How should Jamaicans build a strong football culture?

Saturday, July 07, 2018

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Television sports commentator and humorist Mr Oral Tracey recently raised an interesting but age-old topic.

Since Uruguay with a population of 3.4 million people can be a dominant force in global football, Jamaica with its population of 2.8 million should also be able to do very well in the so-called beautiful game, he argued.

Others have made the very same point down the years, long before Jamaica's qualification to the 1998 World Cup in France. Perhaps most notable among those was football coach and visionary Mr Winston Chung Fah, in the 1980s and 90s.

At the ongoing 2018 World Cup, Uruguay made it to the quarter-finals before losing to France yesterday. Such is their pedigree. The small South American country have won the FIFA World Cup twice — the inaugural tournament in 1930 and most famously defeated host nation Brazil 2-1 to claim the 1950 World Cup. That game, arguably the most talked about in the history of football, was played before a home crowd of more than 200,000 people in Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro.

Also, Uruguay have won the championship of South American nations, Copa America, on 15 occasions.

Like so many of the globe's leading football-playing nations, Uruguay, down the years, have developed a style or philosophy of play, which they are usually associated with, by football watchers. It is rooted in a compact, well-organised defensive system allied to fast, inventive counter-attacks to score goals. It's a method embraced by Uruguayans and which has served them well, as it did again at this World Cup, until they were undone by the all-round strength of France.

Also, their professional league, though badly under-resourced, dates back to the 1930s.

In a real sense, Uruguayans have developed an identifiable and dominant football culture.

If Jamaicans stop to think about it, they will realise that they have a very powerful culture in track athletics. It didn't happen overnight. It evolved over a period of well over 100 years and had its genesis in headmasters, headmistresses and sports-minded teachers organising athletic competitions among students.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Barbados developed an extremely powerful cricket culture that played a huge part in the strength of the West Indies team, starting with victory over England in that country in 1950. Other countries in the Caribbean, including Jamaica, also developed strong cricket cultures — but not to the extent of Barbados, in our view.

So, to football, can Jamaica strengthen its culture in that sport to come close to, if not match, other small countries such as Uruguay?

Everyone knows that football is the most popular sport here. But there is disagreement on how best to organise talent in a cohesive way that will reap sustained success at the level of the individual player, club and national team.

Even the basic question of how best to organise a professional league is still up in the air. Should there be a franchise system? Should there be some other kind of professional structure? Should the existing semi-pro structure be left to evolve as best it can?

It seems to us that until there is consensus on how to take Jamaican football forward, that dominant culture and eventual sustained success which Jamaicans so crave will remain elusive.

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