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Don Anderson | Jamaica make it to World Cup 2022 in Qatar?

Published:Wednesday | June 13, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Action from a 2017-18 Red Stripe Premier League match between UWI FC and Cavalier. At left is UWI FC's Rochane Smith while Cavalier's Alex Marshall is at right.

As the curtain rises on the premier football competition in the world this week, we are asking ourselves, "Can Jamaica make it to the 2012 finals in Qatar". The general feeling is "Yes, we can". Jamaica Olympic Association President Chris Samuda was unequivocal in this regard in his football talk last week.

As chairman (PFAJ), I declare my own support. Certainly Jamaica can qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

- Our football has developed significantly since 1998.

- We have unquestionably more good local players coming to the fore.

- Our Premier League has matured over the years and is now highly competitive.

We are enjoying a good run of success internationally, rising to 48th in the world ranking, so we are close to that 32-team bracket and have shown consistently that we can compete against the best.


Hurdles to overcome


But against the background of this general conviction, we have to face the stark reality that this is going to be a difficult assignment. Hence, we will have to temper our expectations going forward as there are several factors which we will need to overcome for us to get there.

One of these is the absence of facilities and infrastructure, specifically good playing surfaces and club amenities. There are very few fields with playing surfaces that can enhance the skills of our players. The playing surface is critical in football, as a good first touch is essential for a team to play well, all other things being equal. The quality of our fields here does not lend itself to quick and good ball control and hence good passing.

Several Premier League clubs have been working to improve their playing surfaces, but it remains a very tall order for them, financially. The absence of good playing surfaces will be a major drawback to cohesive play at the national level.


Better Lighting for playing and as a revenue generator


At nearly all venues lighting is adequate, at a time when television revenues play a critical part in the success of the game. In the absence of this, clubs and the national team will continue to struggle to earn adequate revenue to support the critical programmes needed for development.


High level of professionalism demanded


There is a glaring need for significant improvement in the level of professionalism among clubs and at the national level. CONCACAF is on a drive to force a growing acceptance of a strong professional approach to the game at both club and the league levels. Next year, 2019, is mandated by them for all leagues to be fully professional, good playing surfaces, good lighting, good club facilities for players and spectators, good venue control, good administration, good and transparent accounting. There are rewards for compliance and penalties for non-compliance.

Greater adherence to high professional standards will redound to the benefit of the clubs initially, and to the national programme. This will breed a new culture of excellence which will lead to the development of better players at club and national levels.


Developing from the youth level


The drive by the JFF supported by the JOA to qualify for the 2020 Olympics is a step in the right direction. But this thrust needs significant support.

The Government as facilitators and corporate Jamaica must come on board and complement this drive, as the youth will be the basis on which our football will grow. Already some 50 players have been identified for the Olympic qualifiers in order to transition from there to the world stage. The programme needs all the help possible.


Properly structured Premier League


The RSPL provides the nucleus of the players that will strive for World Cup glory. But no team competing in the RSPL at this time is adequately funded to meet its expenses, including player salaries, nutrition for players, medical and other critical needs for players.

But if this is the nucleus from which our national talent must come, this is not sustainable.

The PFAJ is committed to play its part in this regard.


Consistent Camps and Practice Games


The programme to 2022 must be based on a structured and deliberate strategy to give the national team as much competition as possible over the next three years to qualifying. This will be buttressed by regular camps at which player evaluation is a central theme. Local players can be exposed to more organised and professional competition by seeking to get them playing in professional leagues across the world.


Role of government


If we expect the Reggae Boyz to qualify we must have a strategic drive to get there, starting now. It will require significant funding through a well-coordinated and prepared marketing proposal and plan. There are too many competing demands on Government's relatively limited resources. Government must, however, be a facilitator.


Strong marketing approach needed


We have to become far more professional in our approach. We have to put together a highly professional marketing proposal that speaks to the overall goal.

How do we plan to achieve this? What the ultimate outputs are expected to be?

Qualifying for Qatar in 2022 will take a concerted national effort, starting now, not 2020. But let us temper our expectations against the background of the above. I want to be one of the first to confirm my ride to Qatar, but we have to be mindful of what it will take to get there and put our collective energies to work. As a country, we are pretty hard on our sportspersons when we do not succeed as expected. Let us give this effort the biggest support possible. It will require no less.

- Don Anderson is chairman of the Professional Football Association of Jamaica.