assuming this post with the private sector to come up with a defined and clear position on the matter. I am not sure if the consultations were complete or what came out of them, but what I do know is that there was not consensus on where to go,” he said.

“The businesses would tell you straight up that someone has to compensate them for the lost productivity they would incur when national athletes who work for them travel, and what you don’t want is for businesses to not hire athletes who are national athletes simply because they don’t want to go through the potential disruption of mandatorily letting them go [travel],” he added.

A number of national athletes have been hampered by the issue in the past with probably the most memorable incident being that of former national footballer “Pampa” Smith back in the 90s.

A number of workers at the then Antigua Brewery downed tools in support of Smith who’s request for time was turned down by the brewery’s management. The player was eventually given the requested time.