I am still not used to how things work in Jamaica. I have an opinion about many things, so feel free to express those by commenting occasionally on articles I read in the press. In the UK or US or Barbados, when I did this, the newspapers would respond if they thought the piece worth publishing, to alert me to the possibility, and if the piece were edited, to get my agreement to the changes. Not so, in Jamaica, with one exception. So, I was surprised to see my reaction to a piece written last week by Miguel Lorne, a well-known attorney, whose piece was entitled ‘Let’s spark a football revolution‘. I got the ‘contributor’ treatment, as the reactions were long, and lent themselves to a column rather than a letter. That was nice, and it made my morning review of news online a bit more interesting.
I won’t take issue with the Gleaner about their processes–well, maybe, just a little bit. I think it would be good PR to contact potential contributors, just in case they have second thoughts about their pieces being published. It wouldn’t take long, and shouldn’t really slow down publication times. So, let’s see if they review that aspect.
Meantime, here is the published article. It includes a link to the comments, in case anyone wants to follow if and how other readers react.
Are We Serious About Football?
Miguel Lorne is right: Asking for better playing surfaces is meaningless. Jamaican football needs a root and branch overhaul.
If it’s meant to be a professional sport, it needs an organisational and financial structure to support that. The recent Tivoli Gardens debacle speaks volumes.
Asking employers to give players time off tells me that the right structure is not there to give the local top players a living. So let’s look carefully at other small countries where the structure is semi-professional or mainly amateur. It can still produce great players, but they will drift away to make a living elsewhere if they are good enough. But we also need to understand why players cannot earn a living from this sport and why private investors do not want to back it substantially.
We seem to want what we have not developed. A great national team needs a feeder structure for younger players that develops them into playing at the highest level. Jamaica doesn’t have that. The youth focus is on schoolboy football and not on feeding the young players into the development structures of the top clubs.
I think we have an odd set-up. It’s not the norm in the well-established countries of world football. It’s similar, though, to a big neighbour, which is new to the sport. The general US sports set-up tends to put a lot of emphasis on playing through high school to feed into college to feed into the pros. That did not produce a good product for national soccer/football, despite how it worked for other sports.
Clubs now get involved in developing talent earlier, through youth teams and academies. They and the national team also realise that the depth of talent in the country is limited, and has to be supplemented from abroad by players coming from stronger youth-development programmes.
The results have been clear in recent years. That’s a tension to resolve in the Jamaican set-up. Additionally, thinking that eligible players who are not native-born are a problem is flying in the face of opposing views in many much stronger footballing nations.
I worry, though, about the sentiment that the JFF should help build clubs. This is not a Soviet country. If clubs are not capable of building themselves, they will fail and others will be created and succeed – or not. That takes time and building. If it hasn’t happened, you cannot will it.
If petty jealousies or personality disputes have been part of the problem – and I’m just speculating – that’s part of the process. Many great clubs have been formed in exactly that way, eg, Everton and Liverpool.
I’ve yet to read or hear a candid assessment of local football by the national federation. That suggests to me that either the analysis has not been done, or its results seem too unpalatable to share. Is there a third reason?
Dennis Jones is an economist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.