Sport

Ray Grant warms to JFF hot seat

BY SEAN A WILLIAMS Assistant Sport Editor

Sunday, December 23, 2012    

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AT first mention, the name Raymond Grant may not set bells ringing, especially with those outside the realms of football.

But those in the local game would know his name, and in some cases, there's a face to match.

This son of Portland, unassuming and quietly effective, has been a giant functionary behind the scenes of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) for more than 12 years. He rarely gives interviews, makes grand speeches from big stages, or beats his chest for his tireless toil in the vineyard of the local game.

Raymond Grant can longer be an obscure, mysterious figure. He has no choice now but to emerge from the shadows with his new job, one that would scare off the most seasoned chief executive officer.

He is the new general secretary of the JFF. And if ever there was an example of the proverbial hot seat, this is it.

Grant, who has served the JFF's board of directors for 12 unbroken years before quitting to make room for his new appointment, takes up the chief administrator job of an organisation wincing from a massive debt soaring way above the $100-million mark. Plus, the other problems are varied and at times complex.

But the former vice-chairman of the JFF Technical and Development Committee and former president of the Portland Football Association knew exactly what he was getting into.

"I don't think there is anything that I have discovered (since taking office) as the nation is already aware that the Federation financially is not in a good situation, and coming here that was not a surprise to me.

"My duty (now) is to work in the financial climate that we have and to ensure that we reduce the debt and at the same time don't compromise our programmes," said the cool Grant in an exclusive with the Sunday Observer from his New Kingston office.

With the debt at crippling levels, and a frenetic race on to find funds to finance an ever-changing Brazil 2014 World Cup budget — which at last check was put at US$7.5 million (J$675 million) — it will take extraordinary planning and execution to bring it all together.

"Yes, there's a mapped strategy and the reality is that the Finance Committee chaired by Leighton McKnight is charged with such responsibility to co-ordinate and ensure that we are on the right track.

"Just recently he advanced a paper that relates to what is required for our advancement to at least the 2014 World Cup and beyond, and we continue to look at it and to see how best to ensure that we are on the right track in achieving all the goals that we have set out," said Grant, sounding the consummate CEO.

"I wouldn't want to press the panic button to say that we are in desperate need, but yes we are in need. The figures (World Cup budget) continues to be reviewed based on the current demands and the changes regarding the issues of the programme... we continue to meet tirelessly with corporate Jamaica and our current sponsors," Grant added.

Consistently good performances of the team going forward is a vital element in restoring confidence with the people, and failure to do so, could spell dread for the programme, the general secretary warned.

"Once the results are good we are expecting that the stadium will be filled and barring that, we will face great difficulties in terms of financing the budget... if we don't get the support, not only from corporate Jamaica, but the wider public paying to attend games, then we will have difficulties," Grant said.

Grant, 36, who took over from long-serving Horace Reid who has moved onto greener pastures as CONCACAF's competitions director, warned that for the Mission to Rio to be realised, it will require a mammoth co-ordination of all crucial elements of a complex programme.

"Just looking at the programme itself, qualifying for 2014 does not only require the coach and players, but requires the myriad support staff available to the Federation, and therefore my role as the chief executive officer is to ensure that all the various departments of the Federation lend their support to the programme," he told the Sunday Observer.

While the JFF struggles to balance its book even in a World Cup qualifying period when corporate Jamaica and other usual support sources are more free-handed, there is a thought that more income-generating options should be explored and built on.

With a catchy and 'sellable' Reggae Boyz brand not being taken full advantage of, Grant revealed that in recognition of that fact there is a renewed thrust behind marketing and merchandising.

"I am aware that the marketing committee is actively pursuing that avenue and they are looking at combing through all the contractual arrangements with our kit sponsor Kappa... we are in discussion with Kappa as it relates to the way forward regarding merchandising, etc.

"We believe that outfitting the public will in fact form part of the whole euphoria that will be required to drive the programme and we are leaving no stone unturned in trying to make merchandising up and running in the very near future. In fact it's our view that it will be required for the hexagonal round of the World Cup qualifiers," Grant stated.

But what would qualifying, or not qualifying for the World Cup, means for Jamaica's football.

"I harbour no thoughts of not qualifying... I know we will qualify. When we do, it would actually boost confidence nationally, plus our plan going forward is to ensure that we capitalise qualifying for the World Cup, and the mistakes that were made in 1998, we would have corrected for Brazil 2014.

"It (qualifying) would give support for our other eight national teams. You would know that it's the senior team that supports and funds the other teams. The assistance and rewards that we would receive for qualifying would be used to facilitate, not only our debts, but to assist the various programmes throughout the JFF," he shared.

Jamaica kick-start the final round of the CONCACAF play-offs with a testy meeting with Mexico at high altitude on February 6, next year.

In breaking down his overall goals after less than a month in the "big chair", Grant hopes they will encompass all key sectors of the football structure.

"My immediate goal as general secretary is to first of all ensure that all the immediate needs are taken care of to ensure at least that the programme continues along the path of which we have plotted. My medium term is to also ensure that areas where added enforcement is required are attended to along with my discussions with the president to ensure that these goals are obtained.

"The long term is to ensure that the federation puts itself in a position that it doesn't have to struggle to manage, and therefore along with the management committee of the Federation, we will have to pave that way... it cannot be an individual approach, but as you know that I am here to carry out and execute the directives of the president and the board, as I am not operating in isolation," Grant outlined.

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