A THORNY ISSUE: Need to improve football’s image

ANDI THORNHILL, andithornhill1@gmail.com

Added 11 January 2017

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FOOTBALL IS ARGUABLY the main sport the populace likes to bash.

A molehill turns into a mountain once there is any incident related to the sport in these times. Honestly, this wasn’t always the case, because players from another era conducted themselves with a decorum that didn’t bring the game into disrepute even when there were odd occasions that rivals had major disagreements.

People of my vintage frequently try to portray that we were flawless as youngsters growing up but we know that nothing couldn’t be further from the truth. We were definitely more discreet in the way we went about our business and found more peaceful ways to solve disputes but we weren’t exactly saints nor angels.

A huge dose of self-righteousness, I suppose, helps us to deflect from the poor examples we set and then blame the youth who merely learn from the environment in which they were bred. The football model bears this out. It is generally the same demographic that plays the sport but some of the methods of doing business are vastly different now. That’s all.

And this is the part the current players have to make a bigger effort to manage better because at the end of the day, it is their responsibility to safeguard the image of the sport because it could have a negative impact in ways that can undermine their own personal development and the overall development of their chosen discipline.

Less sponsorship, for instance, means that the national association will have a smaller budget to carry out its various programmes and critical areas like keeping national teams in training and competing in regional and international competitions might be compromised, not to mention courses for coaches and other technical officials that will keep them up to date with modern trends.

Indeed, questionable actions can have a negative impact at the club level because a potential sponsor may not want to have their brand associated with controversy.

While it may be true that footballers might be victims of societal profiling and stereotyping, it is very important for them not to give critics and detractors fuel to light the fire of denigration. In tennis terms, let our football community try extremely hard to minimise unforced errors. Don’t give the naysayers a field day to pontificate about what they see as the negative things about football.

Setback

Not too long ago residents living near the Wildey Gymnasium objected to the construction of the football facility on the flimsiest of grounds. On the other hand, there were no known public objections to the hockey facility, which is adjacent.

Those deliberations set back the Goal project by a few years and the association also had to scale down its original plans for a full-fledged stadium. That’s part of the reason the facility isn’t completed, more than a decade after FIFA approved the project.

With this in mind, I had cause to reflect last Thursday when the new season was launched and recognised that telecommunications provider Digicel was still on board as title sponsor of the Premier League.

The company’s director of marketing, Caroline Shepherd, mentioned that they were also involved in other holistic projects for the benefit of the youth, and that reinforced the point that sponsorship, especially in hard economic times and with so many others lining up for a piece of the cake, has to be regarded as a privilege and not a right.

Who says that one bad move this season won’t compromise renewal of the contract next season? I haven’t forgotten how disgraceful it looked last season when there were a couple of scorelines that didn’t represent the best of the league nor fairness to the sponsors. They were the kind of unforced errors that could have inflicted a more serious wound.

Thankfully, there were overlooked or the sponsors opted for a reprieve, given that they, too, have a civic duty to keep young people constructively engaged in what is the biggest participatory sport in Barbados.

While not limited to the Premier League, which is the flagship of the association’s tournaments, it is important that all players in all divisions make an extraordinary effort to uphold the image of the sport to the best of their ability because if they do otherwise, it can harm the short- and long-term prospects of football.

We don’t want that!

• Andi Thornhill is a veteran sports journalist. Email andithornhill1@gmail.com

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