Football as an agent of change
RICKETTS...we are looking forward to some exciting times (Photo: Observer file)

We believe sport has few equals as an agent in boosting health, community/national development, and well-being.

Only last week we recommended organised recreational activities and competitive sport as part of a drive towards physical fitness and, by extension, the fight against lifestyle diseases such as diabetes.

Additionally, Jamaicans need no reminding of the sense of nationhood and pride which flows from global success by individual athletes and teams.

At the local level currently, Social Development Commission earns kudos for enhancing harmony across communities nationally with its T20 community league — arguably the most successful cricket competition here.

But surely, when it comes to the potential for building peace, harmony, and goodwill at the community level no sport can match football.

To begin with, it's cheap and easy to organise and play. All that's really needed is a ball, a patch of ground, even a street corner, a group of boys or girls, or both, and we are good to go.

For decades community leaders, forward-thinking police officers, and social workers have used football to reduce tensions.

Perhaps the most celebrated instance of football being used to broker peace between rival communities happened in the late 1990s. That initiative was led by the late, former prime minister and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Member of Parliament for Kingston Western Mr Edward Seaga and former finance minister and People's National Party (PNP) Member of Parliament for St Andrew Southern Dr Omar Davies.

Good friends who actually shared birthdays, the two — admirably supported by community, constituency, and football leaders — set about reducing long-standing politically tribalised tensions between Tivoli Gardens in Kingston Western and Arnett Gardens in St Andrew Southern using the planet's most popular sport as a medium.

For many years, dating back to the 1970s, the two football clubs — Arnett Gardens FC and Tivoli Gardens FC — had routinely played each other on neutral ground, at Up Park Camp, headquarters of the Jamaican army, to avoid trouble.

Those who were there remember with something akin to awe Mr Seaga and Dr Davies, side by side, on a sunny afternoon just over two decades ago, as Arnett and Tivoli played each other at Anthony Spaulding Sports Complex in Arnett Gardens.

Such was the speed with which enmity between the communities disappeared after that football game — we suspect even the planners were surprised.

It's against that exhilarating backdrop that this newspaper embraces the vision of Jamaica Football Federation President Mr Michael Ricketts, who wants football to be an agent of change in crime-plagued areas. Football, he believes, can help young people to move away from crime. We believe the evidence to support his view is all around.

Social change at the community level apart, Mr Ricketts points to the growing potential for talented young people, especially in socially and economically depressed communities, to earn substantially by gaining professional football contracts abroad.

A number of Jamaican footballers, born and nurtured here, are already earning a good living abroad. But let's imagine if it could happen on a much larger and wider scale.

We wish Mr Ricketts well, as he moves to gain support at home and abroad in making his grand dream a reality.

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