Defending World Cup Soccer Champions Spain, with the trophy.
By Carmen Glover
Immediately after the FIFA World Cup groupings were released last Friday, U.S. sportscasters began to panic publicly. Watching the forlorn expression on the face of ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser, as he debated the U.S. team’s prospects with his Pardon The Interruption (PTI) partner Michael Wilborn, was priceless. “We’re in the Group of Death,” he moaned, as Wilborn shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. Kornheiser was referring to the U.S.A’s placement in group G with soccer powerhouses Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Although the U.S.A. team is coached by former German star Jurgen Klinsmann, the team’s chances of making it out of their group are bleak, at best.
USA Soccer team and their fans are bemoaning their spot in the “Group of Death,” for World Cup 2014.
But for passionate fans from the English-speaking Caribbean nations, the groupings revealed a more disturbing reality: World Cup 2014 in Brazil will not have a single team from that region. No appearance by Jamaica’s thrilling Reggae Boyz who excited the masses in France in 1998 when they became the first English-speaking Caribbean team to make it to the World Cup . No appearance from the Trinidad and Tobago team, which made its first appearance in 2006.
Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz thrilled World Cup fans in France in 1998 but failed to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Judging from statements made recently by the presidents of FIFA and CONCACAF, the paucity of representation from English-speaking Caribbean nations and African countries at the World Cup is a trend that has not gone unnoticed. Speaking recently about the matter, CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb said he would create a panel to explore the formation of a professional Caribbean soccer league designed to ensure that more teams from that region qualify for the World Cup.
Trinidad & Tobago participated in World Cup 2006 but failed to qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
“We have so much talent in the region and the game needs a professional league and professional approach,” he said from his base in Cayman Islands, according to news reports. CONCACAF is comprised of 35 nations in North America, Central America and the Caribbean. And although the entity will be represented by countries such as the United States, Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica for World Cup 2014 in Brazil, the absence of representation from the English-speaking Caribbean is an open wound to soccer diehards in the region who have nurtured dreams of playing in Brazil, soccer’s mecca.
CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb is exploring the formation of a Professional Caribbean Soccer League.
Jamaica feels the impact much more profoundly than many of its regional competitors because of the high esteem the country holds for Brazil and its iconic face of soccer: Pele. Embracing a strong Brazilian influence, Jamaica hired Brazilian Rene Simones to manage the team in the late 1990s, in preparation for World Cup 1998. Simones methodically recruited Jamaican-born soccer stars and players who boast Jamaican heritage, from across the globe, to join the team. The result was the nation’s first World Cup appearance, where they had a robust presence. However, the Reggae Boyz failed to qualify for the most recent Word Cup games.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter agrees that more teams from Africa and Asia need to compete in the World Cup.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter addressed disparity in representation in an article appearing recently in the FIFA Weekly magazine. Describing the need for total globalization and equity in the selection of World Cup berths, Blatter wrote: “It cannot be that European and South American confederations lay claim to the majority of the berths at the World Cup, because take together they account for significantly fewer member associations (63) than Africa and Asia (100).” Combined with Webb’s plans to explore the feasibility of a Caribbean soccer league, Blatter’s comments seem to indicate a shift in the consciousness of the FIFA World Cup governing body and a belated realization that the game needs to be more globally representative.
Brazilian Soccer Legend Pele displays his numerous medals and serves as an enduring ambassador for soccer.
Noel Street, a Toronto-based businessman who played soccer in Jamaica from elementary school through college, said that unless funding, marketing and good infrastructure are put in place, a Caribbean soccer league won’t work. “The Caribbean had a professional soccer league between 1992-1995,” he said. The league failed due to poor management. “If FIFA is taking an active role in creating a new Caribbean Soccer League there will be more funding and marketing so it could work,” he said.
In the meantime, no tears are being shed for the U.S. team for its grouping in the “Group of Death” for the very reason why the English-speaking Caribbean teams are excluded. While the U.S. team falls under the CONCACAF umbrella, many teams in the English-speaking Caribbean yearn for the resources that the U.S. team has and they believe that if those resources were available they would give the U.S. team strong competition every qualifying season.
“Casual Caribbean soccer players have more raw talent than the U.S. players but the U.S.A. team has more funding, infrastructure and marketing which is why they have made more World Cup appearances that the Caribbean countries have,” Street said. Others are more generous in their sentiments about the U.S.A. team.
USA Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who propelled his German teams to World Cup victories, has to strategize to face the formidable team from Ghana in the first round.
“I feel sorry for poor U.S.A because they are in the hardest group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana,” Jamaican musician Paul Kastick said when he evaluated the groupings, while visiting Malaysia. But he expressed excitement about seeing Spain and the Netherlands re-play the World Cup of 2010. “You know that the Netherlands will be looking for revenge in that first game,” he said of Group B which also has Chile and Australia.
Ines Bebea, a New York-based sports journalist who is originally from Spain, is confident that Spain is in good shape to repeat as champions in Brazil. “The team from Spain is intact from the last World Cup and most of the players of the team play professionally for Barcelona and Real Madrid,” she said in assessing Spain’s prowess. Regarding the strong European presence in World Cups when compared to nations from Africa and the English-speaking Caribbean, she said the reason is simple. “The European teams have a better system and their infrastructure is stronger than other regions,” she explained. “Europe is like the NBA of soccer.”
The World Cup trophy which is at the heart of global competition that will take place Summer 2014 in Brazil.
Street agreed with Bebea, stating that “European Clubs are more serious about the business of soccer, sponsoring students from very young ages with resources from their soccer clubs, some of which have schools as well,” he said. For the Caribbean teams to compete, he said, “Caribbean governments have to fund soccer leagues like social programs. When the league develops then businesses will give their support. If the teams make it to the World Cup then they will get funding from FIFA simply for participating in the World Cup,” he explained. The challenge, it seems, is not to create a new Caribbean Soccer League, since that has been done in the past. Rather, it is to put the right foundation, funding, marketing and support in place to ensure that it is a viable and well-funded product that will generate interest and enthusiasm to be sustainable.
As the momentum builds for the upcoming World Cup on Brazilian soil, it will be interesting to see if both Blatter and Webb follow through with their ideas about creating a more balanced system to ensure a more broadly representative World Cup for the future. Soccer fans from English-speaking Caribbean nations, Asia and Africa will be watching.–OnPointPress.net.