Football as an agent of change

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RICKETTS… we look forward to some exciting times (Photo: Observer File)

We believe that sport has few equals as an agent for stimulating health, community/national development and well-being.

Just last week we recommended organized recreational activities and competitive sports as part of a movement towards physical fitness and, by extension, the fight against lifestyle diseases such as diabetes .

Moreover, Jamaicans need not recall the sense of national belonging and pride that comes from the global success of athletes and teams.

At the local level currently, the Social Development Commission deserves kudos for improving community harmony nationwide with its T20 community league – arguably the most successful cricket competition here.

But it is certain that when it comes to the potential for building peace, harmony and goodwill at the community level, no sport can compete with football.

For starters, it’s cheap and easy to organize and play. All it really takes is a ball, a piece of land, even a street corner, a group of boys or girls, or both, and we’re good to go.

For decades, community leaders, forward-thinking police and social workers have used football to reduce tensions.

Perhaps the most famous example of football being used to mediate peace between rival communities occurred in the late 1990s. This initiative was spearheaded by the late former Prime Minister and Labor MP (JLP) from Kingston Western, Mr. Edward Seaga, and former Finance Minister and People’s National Party (PNP) MP for St Andrew Southern, Dr. Omar Davies.

Good friends who actually shared birthdays, the two – admirably supported by community, constituency and football leaders – set out to reduce long-running politically tribalized tensions between Tivoli Gardens in Kingston Western and Arnett Gardens in St Andrew Southern using the most popular sport on the planet as a medium.

For many years, dating back to the 1970s, the two football clubs – Arnett Gardens FC and Tivoli Gardens FC – regularly played each other on neutral ground at Up Park Camp, the headquarters of the Jamaican army, to avoid trouble.

Those who were there remember with admiration Mr Seaga and Dr Davies side by side on a sunny afternoon just over two decades ago as Arnett and Tivoli played each other at the Anthony Spaulding Sports Complex at Arnett Gardens.

Such was how quickly the enmity between the communities died down after that football game – we suspect even the planners were surprised.

It is against this inspiring backdrop that this newspaper embraces the vision of the President of the Jamaica Football Federation, Mr. Michael Ricketts, who wants football to be an agent of change in crime-ridden areas. Football, he believes, can help young people get away from crime. We believe that the evidence supporting his view is everywhere.

Aside from social change at the community level, Mr Ricketts points to the growing potential for talented young people, especially in socially and economically disadvantaged communities, to earn substantially by securing professional football contracts overseas.

A number of Jamaican footballers, born and bred here, are already earning a good living abroad. But imagine if it could happen on a much bigger and broader scale.

We wish Mr. Ricketts the best of luck as he strives to garner support at home and abroad to make his big dream a reality.

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