Western Grandstand : Time to ditch the ‘bush-league mentality’
I am not sure who or what provoked former FIFA Peter Prendergast referee to speak out in a recent article, which was published in The Gleaner under the headline, 'Bush League,' but it was quite refreshing to hear someone of his stature speaking out so bluntly about the status of our football.
While Prendergast's beef was primarily about the mistreatment of local referees, I believe his frank assessment could cover just about every aspect of our football product, which is seemingly being held hostage by entities such as the Premier League Clubs Association (PLCA), which has taken control of the Red Stripe Premier League (RSPL) and has basically made a mockery of what was once a well respected competition.
At the start of the current RSPL season, the referee group was one of two entities squealing about being owed vast sums of money by the PLCA, which at the time seemed uninterested in meeting its payment obligation. Maybe that could account for Prendergast hinting that: "local administrators take too long to make payment to officials, which is forcing the referees to stand for themselves."
As Prendergast rightly stated, the referees are basically like "lambs to the slaughter for the local football public." If they are not being treated properly, it goes without saying that it will impact their capacity to properly take care of themselves in terms of "training, buying food, travelling, taking care of injuries and buying rehydration fluids and equipment," which are all critical needs.
The same situation goes for the clubs in the RSPL, who are called upon to invest millions of dollars to run their respective programmes for the season. Yet, at the conclusion, the champion team walks away with a paltry cash price of approximately $3 million, which can only be characterised as a clear case of bad investment.
I hope that now that Prendergast has spoken out, he will not go back into his shell, but will use his much-vaunted position and the respect he has earned over the years to not only push for better treatment for our referees, but also for a complete overhaul of our football product. If that is not done, we will not be able to attract new referees, but might also drive away players with good potential.
COMPROMISING THE INTEGRITY
Like in other professions where members sometimes fall prey to corruption because they feel that they are not being properly compensated, I would hate to see our referees being put in a position where they might begin to see compromising the integrity as an option to generate additional earnings.
As I have been saying in this column for several years, the current structure of our football is woefully lacking as we are seemingly trapped in the past - a time when when football was seen merely as a social past-time and not a multi-million dollar opportunity for gifted players with the requisite skills to perform at the highest level.
When simple training aids such as video recording are not available to the referees to use in their training programme to analyse and study, so that they can identify errors so that they can become better at their craft, it basically says that our structure is archaic and badly needs modernisation.
In fact, I believe the videotaping of games has placed Montego Bay United FC's boss Orville Powell in a league of his own, as he has been streaming his team's home games live via the internet, an action that has earned the wrath of the PLCA. Had the association bought into his vision, then Prendergast and the referees would not be struggling to get video footage as these would be readily available.
I hope that like Prendergast, more of the top stakeholders in national football will come to realise that our current 'bush-league mentality' is an impediment to growth and that, unless we change the existing structure to reflect a greater desire to achieve professionalism, we will never realise our fullest potential.