No sooner had FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter completed a three-day trip to Trinidad and Tobago on Sunday than he flew to Jamaica. Accompanied by CONCACAF President Jack A. Warner, Blatter’s first port of call was the headquarters of the Jamaican Football Association (JFF) for a meeting with the country’s football chiefs.

Speaking in the presence of JFF President Horace Burrell, the president of world football’s governing body highlighted his link with the country: “I was elected in 1998, the very same year that Jamaica made its only FIFA World Cup finals appearance to date.”

The island of Jamaica covers an area of some 11,000 square kilometres and has a population of 2.8 million, predominantly of African descent. The country’s most popular sports are cricket and athletics, which has gained an even higher profile since the emergence of ace sprinters Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt. Not to be outdone, football also has many followers across the nation, with more than 170,000 Jamaicans regularly playing the game (source: 2006 Big Count). 

As part of his speech at the JFF, Blatter also detailed the wider contributions football can make to society: “The game can play in a role in the social and cultural development of countries. For example, the promotion of women’s football can help bring about recognition for them in some parts of the world.”

Following their visit to the JFF, the FIFA delegation met with Olivia Grange, the Jamaican Minister for Youth, Sport and Culture, attending a special awards ceremony in which ten local personalities received recognition for their services to sport in Jamaica.

Rain greeted the FIFA delegation the following morning, although typically for the Caribbean there was plenty of music in the air too. The day’s events began with a ceremony to mark the opening of the Goal I project and the laying of the founding stone of the Goal II project, an extension of its predecessor. In attendance were Mrs Grange, the Governor-General of Jamaica Patrick Allen, Mr Burrell, Mr Warner and President Blatter.

Approved in 2006, the Goal I project is a one-storey building housing the national football academy, which comes complete with all the requisite facilities, such as players’ dressing room, referees’ room and a storage room for equipment. The new centre also comprises a football pitch.

“As a school of life football has an educational role to play, and this project can provide a legacy for Jamaica,” said Blatter, who was in turn congratulated for his support for football in the Caribbean.

After the playing of the Jamaican national anthem, it was time to unveil the plaque on the new academy and to lay the first stone of the Goal II project, which will add a second floor to the building, as well as additional dressing rooms, meeting rooms, a canteen and a second football pitch.

“The completion of this academy will provide us with the perfect development resource for future generations,” declared Burrell. “The creation of these world-class facilities will help our young players to nurture their technical skills.”