THE Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), even with the burden of high air travel costs, is determined to shape a way to fly its players across the Atlantic in more “comfort and style”.
Its president, Captain Horace Burrell, said it was unfair to the players to be travelling long distances to represent their country and have to be crammed into economy class, which presents great discomfort and health risks.
“We can’t ask players after playing a hard game that they can’t even stretch out their legs… a lot of players are playing all over the world… in Europe and even as far away as Vietnam and I can tell you that for the final phase we will be pulling out all the stops to ensure that they travel more comfortably,” he told the Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange.
Burrell, on his second stint as JFF president and the visionary leader behind Jamaica’s four World Cup appearances at various levels, said even without an airline sponsor he intends to vigorously pursue a solution that would see on duty Reggae Boyz travelling home and back to their clubs do so at business or first-class upgrades.
“Our biggest challenge is to get some sponsorship for the airfares because I believe that our players should be able to travel comfortably, which will allow them to play in a way that they know how to do it best,” he told editors and reporters at this newspaper’s Beechwood Avenue headquarters on Monday.
“It’s important to note that it’s an embarrassment to have our players squeezed up in the back of an airplane, while their opponents travel in comfort and style. It’s unacceptable that those players travelling across the Atlantic for more than six hours to be squeezed up in the back,” said the CONCACAF executive committee member.
Now that Jamaica have qualified for the CONCACAF Final Six of the World Cupqualifying tournament and with most of the nation’s first-choice players plying their trade overseas, Burrell said the matter requires urgent attention in the final push for a spot for Brazil 2014.
“Airfare is what is killing us, we tried to talk to American Airlines, but they are no longer interested in that kind of thing as there is no competition there. We would be on our way if we could get our players from the UK, and other parts of Europe flown in business class. But we are really not giving up,” he said in his impassioned comment.
The Observer understands that there are at least 30 Reggae Boyz plying their trade in Europe.
Burrell, who is also the principal of the Captain’s Bakery and Grill chain, said he shared the concern of Leeds manager Neil Warnock in the way midfielder Rodolph Austin was forced to travel after playing “his heart out” for his country recently.
“His player (Austin) was flown in ecomony class, and of course the coach is right because it’s hard to ask a player to travel for 10 hours with his legs not being able to be extended after playing for his country,” said the Jamaican football boss.
“When our players are travelling, and sometimes they travel on the same plane as the Costa Ricans and the Americans who they just played against and who are always in business class, while our poor players have to be in the back of the plane,” Burrell lamented.
He suggested that the way to go is that any player who has to fly for six or more hours to come for a game should do so in the more spacious and preferred cabins.
“For that period you have to travel comfortably, there is no way around that. It’s hard to ask them to come and then to go back and not travel comfortably,” Burrell noted.
The JFF and Burrell, who recently faced flak in a public discourse over why out-offavour Birmingham City striker Marlon King was given “special treatment” when he was flown business class for home-andaway friendly matches against Panama in August, explained the circumstances.
“He (King) had played for his clubs in the play-offs and he had played two hard games and we wanted him to come the day after for a match. He said to me ‘Captain, honestly I would ask you to send me an upgraded ticket because I just played two hard matches’, and this is how he travelled in the business class.
“I authorised it because I thought it was fair and there were no other players coming down at the time, and he was the only one who was coming down. But to say that all our players who travel from England should continue in economy class is something this JFF is going to fight for,” said Burrell.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the JFF Finance Committee, Leighton McKnight, who also addressed the weekly forum, disclosed that air travel can run the federation between $2 million and $5 million per game.
“Back in the 1998 campaign, we had an airline sponsor (American Airlines) where we got heavily discounted or even free tickets, but we don’t have that anymore. We have to fly our players in from all over the world, so that makes the situation much more challenging,” he said.