CAPTAIN Horace Burrell, the visionary president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), has repeatedly urged greater attention by government to the development of modern sports facilities. It's a call we have consistently supported.
At the recent presentation ceremony of the Clarendon Football Association, Mr Burrell went a step further. He suggested that our cash-strapped Government, which is currently negotiating a new pact with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), should borrow money to build multi-purpose stadia across the island.
Said captain Burrell: "In the same way the Government borrows money to construct roads, I am going to make a bold suggestion that they get some loans and build some multi-purpose facilities in every parish... I am talking about mini-stadia like the one at Catherine Hall (Montego Bay) that seats 10,000 people... each would have) a football field, running track, netball court and other facilities. I will continue to call for this because our youngsters deserve it..."
Undoubtedly, there are those who will scoff at such a suggestion. How, they will ask, could anyone expect a country as heavily indebted as Jamaica to borrow money to build stadia at this time?
The truth is that Captain Burrell's suggestion can only make sense if we understand the great potential for economic growth that sport presents.
We need only look at the success of our top professional sportsmen and women over recent years to understand that regardless of whether the official figures reflect it or not, sport is now a net foreign exchange earner.
It's easy to talk about Messrs Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, and other leading track stars who crowned themselves in glory at the London Olympics in August. Indeed, the wealth of Mr Bolt et al now attracts the attention of global media.
However, we sometimes forget that dozens of our leading footballers are playing in professional leagues across the world, together earning millions of US dollars annually.
Indeed, plans now being developed by the JFF to reform and 'professionalise' the structure of local football is largely based on the recognition that football is big business. Without ever having developed a proper programme, several of our top football clubs have earned rich rewards from the development and sale of talented footballers to overseas clubs.
And while cricket is some way behind, Jamaica's top representatives in that sport, led by Mr Christopher Gayle, are also reaping the dollar benefits of the business of sport driven by fast-growing television/visual technologies in the global marketplace.
Jamaica's National Development Plan, Vision 2030, which has been developed and embraced by both our political parties — while in government and in opposition — recognises the comparative advantage of sport as an economic tool. It cites the "growth of sport as a business and commercial activity with potential to contribute to Jamaica's economic development and... as a source of wealth for a wide range of professions..."
Also, the potential for linkages of sport and the entertainment industry to Jamaica's service economy, especially tourism, are well recognised.
It's against that backdrop that this newspaper believes Captain Burrell's suggestion should be viewed. It may not be possible to build 13 mini-stadia immediately, but step by step would be good enough; that is if in fact we have a vision of sport as an engine of economic growth.