Qatar World Cup 2022 and Jamaica
The eagerly awaited World Cup in Russia has come and gone swiftly and left many fans disappointed to see their favourites exit the cup far too soon. As usual, the majority of Jamaicans appear to have supported Brazil, it is just natural, but France eventual winners, Argentina and Germany each had significant Jamaican support.
One thing that the World Cup proved was that the gap between the established, time-honoured favourites and most of the other finalists has narrowed significantly and there were very few minnows in this edition of the cup.
Plenty kudos are due to Croatia, who it must be recalled had their debut in the World Cup in 1998, the same time as Jamaica and were one of the three teams we had to play in our single appearance there. We actually scored against them in a 3-1 loss. They were worthy finalists 20 years later.
Jamaica beat Japan in our only victory then. In the 2018 World Cup, Japan it was who put the seal on defending champion Germany's fate, beating them 2-0 in the qualifying group round and eliminating them early.
Iceland, with a population of less than 400,000, about half the size of Kingston and St. Andrew, showed its mettle and held Argentina to a 1-1 draw.
Twenty years on from our first excursion in 1998, Jamaica is still unable to find another notch to take us there. So other countries have made what appears to be quantum leaps to prominence on this the biggest football stage, but Jamaica is still searching for another opportunity to display its rich football talent to the world. The next World Cup will be staged in Qatar in 2022 and before the euphoria of the Russian escapades dies down, the football fraternity here in Jamaica must begin an immediate In-depth evaluation as to how it can give itself the best chance of qualifying for Qatar.
From where we are at this stage, there can be no easy fix and it has to be recognised that it cannot be business as usual.
DIALOGUE MUST START NOW
The best football minds and the best business minds, along with the government must be collectively engaged soonest, to begin the dialogue with a view to developing the most structured plan from here to the last qualifying match for Qatar. Let us not wait, four years is a very short time and there is much work to be done. There are some basic imperatives even at this stage and it is worth noting what some of these are so that the Planning Committee can have an immediate draft frame of reference to shape the thrust.
- Significant improvement in the playing surfaces at our Premier League club grounds to improve our first touch and by extension the quality of our club football.
- Increasing the number of clubs that have an acceptable playing surface. At this time less than four of our regularly used fields are adequate for building this talent and improving our individual skill levels.
- Improving the attendant facilities such as changing rooms, access points to the venues, spectator seating and amenities at each of the premier league clubs for starters.
- Ensure that the Under-20 competition becomes a reality and a fixture as of 2019 and is efficiently run. This feeder competition for the senior national team has not been held for some time.
- Ensure greater value is placed on the players at each of the Premier league clubs. This will involve better remuneration, better health care and injury management, better nutrition and better overall management.
- Holistically, this will engender a higher level of professionalism among players on the one hand and the management of the clubs on the other and a much stronger focus on excellence in performance on and off the field. CONCACAF's drive to ensure all clubs and leagues in the region become fully professional and accountable by 2019 is an excellent catalyst to this end.
- The JFF for its part will, I am sure, work assiduously to secure matches for the national squad on every International day and provide the level of consistent exposure to top class competition for the squad.
-The JFF will no doubt have obtained copies of the videos of several of the classical matches from the recently concluded World Cup and will want to incorporate these in the training and instructional component of the thrust over the next three to four years.
- The PFAJ, responsible for the Red Stripe Premier League, must ensure the smooth and highly efficient management and execution of the RSPL over the next three years to facilitate the emergence of excellent talent and adherence to strong discipline on and off the field.
- The PFAJ and the clubs will have to find a way to encourage much higher level of spectator support at each game and one way to do this is to significantly raise the level of professionalism in every aspect of our football, both on and off the field.
- It is incumbent on the PFAJ to run a competition that will excite the spectators and make them want to attend each match in droves. Part of this draw will to pave the way for a huge positive change in the image of the sport to make interested persons anxious to go to matches at their home ground and other venues rather than staying away.
- All of this will demand much of the planners, not the least of which will be serious injection of capital to bring about the desired level of improvements at the club and national level. Whether this is through a franchise system or some other means it is largely immaterial what it is called. The fact is this thrust to Qatar, embodying a drastic transformation of what currently exists, will demand significant investment for it to become a reality.
- What seems imperative at this time is the development of a well-constructed marketing plan that will be the tool to engage the private sector in supporting the drive. Such a marketing plan and drive is at this time urgently needed. The two major prongs must be on the one hand the realisation and buy-in of the goal to qualify for and do well in the Qatar World Cup and on the other a clear path outlining the significant benefits to sponsors from being part of a successful campaign to qualify for 2022.
There is no doubt that there is a ground swell of support for the National Team to once again reach the ultimate stage in football and there can be no doubt that the football frenzy and euphoria which gripped the country over the past month would be hugely magnified with Jamaica among the 32 teams in Qatar. Can we even begin to imagine what it would mean to see the Black, Green and Gold of Jamaica competing against the best in Qatar in 2022?. Picture a Jamaica versus Brazil, a Germany, France. Some allegiances would have to change of course. It is a heavy challenge, but a doable one if there is.
Significant enhancement of the professionalism in the RSPL over the next three years
- Good corporate buy-in and support for the program right from the outset which is now
- Strong support and facilitation from the government partnering with both the football interests and the private sector.
- Qualifying for 2022 will be a difficult task, but an attainable one. It is up to all of us.
- Don Anderson, CD, is the chairman of the Professional Football Association of Jamaica and formerly Vice President of the JOA for 32 years, during which time he was head of Jamaica's delegation to five consecutive Olympic Games up to and including London 2012.