Many young boys are facing a choice “between the game and the gun,” Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller told soccer chiefs at a packed sports summit in the Cayman Islands this week.
The popular politician received two standing ovations during a speech highlighting the power of sport, particularly football, to bring positive change to communities.
She also spoke of her dream that Jamaica could qualify for the World Cup again and that a team from the CONCACAF region, which spans the Caribbean, Central America and the U.S., would one day lift the famous trophy.
“Football is the most powerful catalyst known to man,” she told delegates at the CONCACAF sports summit, which also included speeches by former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke, FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the organizer of the controversial Qatar 2022 World Cup.
It was Ms Simpson-Miller, only the second Jamaican prime minister to visit the Cayman Islands, who drew the largest crowd and the warmest applause.
She spoke glowingly of Caymanian Jeffrey Webb’s work to develop football in the region and fight discrimination in his role as president of CONCACAF and vice president of FIFA, world football’s governing body.
She said sports, particularly football and track and field in Jamaica, had the power to change lives and boost the profile of a nation. She highlighted the Jamaica Reggae Boyz qualification for the World Cup in 1998 and the exploits of the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, as achievements that brought pride and prestige to her country. But she said the greatest power of sports is off the field.
“In some communities, these youngsters are faced with a choice – the game or the gun.
“Those who choose the game may join the community team, they play in community leagues and competitions, some may catch the eye of a scout, get scholarships and their lives may be changed. They travel the world, attract large incomes and represent their country and their clubs.
“Not everyone will get a scholarship or play professionally, not everyone will go all the way, yet everyone will build confidence and character, learn tenacity and toughness and improve health and wellness.
“The beauty of the game transcends skill on the actual field to the fields it opens up for boys and girls across the world. Football unites communities, it breaks down barriers, unites peoples and resolves conflict locally and internationally. Even peoples at war worldwide pause to watch World Cup.”
Earlier in the day, Hassan Abdullah Al-Thawadi outlined similar goals on a global scale for the Qatar World Cup in 2022. He said that in spite of media controversies – many have criticized FIFA’s decision to host the tournament in a small, uncomfortably hot country with no football history – he was driven by a desire to bring the world’s biggest sporting event to the Middle East for the first time.
“This is not the Qatar World Cup, it is the Middle East World Cup. The region needs and deserves to host a major sporting event. We want to build bridges between East and West and break down barriers.”
Mr. Al-Thawadi, who is secretary general of Qatar’s World Cup Supreme Committee, said football has the power to bring people together and change stereotypes.
“At the bottom of it, we are the same people with the same passion for football and the same love for humanity.”