By Paul Nicholson
Published on Monday, 04 November 2013 13:18
November 4 - The prospect of a professional Caribbean Football League took a significant step forward at the weekend with FIFA Vice President and CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb announcing that the confederation will be naming a new task force "to examine the feasibility and sustainability of the Caribbean Professional League initiative."
The desire for a professional league in the region has long been talked about but to date no concrete steps have been taken to establish a framework. The intervention of Webb and the confederation to kick-start a process will undoubtedly turn talk into action, and if CONCACAF is committed bring some of its support, resource and growing contacts to the project then the chances of a league coming to fruition are greatly increased.
The intervention by Webb, who is from the Cayman Islands, also sends a message to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) that something needs to be done to progress the standard of top level football in a region that excels in other sports (like athletics and cricket) but has under-performed in football despite producing a number of world class players.
Currently Jamaica has the most competitive league which, for the most part, is semi-professional. Trinidad and Tobago also has a strong league in the region. Antigua has a development team that plays in the USL Pro league in the US (second tier) - though funding for the team has been difficult.
Crucial to the establishment of a Caribbean league will be support from local and league sponsors and there is much work to be done in that area. Digicel, at the Sport Summit in Grand Cayman at the end of last month, said that it was prepared to support the proposal. But it is unlikely that the league could be supported by Digicel cash alone.
"Our focus relies on enhancing the partnership between governments, the private sector and football community in order to foster cooperation," said Webb. "CONCACAF is committed to growing our game by empowering all federations through development, so that we continue to progress in a dynamic and innovative environment of collaboration."
One of the key themes of the Sport Summit was the encouragement of governments to embrace football and invest in development in their countries - particularly the Carribean islands. In the past football's local reputation preceded it and governments were wary of a sport they were uncomfortable to trust. Webb, since taking up the presidency, has turned perceptions round (with the aid of his general secretary Enrique Sanz) in a remarkably short space of time. The focus has been on development and opening up the confederation and its potential.
It was clear that government officials at the Sport Summit were getting the message and if some of them are prepared to support the development of teams from their islands then the prospects for a regional professional league become significantly advanced.
There is also no doubt that a competitive Caribbean League would capture the imagination of many outside the region. The UK in particular has long had strong and vibrant Caribbean communities and where Jamaica's Reggae Boyz have often captured support from English fans in particular.
Webb said that task force members will be named later this week at CONCACAF's next executive committee meeting, November 7 - 8 in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
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