By Paul Nicholson
February 9 – Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) president Michael Ricketts, under pressure over his management of the JFF, has been hit with a J$9 million (US$51,000) fine for defamation after homophobic comments he made in 2017.
Ricketts took over the reins of the JFF in September 2017 following the death of Captain Horace Burrell who had ruled the federation for a combined 17 years over two spells as president.
From the start Ricketts was a controversial candidate as he was already facing serious allegations of defamation against him by football administrator Ainsley Lowe.
The case ended in the Jamaican Supreme Court last week with Ricketts being ordered to pay fines for defamation, malice, aggravated and exemplary damages. He also has to issue a public apology to Lowe.
The defamation case against Ricketts followed comments he made on Hitz 92 FM after Lowe challenged him for the post of Clarendon FA president in 2016.
“This gentleman aligned himself with a club called Spartan and within two (2) years Spartan went into absolute oblivion – it never existed anymore. He came to Central Clarendon and took on another club that languished at the bottom of the premier league until they virtually fell apart,” said Ricketts on the radio, before delivering the homophobic coup de grâce:
“Everywhere in Clarendon I turn I hear about this man’s unacceptable sexuality, everywhere I turn.”
It is a remarkable character assassination by Ricketts of a political rival just seven months before he took over as president of the Jamaican FA.
Which in turn raises questions over whether any fit and proper persons test was conducted by the JFF before the election and whether there should be an ethics investigation into his behaviour, either internally or from FIFA, where Ricketts has been a supporter of the current regime.
JFF statutes adhere to FIFA statutes where the rules on discrimination and homophobic behaviour are clear and result in suspension and often bans. Holding the highest office in football in the country comes with a responsibility.
In his ruling (Ricketts had not offered a defense resulting in a default judgment already being against him), judge Mott Tulloch-Reid, said he “found Mr Ricketts to be quite disingenuous when he tried to spin the meaning of the words he said.”
He went on to say: “The words themselves given in that context are to my mind malicious and that coupled with what was going on at the time between the parties with respect to the breakdown of their once friendly relationship leads me to be of the view that the Defendant when he uttered the words did not do so out of a sense of duty but acted for an improper purpose.”
Questions of financial impropriety
Ricketts regime has been plagued by questions of impropriety and allegations of mismanagement as national teams have underperformed. Prior to the judgement questions has been raised in Jamaican media by football stakeholders as to whether Ricketts should continue. Post judgement the questions have been over whether he should remain.
Under Ricketts tenure the JFF has received more money from FIFA than ever before, one estimate puts it at a factor of ten times more than has previously been received.
The only visible improvement has been in the cars that are being driven by general secretary Dalton Wint and other JFF executives, and huge increases in per diems paid to Ricketts, Wint and vice president Bruce Gaynor in particular.
With the poor performance of the national teams, and in particular the men’s national team that has invested heavily in bringing over big names from the English leagues but is out of the running for World Cup qualification, scrutiny on how that money was invested is increasing.
Perhaps the biggest issue has been the funding of the women’s national team who did qualify for the Women’s World Cup in 2019 but had to self-fund much of their pre-France 2019 programme themselves, while FIFA money – for which a portion is mandated to be spent on the women’s game – disappeared into the JFF’s coffers.
Ricketts would not budge on funding the women’s team fully, leaving Cedella Marley (the daughter of Bob Marley) and her foundation to champion the team.
Trust in Ricketts and his board to do the right thing had been lost and it was perhaps a reflection of his organisation that a recent hire to coach the women’s national team, Hubert Busby Jr, was accused last October of trying to solicit sex from players in his previous roles. The JFF parted company with Busby in November last year.
It wasn’t a good look for Ricketts who was already facing judgement over his homophobic comments and had long lost the trust of the women’s game in the country.
Contact the writer of this story at email@example.com