Orville Higgins | Cut Ricketts, JFF some slack!
It is generally accepted that football is the most popular sport in Jamaica. Maybe that explains why the football administrators here get so much more criticism than the leaders of the other sports associations. Barely a week goes by without somebody, somewhere, taking a jab at the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) president, Michael Ricketts, and his executives for something. However, I do not think people have anything personal against Ricketts.
In the latter part of his presidency, the late Captain Horace Burrell also received his fair share of flack. It is simply that football bosses are clearly held to a higher standard than their counterparts in other sports. No other sports administrator is put under the hammer more regularly than those in football, by media, the public at large, and as we saw earlier this week, even by current players.
A few weeks ago, Michael Hall, a well-known sports figure, demonstrated in front of JFF headquarters in New Kingston. He had a litany of concerns about how the nation’s football is being run. When I spoke to him on radio, I can’t say that any of his grouses were without basis. The issues he raised were all legitimate. What I found interesting, however, is that this same individual has worked closely with regional cricket over the years. He has been in the belly of the beast called Cricket West Indies for years. Cricket West Indies has had more than its fair share of issues in recent times, but there was never this kind of response from him. Enough said on that.
We all heard and read about Reggae Boy Kemar ‘Taxi’ Lawrence’s outburst about his displeasure with the JFF. He was complaining about a number of things. Again, I am convinced that Taxi must have been speaking out of genuine concern and obvious frustration. What I find fascinating, however, is that despite the vitriol he was pouring out at the JFF, he still played in Jamaica’s game against the USA. I find it difficult to believe that too many other athletes in other sports could make such dramatic outbursts against their association and avoid sanctions of one type or other. But this is football, where criticism of the leadership is the accepted norm.
Following his outburst, a fresh round of criticism about the JFF started to make the rounds. Both mainstream and social media were buzzing with anti-Ricketts sentiments.
I juxtapose all this with what happens in other sports. Jamaica’s cricket has been struggling badly at all levels for a while, and yet you very rarely hear any public criticism about Wilford ‘Billy’ Heaven, the Jamaica Cricket Association president. He seems to get a pass from the public. Even when there is concern raised about negative things in other sports like netball and track and field, the media and the public never seem to have the same “off with their heads” mentality about their leaders. That seems to be reserved for those who run football.
We need to be fair. Since Ricketts has taken over, we have qualified for a FIFA Women’s World Cup. The senior men’s team has improved its rankings. Our under 20s came within whiskers of qualifying for the under-20 World Cup, only nosed out by goal difference by Mexico. The football academy at The University of The West Indies is now complete. For the first time ever, we will host Concacaf Gold Cup games.
Why the everlasting doom and gloom narrative about football in Jamaica? If we compare football with what is happening with the other sports in Jamaica, then we would see that relatively speaking, the football administrators are doing better than most. Even if we are keen on flogging the devil, we must also give him his due.