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Jamaica 50: Celebration and Reflection

It is known as the “office” when the national football team, the Reggae Boys, play there. And every year, thousands come to watch the nation’s children compete in Champs, the schools’ athletics competition. The stadium was also the stage for a key moment in Jamaica’s history when, on 6 August 1962, the union jack was lowered for the final time.

Jamaica’s 307 years as a British colony were over and an independent nation was born.

On Monday, the venue will once again be at the center of events, staging the Grand Gala, the highlight of the 50th anniversary independence celebrations.

Efforts to transform the stadium have been non-stop, with workmen hammering stages and building food stalls for the thousands who will be attending the event.

But most Jamaicans will be hoping that the party starts the day before at a different stadium, in the Olympic Park in London, when the final of the men’s 100m takes place.

In recent years, Jamaica has come to dominate the event, despite having a population below three million.

Sporting glory

With the nation boasting world champion Yohan Blake and defending Olympic champion Usain Bolt, expectations are high for the 100m.

“We’re proud people and we’re excited about our sport. With our motivation and everyone pushing us so much there’s nothing stopping us,” says former world 100m record holder and medal hopeful Asafa Powell.

In the past few days the patriotism, as well as the sporting fever, have gone up a notch.

Walls, lamp-posts, telephone poles and even kerbs have been painted in the national colours of black, gold and green.

But many Jamaicans know that away from the athletics track, the nation has faltered over the past half a century.

At independence, Jamaica was the fastest growing developing country in the world. It had lots of the raw material needed to make aluminium and, being so close to the US made it a prime tourist destination.

Today, Jamaica has a national debt of $19.5bn (¬£12bn) – 140% of the country’s gross domestic product.

“We should have done far better than we did,” says former prime minister Edward Seaga.

“The economy is slightly better than back in 1960 to 1962. The education system is about the same and the criminal justice system is much worse.”

On the street, many say that they have been let down by their leaders.

“We need more jobs for young people and better schools for the kids,” says one man.

“How the politicians run the country could be better, but we have to keep going…

Read more: Nick Davis, BBC

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