JFF gen sec positive about Jamaica's chances of making World Cup 2026
CHUNG...we have three additional [qualifying] spots [from Concacaf] and even if we try not to, we're going to (Photo: Karl McLarty)

JAMAICA Football Federation General Secretary Dennis Chung says he would be shocked if Jamaica's Reggae Boyz failed in their bid to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 2026.

With Concacaf having three automatic qualifying spots for the tournament — plus another half-spot via a play-off tournament — and the United States, Mexico, and Canada already qualifying as joint hosts, it presents the potential for seven teams to represent the region.

Jamaica's reputation in Concacaf has grown over the last decade. Having been to two Concacaf Gold Cup finals, ranked periodically in the top 50 in the world, and recruiting a number of high-profile players with English Premier League experience, there is some amount of expectation that the Reggae Boyz will take one of these spots.

Chung agrees with that sentiment.

Jamaica's Bobby Reid (left) celebrates with teammates Ravel Morrison (centre) and Leon Bailey after scoring a goal during the Concacaf Nations League football match against Mexico at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, on Sunday, March 26, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

"We're definitely going to 2026," he said. "We have three additional [qualifying] spots [from Concacaf] and even if we try not to, we're going to."

Chung was a special guest at a Rotary Club of Kingston meeting on Thursday when he spoke of the need for change among local administrative bodies, including sports, to better the nation, when asked what changes were being made to ensure the team qualifies.

"The coach [Heimir Halgrímsson] that we have will be making changes," he said. "The coach is excellent. I've seen the changes and you saw how we played in the Mexico match [Concacaf Nations League in March]. I think his philosophy, the way he approaches the game, I have no doubt in him.

"The first time he came to the office, he sat with us in a meeting and there was a four-year plan about all the matches he wanted to play. You see the progress and you see all the guys that he's bringing in. I don't want to say too much but I would be shocked if we don't go to the World Cup."

Chung urged leaders of Jamaica to be more open to innovation, as he says Jamaica's culture is marketable globally.

"I travel with the football team extensively and I was in Qatar — Jamaica was not in the World Cup but the few jerseys I carried, everybody wanted one of them," he said. "I was at the [Reggae Girlz] match against Sheffield United and there were people there in Jamaica colours who have never been to Jamaica but were supporting Jamaica. Everybody wants a piece of Jamaica.

"Same for music; Bob Marley was one of the biggest artistes around. But why can't we capitalise on that?"

Chung mentioned sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and footballer Khadija Shaw as proof of the talent Jamaica possesses in sports, and that there are many others who can develop into future stars like them if nurtured properly.

"What we have been unable to do is to do what is necessary to capitalise on that," he said. "Every time I look at the sporting brand that we have I say, 'Why are we not rolling in money?' "

But Chung says resistance to change is natural and occurs too often — to the detriment of Jamaica.

"It is because of a resistance to change why many organisations go out of business," Chung said. "People speak to the fact that you're trying to make a change but what they look for is the negative that comes out of it — they don't think beyond the actual challenge that you have. Because of this (and people actually resist it) then we don't have progress."

While the long-term focus is on the Reggae Boyz' FIFA World Cup 2026 campaign, that team is now preparing for the Gold Cup next month, while the Reggae Girlz are making plans for their second participation at a FIFA Women's World Cup which takes place in Australia and New Zealand, starting in July.

BY RACHID PARCHMENT Digital sports coordinator parchmentr@jamaicaobserver.com

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