Michail Antonio, prominent West Ham and Reggae Boyz striker, has criticized the Jamaican government over its decision not to allow spectators at the national stadium for two crucial World Cup qualifiers during their recently concluded quest.
His comments came two days after the government announced that it would allow 10,000 vaccinated spectators to attend the Gibson Relays on February 26.
Triggered by the announcement, Antonio, commenting on a post made by the Jamaica Gleaner, said: “This is embarrassing. How can we achieve anything if we are battling against the people that are meant to be helping us? Two massive games to help us get to the World Cup, and the government give no support, no fans. When we had fans, we was (sic) only allowed 5000.”
Continuing, Michail Antonio said: “Football must not be as important to them as it is to the nation and the fans that support the team and believe. I have sooo much more to say, but I’ve said enough for now.”
Last year, the Jamaican government allowed 5,000 vaccinated fans to attend the Reggae Boyz’s game against the United States on November 16, the only home game with spectators. The Reggae Boyz played the subsequent home games between Mexico on January 27 and Costa Rica on February 2 without spectators. At the time, Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie said it would have been irresponsible to permit fans to attend the games at the national stadium, given the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections that affected the island. The authorities also barred spectators from local schoolboy football matches and the West Indies versus Ireland cricket series.
But the Minister recently had a change of heart.
In allowing spectators to attend the Gibson Relays, Minister McKenzie said, “having reviewed where we are with regard to the pandemic, as well as the logistical and security plans for the relays. We are satisfied that this event can be held in full compliance with all the protocols required.” He added that his team is currently examining applications for other major events.
Under the social media post, many Jamaicans, including another Reggae Boyz player Junior Flemmings, echoed Antonio’s comments.
“Football doesn’t give the government what they want, right? smh. It’s embarrassing,” he wrote.
Other football fans also called out the government for what they thought was a bias against the sport.
“Who’s making these decisions, though? Reggae Boyz couldn’t get 1 vaccinated spectator this week but by month end these relays can get 10,000!!!! How this make sense??,” wrote one person.
Another commented, “This is a travesty. These leaders should resign, which they won’t do. No to reggae boyz, but yes, two weeks later for track and field.”
With the fourth wave of COVID-19 in Jamaica now presenting fewer cases, Health Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton said that the Government seeks to launch an official calendar of events for fully-vaccinated people.