Hubert Lawrence | Making the right deals
Decades ago, the head of a local sporting federation told me that he could only secure sponsorship for development if his men's team won the Caribbean Championships. Bereft of funding to chase both objectives, he and his federation made every effort to win the regional tournament not just for the glory, but also to unlock the wallets that would pay for grass-roots work. It's a dilemma many sports face.
It's probably worse if the sport in question had notable results in the past. That's where our football is today, and that's why it's tempting for the officials in that sport to make deals to accelerate progress. The possible national team selection of 20 year-old Leon Bailey is a case in point. Time will tell what emerges from recent meetings with Bailey's connections and the local football federation, but we all need to tread carefully.
Bailey is a fine footballer, but it would be risky to select him to the national team with pre-conditions to include the selection of others and the installation of his connections to influential posts in the Federation. From what we see of him in the Bundesliga, he deserves a national call purely on merit.
In his most recent televised match, he was effervescent. In one artful move, he turned past a defender on the right side of the 18-yard box and chipped the advancing goalkeeper only to be denied by the crossbar. The manoeuvre didn't quite work but had class written all over it.
In 17 Bundesliga games for Bayer Leverkusen, he has scored eight goals, and understandably, his play has attracted attention from top clubs across Europe.
Time will reveal if those well-publicised talks have entrenched the principle of selection by footballing merit only. Just imagine what could happen if other fine prospects require such pre-conditions in the future. The situation could become untenable.
Hopefully, recent talks between JFF President Michael Ricketts and Bailey's connection, Craig Butler, have cleared the air. There certainly is a role for experts like Butler, who develop players to high standards of proficiency. At the same time, though pressed to produce results that could open the wallet to pay for development, the Federation has to avoid setting a dangerous precedent.
There are approximately six million Jamaicans worldwide. It's my guess that there has to be a way for Jamaica to develop the footballers in that number. Hard, smart work at home and shrewd recruitment from abroad is the best bet to creating teams that can make us as proud as we were in 1998. To regain that lost ground, Jamaica's football needs all hands on deck.
By the way, success did come to the sport mentioned at the start of this group of thoughts. The Caribbean title was in fact won by Jamaica. However, that sport is far worse off today than it was all those decades ago.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.