The Wright View | Too much football for schoolboys
The FLOW Super Cup is living up to the pre-competition hype generated by a really professional marketing blitz.
The competition pits the eight zone champions in the rural daCosta Cup competition against zone champions in the metropolitan Manning Cup. The initial set of games is so arranged that it ensures that it is 'country' versus 'town'.
This format attracts large attendances at games and serves either to deny or confirm the widely held belief that the 'town' schools are better funded and coached than their 'country' counterparts.
The organisers at FLOW, the generous sponsors of this competition (dubbed the Champions League of schoolboy football), have selected the Montego Bay-based Catherine Hall complex and Kingston-based Sabina Park as the venues to be used during this weekend competition. Good choice, as it ensures that the innate skills of the boys are given a chance to shine on a stage that will be televised and broadcast to the nation.
Every genuine fan of local football has bemoaned the lack of proper playing surfaces used for different and varied competitions in Jamaica. But the hierarchy of the Jamaica Football Federation has apparently decided to concentrate the majority of its resources in (what is now confirmed as a futile attempt) to buy our way to the World Cup Finals using 'foreign' sources. But I digress. That is for another column.
This year's FLOW Super Cup competition has lived up to the hype, as the eight matches played over the weekend have seen the expected blowouts and, of course, an upset.
The first half of every match has provided a comprehensive insight of the unbelievable talent of our youngsters. We do have good LOCAL footballers and, indeed, good LOCAL coaches!
LITTLE TIME TO RECOVER
There is really no need for 'plastic' Jamaicans to represent our country in international competition. But, as one would expect in any football match, the second 45 minutes of the matches seen on the weekend provided evidence that our young boys are just playing too much football.
Manning Cup, Walker Cup, daCosta Cup, Ben Francis Cup, Oliver Shield and FLOW Super Cup mean that the better schoolboy footballers have very little time to (a) recover and (b) pay the requisite attention to the whole purpose of school, which is to get an education that will equip them to be productive citizens once school is over.
The many stops for cramps, injuries and inexplicable technical lapses of youngsters (who earlier in the season were guaranteed to put away simple goalscoring opportunities), can only be explained by exhaustion, mentally and physically.
Professional footballers in the very popular English Premier League protest in no uncertain manner when schedules require them to play three matches in seven days. Yes, professional adult males.
Yet we (constantly) demand that our young Jamaicans play three matches weekly "because we have to complete the competition before the end of the school term".
The lives and future of our children are being sacrificed on the altar of blatant commercialism.
At what point do we the people say to the organisers of schoolboy football 'no mas', 'no more'?
We can reduce the number of games played by the 'better' schools by (a) dividing the Manning Cup and the daCosta Cup into two tiers, with promotion and demotion based on their placing in the previous year's competition, or (b) mandating that players be restricted to the number of games played in any football season.
There is many a precedent for this. The legendary football icon, Lindy Delapenha, caused the hierarchy of a concerned ISSA in the late '40s to restrict the number of events a child could compete in at Champs, which played a significant role in preserving his health.
Delapenha is alive and well today, after a pioneering role in getting players of colour to play in the EPL.
The paucity of local schoolboy 'star' players going on to represent their country can be traced to burnout and lost opportunities when football trumped scholastic study.
Other countries have found interesting ways of mandating the number of games children play in any one season of a sport. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. We owe it to our children.