Schoolboy football: Good news, promising changes and an old problem

Saturday, August 25, 2018

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When news broke early this month of closure of the title-sponsorship arrangement for schoolboy football between the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) and telecoms giant FLOW, the public expectation was for the announcement of a replacement title sponsor(s) in short order.

As time passed with no announcement, football lovers watching from a distance could be forgiven for a touch of nerves.

So it was with considerable relief that Jamaicans heard over recent days that a deal had been tied down between ISSA and Digicel, which is another telecoms giant, and the Wisynco Group, which distributes and manufactures a range of products including food and beverages.

The innovative, twin title sponsorship arrangement no doubt reflects the tight Jamaican economy. Yet, in terms of pure superficial numbers, the joint sponsorship of $168 million over three years makes up for FLOW's $150 million over five years.

Under the new arrangements, Digicel — which will provide the larger portion of sponsorship funds — will be branded with the urban Manning Cup competition, while Wisynco will be linked to the all-rural daCosta Cup.

Not to be sneezed at comes associate sponsorship from Restaurants of Jamaica through its popular brand KFC and ISSA's media partner SportsMax .

KFC, we are told, will be contributing $18 million and — a promotional incentive that is certain to be very popular — will pay $500 for every goal scored in the first round of the competition. The latter initiative described as “a big deal”.

We are told that Caribbean cable server SportsMax will broadcast selected matches live. Their deal is worth just over $46 million annually. As we understand it, SportsMax will partner with television station CVM to provide free-to-air broadcasts for local audiences.

We note significant changes to the schoolboy football season that will lead to what is being described as a devaluing or watering down of the decades-old knockout competitions — Ben Francis Cup for rural schools and Walker Cup for schools in the Corporate Area. The situation is not ideal. However, we are told that the arrangement is part of a push to reduce the workload for student footballers.

In the past, this newspaper has had reason to criticise the overloaded schedule for the football season which opens in September and must come to a close before the end of the Christmas term.

If the changes can lead to a reduction of the workload, we are all for them.

Though we have detected improvements down the years, the problem of inadequate playing surfaces remains a huge problem in Jamaican football at all levels. As usual, this newspaper is hopeful that ISSA and its business partners will seek ways to improve this situation. We recognise that not a lot can be done in the short term.But surely the time has come for a long-term plan to be worked out involving all the stakeholders — including the Jamaica Football Federation, the Government and the leading business houses with an interest in football. As we have repeatedly said in this space, it's not possible to play good football on bad surfaces.

Furthermore, some of Jamaica's football fields represent a serious risk to players' health and well-being. It's time to do something about it.

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