JAMAICA Football Federation (JFF) boss Michael Ricketts says the Reggae Boyz “just have to press on” after their World Cup qualification bid was dealt another blow with the Government's decision to bar spectators from the upcoming clash against Mexico.
“We are very, very disappointed [because] we really thought we had actually passed that stage. But at the same time, we understand the seriousness of the pandemic and the new strain of COVID-19,” he said when contacted by the Jamaica Observer on Friday.
The Jamaican Government had initially indicated the likelihood of vaccinated fans being allowed inside the National Stadium in Kingston for the January 27 match against the visiting Mexicans.
However, last month the writing was on the wall when, in the throes of rising confirmed novel coronavirus cases in the country — believed to be fuelled by the Omicron variant — the Government reversed its decision to allow fan entry for local schoolboy football and international cricket between West Indies and Ireland.
“The truth is that I kind of suspected [this would happen] based on what had happened with cricket and schoolboy football,” Ricketts said.
“But it is disappointing because not having spectators [before] and then being permitted to have 5,000 at the subsequent game, we had actually asked for an increase in numbers, only now to be told that we can't have any spectators at all. But that's how life is. We just have to press on and hope for some good results. The big picture really is to get as many points as we can and qualify for Qatar,” the JFF president continued.
On Friday the Observer's telephone calls to Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie, who has oversight of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, went unanswered. This newspaper also tried, without success, to get a comment from Minister of Sport Olivia Grange.
Jamaica's footballers only have an outside chance of reaching the Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup finals, after struggling in the Concacaf final-round qualifiers. They are desperate for any advantage, particularly the support of home fans, to help boost their performances and points tally.
The Reggae Boyz, who have won only once so far, are sixth in the octagonal table with seven points from eight matches. Canada lead with 16 points, ahead of United States (15), Mexico (14), Panama (14) and Costa Rica (nine). Seventh-place El Salvador have six points while Honduras (three) are at the back of the pack. Each team is left to play six matches.
While the top three nations from the region will progress automatically to the World Cup, the fourth-place finisher will head to an intercontinental play-off for another possible spot to Qatar.
After the encounter against Mexico, the Jamaicans are scheduled to play away to Panama on January 30 before returning home for the February 2 fixture versus Costa Rica.
Though the Government has not given a formal decision on whether fans will be permitted entry for the Costa Rica contest, Ricketts is not optimistic.
“The Government has indicated to us that they will not be permitting us to have fans at the game on January 27, and I suppose neither for the game against Costa Rica which will be a few days after,” he told the Observer.
Last September and October, the JFF was not granted approval for spectators to attend Jamaica's respective World Cup qualifiers against Panama and Canada at the National Stadium. Members of the media were allowed access to the venue but had to show negative coronvirus test results.
In November, up to 5,000 vaccinated fans were approved to enter the stadium for the Jamaica versus United States qualification match. Changes to the admission guidelines meant media practitioners had to prove they were fully vaccinated against the virus. The same measures are expected to be in place for the Jamaica versus Mexico contest.
Those rules have not been applied to the highly lucrative horse racing industry. Fans, whether vaccinated or not, have been allowed inside Caymanas Park on race days since June 2020, even during the on-and-off series of tight lockdowns after Jamaica's first virus case was identified in March of that year.