'No side issues' Whitmore wants JFF, players to settle negotiations before March 25 friendly against US
Whitmore wants JFF, players to settle negotiations before March 25 friendly against US

Reggae Boyz Head Coach Theodore Whitmore wants contract negotiations between the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and players to be settled before the team takes the field against United States in a friendly international on March 25.

At a virtual press conference yesterday, the JFF announced that the contest, which is slated for Stadion Wiener Neustadt in Austria, is a crucial part of preparation for major engagements this year.

Jamaica's senior men's football team is to compete at the regional Gold Cup tournament from July 10 to August 1. That will be followed by the final phase of Concacaf World Cup qualifying, set to start in September. The Fifa World Cup is scheduled for 2022 in Qatar.

“The game versus the US in Austria will be a very good test of our readiness as a unit. I do not want any distraction or side issues as we need to be 100 per cent concentrated. All outstanding issues must be resolved before then, as we are not guaranteed another [competitive match] opportunity before the Gold Cup,” Whitmore said during the press conference.

Jamaica's most recent friendly international outing — a two-match series away to Saudi Arabia last November — was marred by a publicised salary dispute which led to talks of a possible player strike. The Boyz lost the first match 0-3 before rebounding with a 2-1 win in the second encounter.

JFF President Michael Ricketts said a committee tasked by the JFF to negotiate with players has given “positive” updates, though he noted he “cannot put a timeline to when these contracts will be signed”.

He added: “It's going a little bit more difficult than we thought it would have, but the process continues and we're just hopeful and very optimistic that in very short order we'll be adding some signatures to these contractual arrangements.”

The JFF boss indicated that the federation is putting contingencies in place if any player opts out of the friendly encounter.

“It is completely up to the players and we're just hoping that good sense will prevail. I'm pretty certain that we won't hold anything against players who are reluctant to sign, but the show has to go on. We certainly will have a team going to Austria,” he said, during yesterday's media conference.

The last time the teams met was at the semi-final stage of the 2019 Gold Cup, with the United States running away 3-1 winners. Their previous friendly contest was earlier that summer — the Reggae Boyz prevailing 1-0 in Washington, DC.

The staging of the upcoming match during the March Fifa window will allow both local- and overseas-based players to be available. The JFF said it is also exploring at least one friendly match during the window in June.

Though saying he was not yet fully armed with all the details surrounding the clash with the Concacaf giants, Ricketts said arrangement will be made to land in Austria on March 22.

Wiener Neustadt is a city located approximately 40 miles south of Austria's capital Vienna.

The Jamaica football president said the central European country was chosen to stage the match because it is seen as a relatively safe option even as countries continue to grapple with the novel coronavirus.

“The US would have secured this venue essentially because of the COVID protocols that seem to be very manageable in Austria, based again, I would think, on the low numbers [confirmed virus cases] there,” he said.

To reduce the risk of virus transmission, fans will not be permitted inside the match venue.

Up to Sunday, Austria — with a population of nearly nine million people — had recorded 459,000 positive cases and over 8,500 deaths.

The count in the United States (population 328 million) stands at nearly 29 million cases and over half-a-million deaths, while 422 people have died from the over 23,000 confirmed cases in Jamaica (population three million).

Globally, there have been 114 million cases and over 2.5 million deaths.

BY SANJAY MYERS Senior staff reporter myerss@jamaicaobserver.com

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