Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial | The larger vistas of Horace Burrell

Published:Thursday | June 8, 2017 | 6:00 AM

To speak truthfully of the dead is to not speak ill of them. Therefore, Horace Burrell, the former army captain and president of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) who died Tuesday, aged 67, ought to be portrayed as the multidimensional and complex figure that he was.

He lifted Jamaica's football to great heights. Yet, in nearly two decades of its leadership, he left the game far short of being the self-sustaining and sustainable agency some people hoped or expected, perhaps unreasonably, it would be.

Further, while there has never been accusation of wrongdoing against Mr Burrell himself, he, for a long time, operated in a Caribbean football culture that was permissive of corruption exemplified by the disgrace of former FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner and jailed CONCACAF boss Jeffrey Webb without appearing to do anything about it. Indeed, Mr Warner was Mr Burrell's early mentor/sponsor in international football and Mr Webb was a close friend.

In fact, Mr Burrell himself was caught up in the scandal over the provision of monetary gifts to Caribbean football officials by banned former FIFA presidential hopeful, Mohammed bin Hammam. Mr Burrell was suspended by FIFA for six months for initially failing to cooperate with its investigation.

This, while a blemish, won't be the lasting memory or legacy of Mr Burrell, who served two stints as president of the JFF the first between 1994 and 2003 and, having been voted out for a term, from 2007 up to his death. From a national perspective, there were two especially distinguishing features of Captain Burrell's leadership. The first was his style.

As is often the case with men who have served as military officers, Mr Burrell's primary approach was to command, which meshed, with what colleagues agree, with a mild authoritarian streak and a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish. And that vision, to many people at the time, would have seemed impossible.

He pledged to take Jamaica to the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. That it happened, lifting Jamaica to a sustained period of national euphoria, was testament to Mr Burrell's self-belief, drive, work ethic and persuasiveness, which convinced the Jamaican Government and the private sector to invest multimillions of dollars in the football programme. Maybe only the performance of Jamaica's athletes at the Olympics, more recently, elicited this sense of patriotism and can-do spirit that was so pervasive in '98.

 

NO SHAME

 

While France showed what was possible, repeating it was also going to be difficult. Indeed, sustaining that formula, with expensive foreign coaches, teams made up substantially of Jamaicans playing in foreign leagues and many preparatory international friendlies, it's an expensive formula for a poor country. So, despite the raised expectations, there is no shame that Mr Burrell, or his successor, Crenston Boxhill in his brief stint, were not able to return Jamaica to the World Cup.

Our criticism of Mr Burrell, though, is that he made the World Cup a project unto itself, not as potential of or progression from Jamaica's domestic football. He didn't expend the same energy on the domestic game, which lacked the deep, thoughtful planning and broad, sustained engagement necessary to lift the game and its supporting infrastructure to a higher level.

Ultimately, for all their flaws and frailties, people like Burrell come along infrequently. He caused us to believe and drove us beyond ourselves to do things we thought impossible. That's a heck of a legacy.