FOOTBALL stakeholders have once again made a desperate plea to Government and corporate Jamaica to throw their support behind the sport in more significant and sustained ways, arguing that if fully explored, it has the potential to become a big money spinner.
The game, widely regarded as Jamaica’s favourite pastime and a proven tool in fixing social breakdowns in some of the country’s most politically polarised and violence-torn communities, continues to be stymied by a lack of financing and investment in critical infrastructure.
“Football has the potential to make sport bigger, but I don’t think we have that perspective, because if we did, the Government would certainly provide funds to keep the game going at all levels,” said Edward Seaga, chairman of the Premier League Clubs Association (PLCA).
The 82-year-old Seaga, a former prime minister of Jamaica, said the PLCA, which organises and executes the nation’s top football competition, has struggled since its formation to get the kind of corporate funds to properly fund the league.
Addressing reporters and editors at the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange at the newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters yesterday, Seaga painted a dim picture of his organisation’s efforts to raise $100 million to run the upcoming season of the Red Stripe Premier League, which it is claimed is crucial to the lives of many inner-city youths who trade their skills on the field of play for “a little money”.
“I would love to see $100 million, but I don’t know if we are going to get that with the Olympics and the World Cup (qualifying) on, but we haven’t stopped and we continue to be creative. But our early target is to try and get $100-million cash,” said Seaga, who also serves as president of Tivoli Gardens Football Club.
“We are now looking to sponsors in the framework of what big businesses there are in Jamaica to sponsor or give us a sustainable contribution... we have to have that contribution to know how to plan,” he added.
The $100-million, he said, would cover payments to the 12 top-flight clubs in assisting with their operational expenses, plus related PLCA costs in the administration of one season of the eight-month league.
Meanwhile, Andrew Price, the technical director of inner-city-based Boys’ Town Football Club, and who was one of 12 local coaches who recently returned from an eye-opening coaching course in Brazil, said attitudes towards not only football, but sport in general must change if progress is to be made.
“We have to let our countries (of the region) know that they have to change the culture… how they look at football. Coaching is not the only solution to the problem (as) our leaders must understand that their state of mind must change,” Price told the Monday Exchange.
“Despite all the coaching in the world that we do, if we don’t get the support that we need from corporate companies, government agencies and the political directorate, all our work will continue to be miraculous instead of being sustained,” he said.
“Though a lot of companies invest in this sport in Jamaica, there’s still a lot that needs to be done… this sport has people who participate, and their families on a daily basis buy goods and services from corporate entities, and that’s why I believe it should be a requirement that these people invest in sports, not only football. I am talking about hockey, netball… it’s a part of socialising, and that’s very important,” Price said.
Recognising the disparity, Price still insisted that Jamaican investors could take a page out of Brazil’s book on a basic approach to sport business.
“I think Brazil has that locked in terms of investing in the sport. (For example) some investors at the Traffic Academy invested US$40 million in getting players ready (for the export market), and two years’ time they were able to acquire US$120 million… it’s a win-win situation,” Price explained.
Though Jamaica’s economy is weak and there are competing areas of national interests, such as health, education and national security, for scarce resources, yesterday’s panellists largely agreed that more should be done for sport, considering the glory it has brought the country.
Obvious examples were Jamaica’s qualification for the 1998 World Cup Finals in France and the exploits of the nation’s athletes at global events.
“What we have here in Jamaica is a lot of volunteers, we need to get that whole economic side and business of sport going… when you see big companies like BMG in Brazil and see its name on the shirt sleeves (of players), it’s there for a reason, they are getting something out of the sport, so they are investing back in it,” said Price, a marketing executive.
Andrew Edwards, the assistant National Under-20 football coach and graduate of the recent course in Brazil, said big businesses in Jamaica need to each think of building stadia across the island as a profound gesture that they care about sport and are giving back to the community.
“The big companies in Jamaica need to build stadia and name them after their organisations… football has to been seen as business. In Jamaica, the sport pulls business, but in Brazil, for example, and in Europe, business pulls the sport; because to them it’s not just recreation and pastime, it’s serious,” said Edwards, a columnist for the Observer’s sport pages.
Howard McIntosh, chairman of the Jamaica Football Federation Technical and Development Committee, said it costs about US$5 million (J$430 million) to run its programmes in a World Cup year alone, giving a hint of the vast sums involved in bankrolling the local game.
Each year, it is said that it costs the PLCA and the clubs somewhere in the region of $250 million to run a single Premier League season, with little hope of recouping that in gate receipts and rights sold to media outlets.
The proposed National Sports Policy, which is a Green Paper inside Parliament and which seeks to position sport as an income earner for the country, was frowned upon by Seaga in its current form.
“The National Sports Policy is not going in the direction it ought to; it’s a potpourri, a little bit of this and little bit of that. What you want are some highly focused objectives,” said Seaga, chancellor of the University of Technology and distinguised fellow at the University of the West Indies.