By Paul Nicholson
June 8 – Jamaica’s mens team salvaged the best of a bitter situation last night with a 3-1 win over Suriname to go top of their group in League 1 of the Concacaf Nations League.
It was a win forged out of political adversity and a player backlash that saw the team at one point refuse to play unless general secretary Dalton Wint resigned after being held responsible for not booking the team a return flight from their away fixture in Suriname last Saturday which they drew 1-1.
Wint, a controversial and powerful figure within the Jamaican Football Federation (JFF), resigned with the JFF issuing a statement saying he “has given his unequivocal and irreversible commitment to submit his resignation from the post”.
So disastrous was the situation in Suriname and such was the incompetence of the JFF that the team was in danger of not being back in Jamaica for the time for Tuesday’s return match as there were no scheduled flights available. Suriname arrived in Jamaica before the Jamaicans.
Resolution was found at the last minute by the charter of a $105,000 private aircraft to pick the Jamaicans up, but only after the involvement of the Jamaican sports ministry and a hastily arranged loan provided by the chairman of the Premier Football Jamaica League, Christopher Williams, to pay for the plane.
JFF’s under pressure president Michael Ricketts asked Williams to cover the costs, but the questions being asked are why the JFF – a multi-million dollar sports body that is eligible for more than $2 million in grants from FIFA every year – had not paid for the travel for its own team.
The answers point to a much deeper malaise within Ricketts’ presidency of the JFF which has increasingly come under criticism for out-of-control spending on its own officials and their benefits (from top the range (rover) cars to five-star hotels, first class travel and inflated per diems) rather than being targeted at getting competitive teams on the pitch.
The Jamaican Minister for sport Olivia Grange said the government had had to intervene to get the team home but that because banks were closed over the weekend the loan from Williams was the only way to meet the timescales.
“I will be writing to the JFF requesting a detailed report on the matter and my team and I will continue to work closely with the JFF and the Reggae Boyz as we are also aware of other matters of concern related to the management of what is possibly the most popular sport in Jamaica,” said Grange.
Those other matters will undoubtedly centre around Ricketts’ presidency and the culture of profligate spending on non-football activity.
The actions of the players – many of whom had slept on couch beds before the Suriname fixture due to the inappropriateness of the hotel accommodation booked by the JFF – have forced into the open and into government view a set of issues that other members of the football community in Jamaica have been highlighting for a while.
Danny Beckford, president of the St Anns FA and the longest serving member of the JFF board, has long raised questions about the management of the JFF under Ricketts and said the situation around the Suriname fixtures is “symptomatic of what has been happening”.
He points out that the JFF is a multi-million organisation but that money has not been targeted at developing the game in Jamaica. “The problem is with the leader,” he says. But he acknowledges that with a constitution that sees the president elected with just seven of 13 eligible votes, changing leadership is not easy.
“There are a lot of persons who benefit from this president,” said Beckford. Those benefits include business class travel and per diems of upwards of $300 per day for the executive with players often only on $10-20 per diems.
“All they want is the glamour and glitter of football of football. Procrastinating is their middle name, their support for football is tokenism,” said Beckford.
“I can only see things getting worse,” continued Beckford who said Ricketts had not spoken to him for years, essentially when he started questioning the JFF management.
The next presidential elections in Jamaica are scheduled for November 2023, but before then the JFF has to update its statutes and have them in place a full year before the election.
Failure to do that would likely force a normalisation committee being imposed by FIFA, a situation that Jamaica will be desperate to avoid if the example of the abject failure of the Trinidad and Tobago normalisation committee to restart that former Caribbean giant’s national game is taken. While the game was cleaned of corruption in Trinidad – though there is some debate whether it has been cleaned up – the game itself has plummeted from the high of keeping the US out of the 2018 World Cup, to the low of only drawing with Nicaragua in opening game of the CNL League 2 campaign.
“We are drained, we are tired, enough is enough,” the players said in their statement when they were stranded in Suriname.
See: Jamaican boss Ricketts in firing line after court hammers him for homophobic comments
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