Editorial | Politics and the battle for Arnett FC
The battle for control of the Arnett Gardens Football Club (FC) is a manifestation of how politics and politicians, if given a chance, will infiltrate and ultimately take control of institutions of any kind, especially when they provide a platform from which to corral support.
That, essentially, is what Omar Davies, the former member of parliament (MP) for South St Andrew, achieved and what his presumptive successor, Mark Golding, is attempting to achieve. Although, to be fair to Mr Golding, he has wrapped his scheme of arrangements in a seemingly high-minded proposal for the professionalisation of the club and making it more accountable.
The context here is that football is Jamaica's most popular sport, and politicians, whenever the opportunity arises, attempt to get a piece of the action. It is not surprising that a substantial portion of the money parliamentarians siphon from taxpayers and into the trough called Constituency Development Fund goes to sponsoring or supporting community football tournaments that often bear their names.
At the elite end of the Jamaican game, Edward Seaga, the former prime minister, understood the manipulative power of football early. He was soon the boss of the Tivoli Gardens Football Club in his West Kingston constituency, which he parlayed into other top positions in the national game, which he continues to exercise well into retirement.
Mike Henry, the government minister, controls the Humble Lion Club, which has its home in his Central Clarendon constituency. For nearly two decades, until he retired as an MP a week ago, Dr Davies was publicly known as chairman of the Arnett Gardens FC, where he was presumed to wield authority. At least, his presence influenced that of some of the club's financiers.
Mr Golding was chosen by the People's National Party (PNP) to succeed Dr Davies, in what is considered to be a very safe seat for the party. Mr Golding is apparently intent on overhauling not only things political in the constituency, but also football. He has talked publicly of a radical reorganisation of Arnett Gardens, including eliminating the role of the president, with the top position being that of chairman, which he would hold, and an operating board.
What he plans, on the face of it, is a clean corporatist structure, which would possibly improve the management of the club - and certainly keep Mr Golding in the marquee lights. Except that Patrick Roberts, a PNP local government councillor and officially Arnett's president for the past 17 years, accuses Mr Golding of overreach.
"The chairmanship is not transferable," he told this newspaper. "At least, not in the way Mark sees it."
According to Mr Roberts, the club's constitution does not recognise the post of chairman. The top position is that of president. Other key posts include vice-president, secretary, treasurer and team manager.
Dr Davies' position as 'chairman', Mr Roberts explained, was "awarded" to him because of his position as MP and considered as a "sort of senior statesman", who played no role in the day-to-day operation of the club. It is, therefore, not a position that Dr Davies can bequeath to anyone or Mr Golding can appropriate. And in any event, said Mr Roberts, Mr Golding isn't yet elected to Parliament.
If Mr Roberts and those who support him are on firm ground with respect to the letter of the constitution, its enforcement was weak. We don't expect there have been many formal and minuted meetings at which the re-election of officers or the appointment of an honorary chairman was recorded. And we know what they say about nature and vacuums.
The political mileage from running a successful football club apart, Mr Golding could be right about the needs of Arnett FC. But as a lawyer, he understands due process and the constitution. As a politician, he should also appreciate the value of saving face.