The past cannot be our future

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The past cannot be our future

JFF's planned return to two-tiered pro league

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

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Those who cannot learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. — George Santayana

The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) seemingly in its quest to improve the standard of football being played in the country is about to embark on a journey that took us nowhere before. They have taken a 'strategic decision' to reinstitute a second-tier semi pro or professional league along with national leagues for women and for boys ages 20 years old and under without the benefit of a proper analysis to guide that decision. We have gone on this journey before, with the now defunct National A League, and if the past is to be used as a guide then those proposed leagues, along with the clubs and parish associations, will come to a disastrous end in quick time and we will be back at square one.

Let us now look at the reality as it now stands. The JFF accepted a report from its technical committee that called for the restructuring of club football to create a pathway for elite player matriculation in the national team seemingly to compete for World Cup glory. The report has called for 30 professional clubs to exist in Jamaica and compete in tier 1 and tier 2 leagues, women and youth leagues. It also proposed that, for the next three years, there should be no demotion to the confederation/parish from the pro leagues, which is in conflict with Fifa's principle of sporting merit. This is a stupid, if not illegal move that does not factor in the impact on the player pool, clubs, and economic viability of such leagues.

The report conveniently ignored or failed to address the required financial outlay that will be needed to make the venture viable. The proposals in the report, once they take effect, will require each of the 30 professional clubs to find a minimum of $64 million per year to participate in the four leagues.

Notwithstanding the projected high cost of competing in these competitions, the JFF directors, in what amounts to a sleight of hand tactic along with the use of some slick snake oil salesmenship, have fast-tracked the process by handing the newly formed Jamaica Premier League Association (JPLA) the right to manage and market these leagues. The 12 Premier League clubs, as a result of that agreement between their parent company and the JFF, will now have the responsibility to find $1.9 billion annually to make the said competitions a reality. Woe unto those clubs, for they know not what awaits them.

Given our past experience of operating two pro leagues, along with the inability to properly fund the current National Premier League, the stupidity of these proposals, including the return to two senior pro leagues involving 30 clubs, is plain to see, especially when we examined the regional context in which many of our football neighbours are better off economically than us.

In using gross domestic product (GDP), which is one of the most common indicators used to track the health of a country's economy, we see that Jamaica, with the worst GDP and the second smallest population, is now seeking to have 30 professional clubs, which is even more than the powerhouse USA and Mexico. (See table included.)

Where will the money come from?

As a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic, global sports sponsorship is expected to start a downward trend, and, here in Jamaica, sport sponsorship will certainly nosedive for the foreseeable future. Gareth Balch, chief executive of Two Circles, which is a sports marketing agency, when reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 on sports globally, said recently that, with the halting of live sports event, the value that sports properties have been able to deliver brand partners has been limited, and that with cost cutting in sectors that invest heavily in sponsorship there will be significant challenges acquiring new sponsorship deals.

That overview provided by Balch certainly reflects our situation here in Jamaica, where we don't really have a large or active sport sponsorship market. Given the current economic health of Jamaica, who is willing to bet that there are many savvy business people or companies willing at this time to invest in the proposed plan for the pro clubs?

So something is amiss here, as even those among us who only attended 'Sunday School' can see that this venture is not economically sound. Why, then, can't the football geniuses or progressive see that?

Maybe the answer lies in the quest to give professional clubs a huge stake in a revamped JFF power structure as some are whispering.

Additionally, the establishment of two senior professional leagues along with the women's premier league and national youth leagues will require a total of 3,600 players. Where will these players come? Does having more players at this level equate to better players? Although, if one should follow the narrative that is being put out by the technical committee chaired by Rudolph Speid, the answer would be yes to the last question as their report stated the leagues will enhance the development of the players.

But alas, the said technical committee report stated that the local player pool was poor and that players are being prepared by ill-trained or untrained coaches. Therefore, it would seem probably magically the establishment of the leagues with all its paraphernalia will transform the players into world beaters, if not regional powerhouses.

The truth be told, that flawed report is really akin to a bag of trinkets being sold to very gullible buyers by a deceitful-tongued salesman. The report, including the proposals it contains, has failed to adequately identify and address the root cause(s) or weakness of the local game. I submit the report would have been really meaningful had it seriously addressed the developmental needs of the U-9 to U-19, coaching education, infrastructure, referees, and financing, among other things.

Parish associations

In looking at the points highlighted above it is clear the directors of JFF who are parish presidents have failed in their duty to represent their constituents (clubs) at the board level. They have failed also to properly identify problems and solutions needed to improve the local game. In agreeing to the proposals, including no demotion from the pro leagues and no defined selection criteria for the clubs that will make up the two tier, they have failed to take into consideration the impact on their local associations and, by extension, the whole football structure.

These proposals will more than likely lead to the demise of the parish associations, as they will be asking sponsors to support confederation and parish leagues which effectively will be gloried corner leagues with clubs having no chance of promotion to the pro level. The parish presidents have failed to recognise that they have acquiesced to a quasi-franchise system of football in Jamaica that will stymie growth at the base. Hence, they have failed the clubs that they currently represent as parish presidents. They have taken away the rights of their stakeholders and have given it away to an elite few.

Also, they have failed to call out the president of the JFF, Michael Ricketts, for comments he made at the press conference announcing the start date of the Premier League. The president cited the reason for not having demotion for the next two seasons (three years) as due to the need to protect the investment of the 12 Premier League clubs.

President Ricketts's comment have ignored the investment being made by clubs at the lower level who are seeking to play in the Premier League. In this regard the clubs in the parishes must seek clarification from their parish presidents and ask the following questions:

• Why would a club now continue to participate in football if they cannot meet the unrealistic criteria for the pro leagues?

• How will the 23,400 players within the parishes be absorbed without these clubs?

• What will be the impact be on the grass roots development?

• What will the social impact be on Jamaica and the communities represented by these clubs, bearing in mind the crime statistics?

In accepting this nonsensical report which failed to really address the developmental needs of the country's football (youth football) it appears the directors of JFF, inclusive of the parish presidents, fell under the spell of a Merlin-like magician who promised untold glories and conquest. Nothing else can explain the ill-advised and monstrous decision that they made. Although some people may believe it was rather an easy task as the directors have always dreamt of having teams from their parishes playing in the Premier League and President Ricketts had always advocated for a franchise system. So it is with great speid, oops speed, the die appears to be cast.

However, it is not too late to change course and implement real action that focuses on developing the game from the ground up, as opposed to the top-down approach which is being touted now.

The way forward

Here are some suggestions:

• The clubs of JPLA must reject the so-called memorandum of understanding signed by their directors and the JFF.

• The JPLA needs to focus on making the National Premier League a viable entity.

• The JFF needs to focus on making the women Premier League a viable league.

• JFF should redirect two tier money from Fifa to the Confederation Leagues and to enhance them to semi pro standard and institute gradual conditions of play to ensure clubs are ready to transition into the NPL.

• JFF to focus on building centres similar to the Captain Burrell one in the three other Confederations.

• JFF to reinstitute youth parish leagues.

• JFF to institute an open transfer system.

• Confederations to implement standardised regional youth leagues (including females).

• JFF and the Confederations to create more coaching education and certification opportunities at affordable rates. This should include specialised coaching courses, such as goalkeeping, trainer, youth, etc.

• The JFF to assign coaching educators to the parish associations/Confederations.

• Parish associations to develop standardised U-9 to U-17 programmes with longer seasons for the clubs.

• Parish association to institute administrator certification.

• Parish associations should ensure only certified coaches participate in their competitions.

The solutions outlined are achievable and more realistic than the current plans of the JFF, which will see us return to the past with protections for a select few. We must change course. The need to create an improved football programme that leads to more and better fan engagement, improved infrastructure, greater financial returns, development of officials/players, and, ultimately, a competitive national team demand we do so. The past cannot be our future. Enough said!

Mark Bennett is second vice-president of the Kingston & St Andrew Football Association. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or presbent@yahoo.com.


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