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A code of conduct needed for school sports

Lance Neita

Sunday, September 24, 2017

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The schoolboy football season is in full swing. One habit they have managed to keep out of school sports is the earring style adopted by the West Indies cricket team. Indeed, the teams that do best in cricket are the ones that are not wearing them at all. The demise of West Indies cricket started just about the time when wearing earrings became the in-thing for our boys.

Funnily enough, the women cricketers remove their jewellery before they take the field. I was about to suggest that the captain should make it mandatory for the men to do the same, only to spot from a photo that he was sporting an earring too.

Not to ride this one too hard, but I guess it's all in the game of unisex. Sportsmen have a right to wear what they want, so long as it doesn't detract from their game. There was a time when women wore long skirts for cricket and bowled underarm. Things do change, and to give the West Indies team credit, they sometimes surprise us when we think that all is lost. Unfortunately, I think that they have allowed other things to divert them from their cricket, including money, fashion, hero worship, and media personality headlines.

But back to football. With the West Indies hopes dashed for World Cup qualifiers, and with athletics taking a break, schoolboy football and horse racing at Caymanas Park are now dominating the sport pages. Football is the beautiful game. It is also a manly game and not for the faint-hearted. We saw Neymar brutally hounded out of the World Cup. The 22-year-old was kneed in the back during a second-half collision with a Colombian player during his team's 2014 World Cup quarter-final and had to be taken off the field.

Fortunately the current Manning and daCosta Cup season appears to be relatively injury-free thus far. The referees are keeping a tight rein on the players. There are more than 115 schools competing for honours this year. This translates into nearly 2,500 boys taking the field this season, and thousands of spectators following the game.

With this kind of attention focused on schoolboy football, let's spare a thought for the referees. They not only have to keep the boys in check, but must tolerate the most obscene insults that come from the sidelines.

The Gleaner columnist George Davis related his experiences while watching a daCosta Cup match at Seaforth in St. Thomas recently. “My ears, sensibilities and sensitivities are still bruised by what I heard standing on the sidelines... the spectators stood by each other inside the packed venue, pulling the nastiest phrases from their mouths like a selector spinning tunes at a fete during Dream Weekend.”

There are bad words and there are bad words, but the kind of vulgarity with which they are cast and thrown around in front of women and children is disgraceful and unacceptable and, according to Davis, “sits sour in the mouth, a flavour putrefied by the example being set by persons masquerading as adults”.

It is no comfort to remind that spectator 'nastiness' is not confined to Jamaica, but is common at matches abroad. It is reported that referees at international matches are now being given crash courses in the lexicon of English language obscenities in an attempt to control behaviour on and off the field.

Cursing in football is hardly new. Watch any game and you're sure to see players uttering some choice words after missed shots or fouls. Portuguese, Korean, Greek — nothing gets lost in translation. But referees can't give out cards for what they think was said, and FIFA requires World Cup referees and assistants to be proficient only in English. So it is reported that international referees are now researching English and American curses.

They ought to try and research Jamaican bad words too, but I wish them luck. When I was team manager for the St Elizabeth Essex Valley schoolboy football team sponsored by Alpart and Hydro Aluminum to the Norway Cup in the 1990s, our young, disciplined teams were exposed to some choice new words from a number of the teams we played against from all over the world. The Norway Cup is an international youth football tournament which is held annually in Ekebergsletta, Oslo. It is one of the world's largest football tournaments and typically sees some 1,400 to 1,700 participating teams per year.

The participants in the tournament come from around 50 to 60 different nations. Imagine my amazement when we heard a particular Jamaican expletive coming from the Iceland team of under-14 boys in a match against Essex Valley. It turned out that there were two Jamaican brothers playing for Iceland (you see how we get around), and the little mischief-makers had taught their teammates some Jamaican bad words which the poor referee couldn't understand. I am happy to say that our boys did not retaliate, although we probably could have given them a lesson in fine Jamaican poetry.

Football referees deserve to get medals for bravery. A man arrives at the gates of heaven, where St Peter greets him and says: “Before I can let you enter I must ask you what you have done in your life that was particularly good.” The man racks his brains for a few minutes and then admits to St Peter that he hasn't done anything particularly good in his life.

“Well,” says St Peter, “have you done anything particularly brave in your life?” “Yes, I have,” replies the man proudly. St Peter asks the man to give an account of his bravery.

So the man explains, “I was refereeing this important match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield. The score was 0-0 and there was only one more minute of play to go in the second half when I awarded a penalty against Liverpool at the Kop end.”

“Yes,” responded St Peter, “I agree that was a real act of bravery. Can you perhaps tell me when this took place?”

“Certainly,” the man replied, “about three minutes ago.”

For those of us who love football, it's a good time to be in Jamaica, with Saturday afternoons or mid-week days booked for engaging in full-time play and solid entertainment. There is also a positive spin-off for the thriving casual economy, with sidewalk vendors exultant at the opportunity to cash in on the captive sideline market, while bus and taxi operators enjoy the after-school business traffic.

Despite the rough edges, schoolboy football is fun and has captured the attention of the entire country. It's true that the behaviour of players and fans is sometimes unseemly, but school administrators and match officials remain on their toes to control any exuberance which could mar the game.

Let's face it: with our level of national indiscipline, it is a marvel and a credit to those in charge that we can roll out an islandwide spectacle of this sort each year with minimum disruption and misbehaviour. Remember, it's 120 schools and 2,500 players.

We should pay close attention to Davis's column, “I swear I've given up.” It does force us to wonder how we can cope with and curb this kind of social violence that is on display not only at football matches but all over the country. There is hope.

The word used by the Icelandic boys in the football match were innocently used and did not have any sexual connotation. The fact that our boys did not respond and maintained Jamaican 'broughtupcy' and discipline at all times during our tours is encouraging, and speaks well for the core of good behaviour and good manners that is at the heart of our country.

Football — and sports in general — is such a significant part of the school curriculum that it is now time to introduce a code of conduct into the sports programmes, with an emphasis on character development, sportsmanship and discipline. A code of conduct is not wishful thinking. I have seen it at work in the youth development programmes organised by companies like Kaiser, Noranda, Alpart, Windalco, and Jamalco, where sportsmanship, role model examples and discipline are considered as important as the skills training in football, netball, cricket, and other sports at the companies' summer camps.

Finally, here's something to laugh at while the West Indies play on. A Jamaican cricket fan dreamt that he saw an angel who offered to grant him one wish. “I want to live forever,” he said. “Sorry,” said the angel, “I'm not allowed to grant wishes like that.”

“Fine,” says my friend, “in that case I want to die when the West Indies win the next Test series.”

“You crafty son of a gun,” says the angel.

Lance Neita is a public and community relations consultant and writer. Send comments to the Observer or lanceneita@hotmail.com.

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