Sun | Jun 26, 2022

Editorial | Vin Blaine, the JFF and crisis management

Published:Thursday | May 19, 2022 | 12:07 AM

Vin Blaine is right. Stepping down as coach of Jamaica’s women’s football team is, in the circumstances, “the right thing” to do.

The only surprise in Mr Blaine’s decision is the time it took him to arrive at it – more than a fortnight after it became public knowledge that his team had lost confidence in his leadership and had told the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) as much. Indeed, it ought to have mattered nought to Mr Blaine, even if it were the case, that the JFF had asked him to stay his hand, and declared a world of confidence in his abilities.

But it is not only Mr Blaine who erred. Again, the JFF displayed a lack of deftness in handling an admittedly difficult problem. It has lost time in Jamaica’s preparation for Concacaf’s qualifiers for the Women’s World Cup.

Mr Blaine is a relatively experienced football coach, including the women’s version of the sport. He previously served as head coach of the island’s junior women’s team, before becoming, in 2017, technical director of Grenada’s national football programme. He assumed the leadership of Jamaica’s senior women’s team last December, when his predecessor, Hubert Busby Jr, was forced to step down, having become enmeshed in a sex scandal from his days in charge of the Vancouver Whitecaps women’s team in Canada.

Judged by the team’s results, Mr Blaine would almost certainly be deemed to have performed decently in the position, albeit not against stellar opponents. In the pre-qualifiers, the team beat Bermuda (4-0), Grenada (6-1), Cayman Islands (9-0), and Dominican Republic (5-1) to earn a berth in the Concacaf tournament in Mexico in July at which Concacaf’s four teams for next year’s Women’s World Cup will be chosen.

SUPPORT LOST

But in early May, it emerged that 20 members of Mr Blaine’s team, almost the entire squad, had sent a letter to the JFF, essentially accusing Mr Blaine of incompetence. They complained about an absence of details and structure at training sessions, and that there was too little or no analysis of opposing teams ahead of matches. Communication between Mr Blaine as his staff was bad, the players also claimed.

Whatever the truth, or otherwise, of the allegations with that letter, dated April 25, Mr Blaine had obviously lost the support and trust of his team. That is an untenable situation for any leader, including a football coach or manager. There can be no going back. Too much has been done or said by too many.

Mr Blaine’s only credible option at that time was to irrevocably offer his resignation to the JFF, even if he felt it necessary to attempt to vindicate his stewardship and establish the fallacy of the allegations. Indeed, Mr Blaine claimed he was the victim of outside forces. The hand of Esau and the voice of Jacob, as it were.

Alternatively, the JFF might have declared unwavering support for Mr Blaine and selected a new women’s squad for the tournament. If that option was impractical, it might have pulled out of the qualifying tournament and forgo the chance of Jamaica reaching the Women’s World Cup.

INVIDIOUS POSITION

The JFF’s problem, of course, is that it could not appear to fold to demands by players. So the federation announced it had ordered an investigation into the team’s allegations. Its technical committee said it found no evidence to prove the claims against Mr Blaine. The JFF said he would stay.

By failing to resign, and, for a time, seemingly willing to cling to the position, Mr Blaine placed the JFF in an invidious position. The federation made the situation worse with its less-than-mastery of crisis management and strategy – and communication.

Once it was clear that it could not, or would not, turf out the complaining team members, the JFF might have nudged Mr Blaine to the high ground, which he is now attempting to occupy. At the same time, the federation could have orchestrated itself into a position where it could credibly claim that it would not be dictated to by the players, or external coup plotters, while allowing all parties to get what they wanted. Which is what is now transpiring. Late.

Indeed, much time has been lost. A new coach still has to be recruited. Given the stance of the players, that coach cannot be from Mr Blaine’s team, unless there is in the lot someone untainted by the allegations. The coach will have little time to assess the players ahead of their Mexico assignment. Time is short, too, to do all the preparatory work, including organising pre-tournament training camps and practice matches.

It misses them all the time, but maybe this time the JFF has learnt something about crisis management. Or, just management.