The election of Swiss Gianni Infantino to the helm of football’s world governing body, FIFA, has brought great optimism for further development of the sport in the Caribbean.
That’s the word from president of the Barbados Football Association (BFA), Randy Harris, recently returned from Zurich where the local football association threw its full support behind Infantino’s candidacy. Harris said there were all good candidates seeking the top post but there was general optimism and high expectations with Infantino’s elevation. He added he believed Infantino appreciated the needs and peculiarities of the region the best among the candidates.
“He has visited the Caribbean and from our discussions he understands our needs. We expect to see some positive strides being made in the region in the short to medium term,” Harris told Barbados TODAY.
The top football administrator said there had been discourse with the new FIFA boss on how that organization could assist with transportation of teams for inter-island competitions. He also revealed that Infantino was very keen on assisting the Caribbean with upgrading and improving football facilities.
“Infantino believes strongly that all member associations should have proper football facilities, not only for domestic competition, but also of a standard to accommodate regional and international matches,” he said, while revealing that work at the Wildey AstroTurf would be restarting very shortly as soon as the relevant contracts had been signed.
Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president and CONCACAF presidency hopeful, Gordon Derrick, also this week expressed support for Infantino’s victory and said he was looking forward to the fulfillment of his promise to bolster football development across the Caribbean.
“The electorate has spoken and he won overwhelmingly in the second round. We congratulate him and look forward to all the wonderful things that he has professed that he will bring to our region,” Derrick said.
“His manifesto would have spoken to a lot of the issues in our region and he gave us his assurance he would attend to them. We look forward to him getting settled in so he can start some of these promises coming forth,” he added.
Derrick said the CFU was pleased with how the FIFA elections had been conducted and noted it was important now to start rebuilding the brand.
“The people have spoken. There are 209 associations and 207 voted. It was well conducted. It went two rounds and there was a good fight in the first round,” he said.
“In the second round he was able to gather a lot of support and that is the test of true democracy and we must be happy with the system, we must be happy with the result and as a unified FIFA we should move forward now and rebuild our brand and bring us back to the prominence that there should be, in light of the last couple of months of scandal.”
Infantino clinched 115 votes to beat out challenges from Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein and Jerome Champagne.
Meanwhile, commenting on Derrick’s promise of hosting the region’s first professional football league if elected as CONCACAF boss, Harris noted it would be an excellent undertaking but he preferred to be pragmatic about the suggestion.
Harris said a professional league in the Caribbean would be a massively expensive undertaking. He noted it would have to attract significant commercial interest as well as a buy-in from the regional media where the purchasing of television and broadcast rights would be critical. Harris also said there would be a need for business people to be willing to purchase teams.
“Such business persons would have to believe in sports and buy into the reality that owning football teams can assist in building their businesses,” he said, while adding that inter-island transportation as it existed now would be prohibitive to a regional professional league.
However, Harris stressed that a professional league in the Caribbean would lead to significant improvement in the quality of regional football. He explained professional football brought with it the concepts of discipline, punctuality and commitment to training, proper nutrition and constant effort at self-improvement. He said professionalism would see a different quality of player and person in Barbados’ football.
“It is not accidental that the Barbados Defence Force Sports Programme has done so well in the domestic premier league over the past three to four years. The BDF is a disciplined organization and that will have an impact on the players they put out onto the field,” he said.
Commenting on the ongoing Digicel-sponsored BFA Premier League, Harris said he was heartened by the standard of football this year. He said clubs and players appear to be putting in a greater effort and this was most evident in their preparation for games. However, Harris added he would like to see more people coming out to the games but said he was aware that as far as lighting and seating were presently concerned at the Wildey, St Michael AstroTurf, that that was still a work in progress. (WG)