Jan
14
2008
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All Change In The Caribbean

The Caribbean islands have long been synonymous with beaches, calypso and reggae music as well as the idiosyncratic sport of cricket rather than football, but it seems that the tide could now be turning in favour of the beautiful game.

The presence of Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ finals in France and the appearance of their arch-rivals, Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors, at the last FIFA World Cup™ finals in Germany has strengthened the position of football in the Caribbean, an area that traditionally has been a stronghold of cricket and, to a certain extent, baseball.
Despite the pre-eminence of sports other than football, memories of the Caribbean’s most famous musical son, the late reggae legend Bob Marley, show how much football means in this part of the world. “Football is a whole skill to itself. A whole world. A whole universe to itself. Me love it because you have to be skilful to play it! Freedom! Football is freedom,” said the dreadlocked Rastafarian Marley, a football fanatic whose sporting idol was Pele.
Marley was regularly spotted kicking a ball around before his death due to cancer which some people have claimed could be traced back to a foot injury he sustained during a kickabout in London’s Battersea Park. “I love music before I love football,” Marley said. “If I love football first, maybe that a bit dangerous, because the football very violent. If a man tackle you hard, it brings feelings o’ war!” Jamaican-born Marley would eventually be buried with a Gibson Les Paul guitar, a bud of marijuana, a bible, a ring and a football.
Nowadays, officials from FIFA are doing their best to ensure the game Marley adored flourishes in the Caribbean. Serge Dumortier, FIFA’s development manager for the Americas, is optimistic about the future but recognises that much has to be done. “The situation is improving as far as football is concerned in the Caribbean,” Dumortier says. “The main problem we have in that area is that the number one sport is usually cricket while football is second, third or even fourth in the pecking order.
“That’s why football people in the Caribbean need our help more than other countries – because when it’s not the main sport there is less likely to be governmental support. We have to find a way for the football family to improve its own marketing as well as to improve the technical side of things.
“All in all, it is a place where there is a lot of work to do at all levels but the people of the Caribbean can rest assured that FIFA will invest a lot of money in the coming years. “We have had to start at the beginning with a long-term development plan — usually a four-year plan — that deals with simple infrastructure issues such as the lack of stadiums and technical facilities and all sorts of aspects of the game such as administration, sports medicine, women’s football, youth football, futsal and beach soccer, competitions and referees. We run three-day community courses and seminars which concentrate on strengthening the relationships between the football family, non-governmental organisations, the governments themselves and other figures in local life. The courses also focus on improving basic communication so football people can get their message out into their communities a lot better and spread the word of football by promoting their own activities and encouraging people of all ages, male and female, to get involved. Under the Goal Programme, financial assistance is used to tackle the lack of an administrative base or technical headquarters, training complexes with artificial turf pitches and floodlights. But that’s where another problem emerges — land. Because the Caribbean islands are tourist areas, land prices are a big issue and that’s where governmental help is often required.”