Have the Reggae Boyz Lost Their Minds?

By L. Bronson

Jamaica, like most other developing countries, has been significantly impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic, particularly as it pertains to sports.

And with several disciplines canceled last year, and many yet to resume this year, including National Premier League football, there was great optimism early last week when the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) announced a friendly international versus the United States of America at the Stadion Wiener Neustadt in Austria on March 25.

But as quickly as it was announced, as well as confirmation that the federation was in the process of trying to acquire the services of some professional players in Europe who are interested in representing the black, green and gold colors of Jamaica, news emerged that the local governing body and the players were farther apart in their contract negotiations than ever before.

According to reports, the Reggae Boyz, through an acquired attorney, have opened discussions for appearance fees with a demand for US$7,000 per player per game for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, which would total 14. This excludes match incentives for wins and draws.

It said the players have asked for 70 percent of the World Cup Finals qualification bonus from FIFA, should the team qualify; for friendly games US$5,000 and US$3,000 for the Nations League competition.

That is against the JFF’s opening proposal of US$1,000 appearance fees plus US$1,500 for wins and US$1,000 for drawn games. It is understood that the JFF has since increased the appearance fees to US$2,000, as well as US$1,000 for high-profile friendlies and US$500 for lower-ranked games.

It was also said that the JFF agreed to share equally image rights with players on an individual basis, based on kits sold with their names.

The JFF is expected to issue these contracts soon for players who agree to sign, to finalize an agreement for the remainder of this World Cup cycle.

Reggae Boyz Head coach Theodore Whitmore and team manager Roy Simpson had lashed out at the end of the team’s last international friendly games against Saudi Arabia last November, when contract issues, as well as travel arrangement differences, created chaos on the two-game series.

Both gentlemen were adamant they did not want to be a part of the setup if these same issues kept repeating themselves, thus hindering their efforts to progress the team.

On Monday, Whitmore said: “The game versus the U.S. in Austria will be a very good test of our readiness as a unit. I do not want any distraction or side issues as we need to be 100 percent concentrated. All outstanding issues must be resolved before then, as we are not guaranteed another competitive match opportunity before the Gold Cup.”

The players had also issued a statement on Monday indicating that news items carried on the said day included inaccuracies, but they refused to elaborate, citing an agreement by both parties to keep details of the negotiations out of the public domain.

Reggae Boyz captain Andre Blake was interviewed on cable television channel SportsMax on Tuesday, and his contribution, I believe, added more confusion than clarity.

One could only assume based on his position, that the Boyz did not take the negotiations seriously.

Blake, without confirming or denying the opening proposal of a US$7,000 appearance fee by his group, suggested that the players did not trust the JFF and the numbers they provided them.

He said similar to the JFF simply presenting numbers, they felt they could just open with a “number” for appearance fees and other demands. 

When confronted with the fact that not many, if any national team could afford to pay such fees, especially one as cash-strapped as the JFF, Blake said it was not for the players to work out and devise plans and strategies to find ways of acquiring funds, but those responsible for running the federation.

The JFF indicated that it had made the players aware of the plan, the budget for the program, the financial position of the federation and the financial outcome of the last Gold Cup and the international friendlies last November.

The JFF had established a special committee that reviewed a proposal from selected players based on a standard contract. Last Friday, a response was communicated regarding the proposal where a timeline of Wednesday, March 3, 2021, was established to finalise the document and thereafter the standard contract template would be offered to potential players to establish the pool of players for the team.

According to the JFF, this approach being used is a paradigm shift where players should aspire to represent their national team for the pride and the platform it provides to gain an opportunity to enhance careers or improve the professional status, rather than the immediate commercial gains.

It adds that the decisions taken are always incumbent on the ability to pay, placed in the context of the pandemic, the debt of over $238 million and the possibility of playing games (World Cup qualifiers) without fans. They also considered the enormous cost of air transportation and the depreciation of the Jamaican dollar.

“The new paradigm also recognises the JFF as a business and must be fiscally prudent to operate as a going concern. It is expected the principles will be shared as the JFF implements the wider program with approximately 12 national teams.”

The show must go on, with or without these players and it is full time those elected to lead, do so without fear or favor.

We remember well in 2015 when the players got every single penny earned in finishing runners-up at the Gold Cup. That should never, ever happen again. 

It was a mistake made by the late Reggae Boyz Captain Horace Burrell then, and it should have been corrected long ago and a mutually beneficial template agreed upon and implemented long ago.

But it’s never too late to start doing the right things.

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