Bernard’s big blunders
The biggest sports discussion on now is, undoubtedly, the rather disappointing show by the Sunshine Girls in Australia. The management team and some of the players are clearly rattled by the harsh criticism coming their way.
The netballers can take heart from this, as ironic as it sounds. We don't get upset when our volleyball or basketball teams fail in any international tournament. The reaction from the public is proof that people care about the netballers more than ever before.
The fourth-place finish at the World Cup coincides with the end of the reign of Marva Bernard, who will demit office later this year after a decade of serving as president of the JNA. Marva has come in for a lot of flak, not least from me, over the years, but I won't join those who are now trying to downplay her achievements as JNA boss.
Marva Bernard, unquestionably, has been among the most hard-working administrators of any sports organisation in the last 10 years. No other president has been more accessible to the media, none more tireless in efforts to keep a sports organisation and its activities in the forefront of people's minds.
She has lifted the profile of the Sunshine Girls from a team that would get our attention for World Cup and Commonwealth tournaments, to a team that's discussed virtually every day in both traditional and social media. The team now has its own house and transportation. The per diem received has increased and, generally, the Girls are far more comfortable than ever before. No other netball president in our history has worked so hard to get corporate Jamaica's support.
We cannot not give the affable Marva Bernard her credit for all of this. Marva has been voted Sports Administrator of the Year on no fewer than three occasions, in the last seven years, by callers to my radio show on KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Indeed, it would be fair to say that she has been the most-admired president by the sport-loving public since she took the job.
Marva gives the impression that she sees the netball team almost like an extended family. She will fiercely defend the Girls with the air of a doting grandmother, who sees someone ill-treating her favourite grandchild. It's not unknown for Marva to shed real tears if she is emotional enough about an issue with the team, but she can also be transformed from this easy-going, affable woman to being fairly caustic with the media if she feels we are being unfair. I wouldn't be surprised if I learn that Marva talks netball in her sleep.
None of the above means that Marva is faultless. She can't escape the perception that she led an organisation that was fairly sexist. The biggest blunder of her reign was to state that until she sees a woman coaching football, no man will coach the Sunshine Girls. That may haunt her for life.
She said that when the credentials of Winston Nevers were just too much to ignore. She did apologise, but the damage was done. It then appeared to be a political act, almost like damage control, when she gave the Under-21 coaching job to C. Lloyd Walker. If Marva had thought that Mr Walker's appointment would stave off criticisms that she was biased against men, she was dead wrong. The public didn't want a man, per se, the public wanted Nevers and, as long as he stayed on the fringes looking in, Marva couldn't escape some flak.
Marva's other crime was to believe too blindly in Jill McIntosh. This one, though, is more understandable. Jill comes with an impressive resume. She has won two World Cups with Australia and is widely regarded as being among the best coaches in the business. It was obvious to an objective eye, though, that Jill was making little difference. The same faults that the team had before Jill's recruitment continued unchecked. We still couldn't shoot from distance. We were still unable to maintain the intensity and concentration in the second half of a game. Our ability to get the ball to the shooter regularly was still a problem, essentially because we overrelied on the same lob pass.
Despite these signs, Marva stubbornly stuck with her. Jill has let her down badly. None can say that it was merely because she was a foreign coach either, because both Connie and Oberon were national coaches under Marva. She simply gambled on Jill and lost. The other president, presumably Dr Paula Daley Morris, will have her hands full.
Yet, despite her blunders, Marva will be a difficult act to follow.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.