A THORNY ISSUE: Real kicks in out of season football

ANDI THORNHILL, andithornhill1@gmail.com

Added 16 September 2015

bloc-thorny-issue

Out-of-season football is a culture, but the perennial question is how best to manage it.

This is a period when there will be a plethora of tournaments in various communities and you are likely to see several of the same faces in all or most of them.

It is like an addiction, and there’s seemingly no prescription that can cure it either. The footballers appear to like it so.

Not everything we crave is good for us, and it can be debated whether so much football in such a short period won’t exact some toll on the body.

There’s a tenet which says that there should be a 48-hour window of rest for players between matches. The belief is that it gives the body enough time to recover, but we know that in many instances this isn’t observed or taken seriously by some of the players. It is their decision, I suppose, to put their health at risk.

In the out-of-season tournaments, footballers represent teams and not clubs, so it is very difficult to regulate their movements. As it stands, it is left to the players to do what they think is right for them.

It has been suggested, and I beg to differ, that players participate in several tournaments simultaneously only because they can make extra money. While I won’t eliminate the financial rewards from the conversation, I think the players are more driven by the community experience. The vibes are completely different from those you feel during competitions organised by the Barbados Football Association (BFA).

There’s far more enthusiasm and a greater freedom of expression on the part of the players and, to me, that is driven by the possibility that they are encouraged to hit that extra gear because there’s a higher level of intimacy than normal and that connection with the crowds is quite inspirational.

Entertainment

Let’s face it: one of the bedrocks of amateur sports is entertainment in its truest form and I believe that footballers seize the opportunity to entertain to the maximum in out of season tournaments. The bread and butter gained from competition isn’t that much to boast about, so their principal motive can’t be merely money.

I have covered virtually every out of season tournament since the late 1970s and I am convinced that our footballers are very passionate about the sport and some would be inclined to play non-stop if it were possible. That’s the real bottom line.

Hence, we are looking at passion versus what’s best for the sport in the long-run.

Perhaps, the correct structure would be what obtained back in the day with the Bata, Bico and Bess tournaments and up to two years ago with the  Lime Pelican and the David Thompson Memorial Classic.

The attempts at uniformity were admirable, because if we are serious about developing sport to bring it in line with international standards, the vision has to be based on order and strategic planning that can make what we harness competitive in all markets.

If we are not on that growth path, and importantly, if the players don’t buy into it, the scrimmage mentality will prevail and then we will continue to ask ourselves why when we follow the international leagues there is no homegrown talent in them while other Caribbean nationals feature prominently and make a good living from their skills.

I think that organisers of the aforementioned tournaments had it in mind to show our footballers a more enlightened and tangible way in which they could begin to capitalise on their talent, but it appears that generally their message didn’t get through to the players.

I heard of many complaints that even when teams were playing for as much as $100 000, it was hard to raise a quorum for training sessions.

The so-called 12th man for organisers are teams that will play their part in producing a product of high quality for consumers. They are the ones making the investment and can become discouraged if there’s little attempt to reciprocate for what mutual benefits to be gained.

I am not saying this might be the only reason the Lime Pelican and the Thompson Classic faded, but it could have played a role in their demise.

It’s common knowledge that the Barbados Football Association has it as part of future strategy to play a role in regulating out of season tournaments but they have to be wary about how they plan to implement it, because alienating a majority of the football constituency can compromise the civility of the sport.

BFA president Randy Harris said the pending measure is a directive from FIFA, the sport’s governing body, and the local association has no option but to comply or it might affect its ability to source funding and other benefits from that body.

FIFA is drawing a road map that makes it mandatory for clubs to be licensed with their associations or they run the risk of not competing in their tournaments. Big brother is really calling the shots!

In other words, even if Harris wanted the current out-of-season status quo to remain intact, it is out of his hands. While I can live with that explanation, I think it is imperative for the BFA to have clarity when this development is explained to the clubs and all other stakeholders involved in these tournaments.

Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist.

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