Champion boxer Charles “Killa” Whittaker is one of seven elite athletes who are paid by the Cayman Islands government to pursue his career full-time. But Mr. Whittaker feels he is woefully underfunded considering all his achievements in the sport.
The whole debate on the athletes’ funding was precipitated by high hurdler Ronald Forbes recently highlighting how much less he is paid by the government since joining the elite programme five years ago.
Mr. Whittaker was stopped after six rounds by Demetrius Hopkins in Atlantic City earlier this month during his latest fight. It was an important bout, which could have led to a world title shot by the end of the year.
Mr. Whittaker will receive $34,754 for the year ending 31 May, 2013, considerably less than what he used to get.
Based on disclosure on how much the government-paid athletes are receiving, Mr. Whittaker felt compelled to disclose his dissatisfaction although he acknowledges that the government has suffered considerable financial restraints in recent years.
“When the Minister of Sports Mark Scotland took over in 2009 I was making $4,166 per month for salary,” Mr. Whittaker said. “Since then, my pay has been reduced to $2,225 per month. Last week, I was made aware that I had a pay increase of $600 a month, which is still below my original pay grade.
“In light of this and in response to questions over whether I am satisfied, with my pay, it speaks for itself.
“I am certainly unhappy with the manner in which I have been treated by the sports minister.
“My salary has been reduced every year since he took office and in one year it was reduced twice.
“This has left me feeling very unappreciated. After my fight in November 2011, when I outpointed Giorbis Barthelemy and became the No. 2 ranked contender in the world, the minister awarded me a $6,000 grant.
“This was to assist with my trip to the Philippines to train for the whole of December.
“Prior to the Barthelemy contest and knowing I needed the help to prepare for this fight, he offered no assistance.
“Top level training was essential and I needed all the assistance possible for preparation for this fight.
“I made a freedom of information request to determine what other athletes were making and was shocked to see how much lower my salary was in comparison to others.”
The swimming brothers Shaune and Brett Fraser are getting $43,901 each this year, sprinter Cydonie Mothersill will receive $36,145, middle distance runner Jon Rankin will get $33,480 and hammer thrower Michael Letterlough has been awarded $20,853.
Ronald Forbes, a two-time Olympian, is in negotiations with the Cayman Islands government to increase his award of $27,804. Sprinter Kemar Roach has recently been put in the athletes’ programme.
Mr. Whittaker, 39, feels that from examining his record of only one loss in his last 16 bouts there is plenty of justification for better pay.
That sole defeat was the biggest fight of his career and a final eliminator to challenge for the world title.
Mr. Whittaker was stopped in 10 rounds by Gabriel Rosado in Pennsylvania last September, but still came out with a lot of credit, hence his HBO bout in a couple of weeks.
“Mr. Scotland attended the fight against Rosado, which was on NBC television and afterwards he gave me a $10,000 bonus.”
“Even Alden McLaughlin (leader of the opposition People’s Progressive Movement) took the initiative, knowing how important this fight was to my career and did indeed get me some assistance in funding for me,” Mr. Whittaker said. “That had a tremendous effect on my mental state of mind.
“Taking into consideration the publicity that I have brought to the Cayman Islands, my funding is very unfair.
“To date, NBC is still showing the Rosado fight, which means the Cayman Islands is still getting publicity from that show.
“Hundreds of millions of people around the world are still hearing about the Cayman Islands and many of them, I am sure, would not have known of this island had it not be for me boxing and the many titles that I have won.”
His next contest will be on an HBO undercard that will be televised on the international telecast.
“This fight will be viewed in many other countries around the world giving publicity to the Cayman Islands once again.
“My efforts with all that I have done to help the sport here clearly is justifiable of the many reasons why I should receive a better remuneration from the country that I represent and call home.”
He also sees himself as a role model for the next generation of fighters. “We currently have other young boxers that are doing very well,” said Mr. Whittaker.
“This past weekend some of our future champions fought in Orlando and won their matches.
“Had I not taken the initiative to carry on in the sport and fought every step of the way against all the adversaries, the Dalmain Ebanks Boxing Gymnasium would not exist and the programme would not be in place.
“Because of me we now have the world class coach Norman Wilson here. It was my initiative that brought him to the programme.
“Caymanian kids are now being coached and represented at a higher level. This was achieved because of my efforts. Not many have gone as far in any sports in this country as I have.”
Mr. Whittaker is appreciative of the backing he has received from former-Premier McKeeva Bush, a fellow West Bayer.
“I was very lucky and blessed to have Mr. Bush in the position to help me. Even though my support was very limited from the Ministry of Sports, I would not have been able to compete in the last series of fight without his support.
“The Cayman Islands would have never witnessed my fight on NBC last year. It was due to Mr. Bush’s support that allowed me to have the funding to compete for the No. 2 Ranking, in addition, it was him again that gave the support for my training expenses for the fight on NBC. And him that supported me in all my fights in the last three-and-a-half years.”
Financial restraints are taking their toll on Mr. Whittaker who admitted: “After my numerous salary reductions I became unable to keep up with my bills.
“Cline Glidden Jr. (West Bay MLA) suggested that I work at the gym helping coach the kids.
“I informed him I already volunteered on a daily basis coaching the kids and he stated that he would speak with Mr. Bush, who was then premier, and sports the ministry and have me given a salary for my service.”
He was paid a salary from November 2010 to June 2011 when his salary was discontinued and his elite athlete’s award was cut.
“I spoke with Mr. Scotland about this and he assured me my salary at the gym would be reinstated. This has been ongoing since July 2011 and nothing has been reinstated.”
Speculation was that Mr. Whittaker was given a $100,000 bonus two years ago. He denies this was the case.
“I never got a $100,000 bonus, another Marl Road rumour, however I do believe it is well deserving based on my achievements and my contributions to my country.
“The money was granted to promote my show at Camana Bay in June 2011. That money was used to pay for boxers’ purses, travel, accommodation, per diem, advertising and all other expenses for the show.
“Promoting a show in the Cayman Islands is not cheap. Anyone in the business field doesn’t need clarification.
“This fight led me to fighting on NBC which the Cayman Islands received major publicity. This publicity was far more effective that the previous government paying $1.5 million to the promoter of Cayman Knockout Dan Goossen and at the time Andre Ward (who is now an unbeaten world champion) was fighting for a title that I had already won the previous year.
t the time also, I was even at a higher ranking in the world by the World Boxing Organisation than Andre Ward was. I was then ranked No. 6 so for the people who are not literate in the boxing field, let me tell you the whole Showtime event was a waste of the country’s money, I know boxing.
“I am now defending the same title that I won two years ago. No, I didn’t get a bonus but I deserve to have been granted the same $100,000 amount as a bonus.”
Mark Scotland said: “I’m not sure what amount Charles is getting now – over the past few years the grants that elite athletes receive has been reduced due to budgetary reductions.
“I’m not aware of any outstanding money owed for coaching kids. I’m not sure what his complaints are.”
Minister Scotland said: “Over the last four years, we have to look at the funding of all the elite athletes, not just Charles. They have all suffered reductions in the amounts they have received due to budgetary reductions.
“I should add, too, that over the last four years we’ve added to the list some athletes which is a good thing for the ministry because we recognise those talents, including Kemar Hyman and the two Fraser brothers in our tenure, Jon Rankin as well.
“Those athletes that qualified for the Olympics, their stipend was increased for London 2012 Games. Their stipend has fallen off for this year.
“We’ve heard recently the issues by Ronald Forbes and we’ve been addressing those.
“Charles said I gave him a $10,000 bonus. I didn’t. Charles spoke to me before the fight and said he was having difficulties and I said that we could identify the need for an additional amount and that was given to him to offset and defray some of the training costs.
“Those are such expenses that we try to do as one-offs sometimes when funding is available.
“Sometimes when looking at funding we look at what other ministries are doing and try not to overlap as much as possible.
“Charles has received funding from other ministries as well, tourism and the office of the premier. I’m not sure about the exact amounts but you have to take that into account, too.
“The other points to note for me not doing my job, as was asserted, was that boxing, when we came in, the facility was there and doing a great job with its programme.
“And over the past few years boxing has received an increasing amount for its annual grant. Boxing over the past two years as received over $100,000 for its annual grant. Some of the focus sports don’t even receive that amount.
“Some of the assertions there are not really fair in the way they are being presented.
“We are trying our best with the limited resources that we have to recognise all the sports and deal with the lead athletes as well as we can too. Funding has been reduced because of budgetary reductions, not to do with any specific athletes or otherwise.
“I am not aware of the money he says he is owed for coaching the youths. That is maybe something to do between himself and the boxing association.”