Mr Seaga's use of football for peace

Saturday, June 01, 2019

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Older Jamaicans have reason to smile sometimes when they hear young people make comments like “mi nuh like politics because it too violent”.

In fact, political party activity in today's Jamaica is very, very peaceful and harmonious, compared to decades ago.

As far back as the late 1940s, Jamaicans had to come to terms with violence involving supporters of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP).

In 1949, newspaper reports spoke of PNP and JLP supporters fighting “pitched battles” on the streets of downtown Kingston.

In those days the battle for political turf was mostly fought with sticks and stones.

Guns came to prominence in the 1960s with political gang violence in Kingston Western. By the 1970s, the gun had become the weapon of choice.

By then, the process of 'political garrisonisation', which first became noticeable in the 1960s, had taken hold.

It wasn't until after the especially bloody 1980 election that alarmed political leaders made a genuine effort to reach across the divide to make peace, in the process carrying their followers with them.

As is always the case in such situations, it took a long time for peace to take hold and be trusted.

In the building of that political peace, sport, more especially football, played a huge role.

Before that, football had suffered greatly during the years of politically tribalised warfare. Games between Tivoli FC and Arnett Gardens FC, for example, were usually played at the Jamaica Defence Force's Up Park Camp headquarters to ensure peace.

One departure from that accepted practice, just a few months after the 1980 General Election, almost led to tragedy at the National Stadium: Arnett and Tivoli players fled the field and spectators stampeded, following fights in the Grandstand and a barrage of gunshots.

It's a matter of record that former Prime Minister Mr Edward Seaga, as Member of Parliament for Kingston Western, and his political opponent and friend Dr Omar Davies, MP for St Andrew Southern, led the way in changing course. In fact, they used football as a medium in breaking down barriers and in bringing peace to their rival communities in the 1990s.

Those who were there are unlikely to forget the formal opening of the football mini-stadium in Arnett Gardens, featuring a football game involving Tivoli FC and Arnett FC.

Mind-boggling for many was that Mr Seaga — on his first-ever visit to Arnett — sat in the stands as special guest. Beside him sat his host, Dr Davies.

In a real sense, that afternoon of football, with Mr Seaga and Dr Davies sitting beside each other, became a symbol of lasting political peace for ordinary people not just in St Andrew Southern and Kingston Western, but across Jamaica.

For many years after that, the two — both born on May 28 — would routinely sit beside each other at football games in Tivoli and Arnett.

Such has been the peace that today many Jamaicans aren't even aware there was a time when tribal politics divided football.

As Jamaicans mourn the passing of Mr Seaga — nation builder, cultural facilitator, and sports administrator — and honour his memory, they should also recognise his vision, shared with Dr Davies, in using sport to bring peace.

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