Over 900 young boys and girls are expected to compete at the Kingston Super Cup this weekend, but leading youth tournament organiser Gregory Jones is calling for greater support and collaboration from the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and corporate sponsors towards the efforts to develop local football through grass-roots competitions and development programmes.
Jones, whose ProNation Sports also organises the Victory Cup, Springs Cup, and Christmas Challenge tournaments and also manages other age-group football competitions on behalf of other organisers such as Harbour View FC's recently staged Reggae Cup, highlighted the importance of grass-roots tournaments as well as the work of local academies and youth football programmes.
"I think the tournaments are important as it relates to development, and if you look right across the globe, you look in North America, you look at Europe, most academies, most clubs, they will train and then they will play tournaments, that's how you assess the players," Jones said.
"It's a big part of the assessment and a big part of the development. I think tournaments are very important. In Jamaica, we've not been doing this for years. We play football probably three to four months for the year and it's dominated by our school system, which does not necessarily develop the best players. So when you have a structured system, where you have academies and clubs playing right throughout the year, I think the development will be faster or more improved," he added.
Forty-two teams have been registered to compete at this weekend's tournament which takes place at the UWI Bowl in St Andrew.
Teams will compete in various age-group categories ranging from under-7 to under-15 with an under-17 female category also expected to be contested.
"As usual our objective is to keep the youngsters playing right throughout the year; at least 10 months for the year in a structured playing environment where they can get good competition. Generally, we don't play football at this time of the year so to keep the tournaments going will keep the boys and girls playing in a structured environment and that is our aim," Jones pointed out.
In addition to support for these tournaments, Jones called for more effort toward coaches' education as well as an improvement in the available infrastructure.
"I think that there has to be something put in place to ensure that there's a continuation of coaches' education at the grass-roots level. I think we need better coaches at the grass-roots level and we need more facilities. If you go right across the length and breadth of Jamaica, we do not have good surfaces for the kids to play on and so that's a major factor," said Jones, who also underlined the huge costs involved in staging youth tournaments and the challenges of attracting financial support.
"To host a tournament like the Kingston Super Cup will cost us more than a million dollars for this weekend's tournament but it's an investment. It's investing in these youngsters right across the board. We look at Whisper [Dujaun Richards], he played in our tournament a couple of years ago and these are players who have come through the system. So we are saying to the corporate sponsors, we are saying to the JFF, we need to get you guys on board," said Jones. "We need coaches' education, we need facilities and if we are serious about grass-roots development, then these things have to be at the forefront of what we're doing."
"When you look at what's happening in Kingston and St Andrew, there are so many academies popping up, there are so many kids playing and that's what we want, but outside of Kingston and St Andrew, whichever other parish you go to, you can't find three clubs with grass-roots programmes. Some of the Premier League clubs do not have grass-roots programmes. Why? Not enough money is available and they do not have the infrastructure to do so," he said.
This weekend's Kingston Super Cup tournament marks a return of the competition, which has not been contested since the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the last staging of the Kingston Super Cup in 2019, Emmanuel Christian Academy took top honours in the Under-7 category, Exodus Football Club won the Under-9 competition, Ballaz Academy came out on top in the Under-11 age group, while Harbour View Football Club were the victors in the Under-13 group.