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Burrell: Gov't supportive of 'Mission to Rio'

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS Assistant sport editor williamss@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, October 31, 2012    

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LOCAL football boss Captain Horace Burrell says he is "satisfied so far" with Government's "positive posture" towards the 'Mission to Rio' campaign, the promotional tagline for Jamaica's Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign.

In bringing Jamaica Observer editors and reporters up to date on the state of the nation's football, and the World Cup campaign in particular, Burrell underlined the importance of Government's role in achieving critical goals.

"I have engaged Government and I have to admit that the prime minister (Portia Simpson Miller) has been very supportive of the programme so far. If it had not been for her support we would not have been able to successfully conclude the last rounds, as she was the one who got some much-needed funds for us through the Sports Development Foundation (SDF)," Burrell said at the weekly Observer Monday Exchange.

"I know she is interested, and we do intend to engage her even further. The prime minister is a sports lady and I know she has been listening," he added.

While Government's cash support of the programme is crucial, especially with the Mission to Rio budget put at $700 million, Burrell said that the State's role is varied and dynamic.

"The Government is needed to facilitate for the protocols as we travel to other countries, and that has been going very well through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; also to facilitate documentation, through the passport services and so on, plus embassies worldwide where our players travel," said the principal of The Captain's Bakery and Grill chain.

He also cited the tremendous benefits that would accrue to the country and Brand Jamaica should the Reggae Boyz qualify for their second senior FIFA World Cup Finals, having done so for the first time for France 1998.

"Apart from the obvious benefits to our country, more importantly it would lift the morale of the country. This fillip would send a message across the nation that once you work hard, with all hands on deck, we can achieve," said Burrell, who was the visionary behind the successful 1998 Road to France campaign.

He said football has demonstrated, like track and field, that it can lift the spirit of the disillusioned citizens of the country and unite those polarised by politics and gang violence.

"Usain Bolt and the other Olympians have demonstrated what sports can do, and back in 1998 again we saw what the power of sports can do with the level of nationalism that was on display, even in the way people responded to the National Anthem and how people viewed their flag," Burrell reflected.

So overwhelming and significant was the occasion that when the Reggae Boyz drew 0-0 with Mexico in the National Stadium in November, 1997 to book their ticket to France, that then Prime Minister PJ Patterson declared the following working day a public holiday.

As the country was caught up in the euphoria of the unprecedented achievement, police reported a drop in major criminal activities across the island -- a poignant testimony to the power of sport in fixing social ills.

"It was overwhelming the display of national pride and the sense of value of a people. Qualification for Brazil 2014 would again reignite that kind of passion for our country, especially with our high levels of economic and social problems," Burrell said.

"It would also give hope to a nation that needs a fillip at this time of hopelessness," he added.

Burrell, who also sits on FIFA's Olympic Football Tournaments Committee, said qualification would significantly boost the coffers of the JFF as there is significant money to be earned. For the 2010 South Africa World Cup, the minimum countries received for participating was US$9 million ($800 million), and that could possibly increase for Brazil 2014.

"For our football it would certainly mean an improvement of our financial position, which would allow us to prepare for years to come with the development of the various leagues. In the case of the parish associations that don't have the basic facilities, this would give us a chance to help them, and also we would be able to develop our grass roots football programme.

"I am just excited about the prospects of qualifying, as this would be tremendous, and of course the football culture will just take flight," he concluded.

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