The greatest and richest global sporting tournament is now over. For the past month, billions of people were enthralled by the only game that transcends cultures and continents. Here at home, as is the case every four years, Barbadians rallied behind their team of choice, sharing in the joy and sorrow felt by those with an actual national cause for such emotion.
Barbadians have had previous occasion to cheer for Caribbean neighbours Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, who have graced that lofty football stage. At the just concluded FIFA World Cup many would have supported the Central American state of Costa Rica, a CONCACAF nation east of the Caribbean Sea that made it into the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time.
But the question on the lips of thousands here once again is: will Barbadians ever get the opportunity to hail for Barbados on the World Cup stage? Or, will the homes and shops from Checker Hall in St Lucy to East Point in St Philip continue to be adorned with the flags of Brazil, Germany, Spain, Holland, and others every four years? Will we be sated by screaming our delight at the skill of players whose names we often cannot correctly pronounce? Whither Barbados’ football?
If we use the example of Haiti in 1974, Jamaica in 1998 and Trinidad and Tobago in 2006, it is not far-fetched to envisage Barbados being represented at the World Cup. Indeed, there is significant incentive to aspire to reach that stage.
Last year, US$576 million was set aside by football’s governing body to go towards the 32 countries participating in Brazil. Most of this money was earmarked to be paid to the football federations in the respective participating nations. The winners of the tournament –– in this instance, Germany –– received US$35 million; runners-up Argentina, $25 million; third-placed finishers Holland, $22 million; fourth-placed Brazil, $20 million; teams eliminated at quarter-finals, $14 million; teams knocked out at the round of 16 stage, $9 million; and $8 million for teams that did not make it out of the group stage.
From the outset, as a goodwill gesture, FIFA gave each participating nation $1 million to assist with their preparation for the World Cup. In addition to $100 million set aside towards insurance for players injured during the tournament, FIFA also contributed $70 million to the clubs whose players were taking part in the competition. These are numbers at which no one can scoff.
Thus there is significant reward for the Barbados Government, and specifically, the Barbados Football Association, to do all in their power to lift the standard of national football, and for young Barbadian footballers at home and spread across the Diaspora to position themselves to take Barbados’ football forward to World Cup standard.
But why isn’t this happening now?
FIFA has disbursed millions into local football over the past decade or more, with additional monies in the pipeline via the Goal Project, through which affiliates benefit. However, one can question whether we are seeing enough gains accruing to the “Beautiful Game” as a result of this assistance.
What we have seen is bickering and power struggles within the BFA that have led to physical confrontations, lawsuits, fraud investigations and criminal charges that have nothing to do with uplifting football.
What we have seen, as admitted by the BFA’s hierarchy, is FIFA funding being diverted from designated purposes to instances of personal use. What we have seen, as revealed by the BFA, is the usage of funds for a project at Wildey, St Michael, where there is no correlation between the amount disbursed and the current stage of the project.What we have seen, as highlighted previously, are young promising players testing positive for recreational drugs, and some refusing to make themselves available for national duty because of their fear of the drug testing process.
It is true that pursuing a World Cup berth in an amateur Barbadian environment is a difficult task. We cannot put a jackhammer in a footballer’s hands during the day, and a football at his feet during the evening, and expect miracles. Stakeholders must therefore create an enabling environment to harness the best locally based talent and attract those born outside these shores of Barbadian heritage.
The glory and exposure associated with participating in World Cup football should be enough to whet the appetites of Government, employers and advertisers. In 2010, at least one billion people watched the World Cup final between Spain and Holland. More than that number watched Sunday’s final. If that is not adequate incentive, then those on domestic football’s frontline should note that this year’s US$576 million, as has been the tradition, will be increased in 2018.
Pursuing a piece of that pie cannot be to Barbados’ detriment.