Big egos have little ears: Former JFF boss Tony James weighs in on JFF's handling of Donaldson's contract

By October 05, 2023
(From left) JFF's general secretary Dennis Chung; Tony James, former JFF president and outgoing Reggae Girlz Head coach Lorne Donaldson. (From left) JFF's general secretary Dennis Chung; Tony James, former JFF president and outgoing Reggae Girlz Head coach Lorne Donaldson.

As the dust continues to settle on the Jamaica Football Federation’s (JFF) controversial non-renewal of Lorne Donaldson’s contract to head the Reggae Girlz programme, former JFF president Tony James believes the outcome could have been different had both parties tempered their egos.

James is of the view that neither the Michael Ricketts-led JFF, represented by general secretary Dennis Chung, nor Donaldson really considered the bigger picture, which was to place the Reggae Girlz and their progress at the forefront of the decision-making process to arrive at a more amicable settlement.  

In fact, while noting that Donaldson’s outspoken personality may have led to his ousting, James was by no means reserved in his criticism of the JFF, especially given the Girlz overwhelming success under the outgoing coach’s leadership.

 “No responsible organization is going to have its employees in the public making negative comments about the federation. The JFF has the authority to run football in Jamaica and there can be no questions about that and then there is the case of everybody having an ego which is not such a bad thing,” James remarked.

“The issue is that when you are excessive then you have a problem, so the ego has to be balanced. I am not approving one side; both sides needed to temper their ego and place the Girlz at the centre of their issues. Everybody is on a tangent and once you put the Girlz at the centre and they (JFF) apply good governance principles, I don’t think you would have had the same result,” he told Sportsmax.tv.

James argued that the national development of football should always be of utmost priority for the JFF hierarchy and its Technical Committee, despite personal feelings.

As such, he believes the decision to cut the country’s most successful coach, should have been discussed with certain stakeholders, to include women’s football ambassador Cedella Marley, who has significantly invested in the programme.

It was Marley, who first introduced Donaldson and former Head coach Hue Menzies to the Reggae Girlz programme in 2015, and the two led the country to an historic first FIFA Women’s World Cup appearance in France in 2019.

However, after Menzies departed the programme in late 2019, Donaldson followed suit a few months later, but was reappointed in June 2022, to replace Vinimore “Vin” Blaine, who was forced to resign a few months into his tenure after the players expressed their displeasure with his leadership in a scathing letter.

Like he did in 2019, Donaldson again led the Reggae Girlz to the World Cup, jointly hosted by Australia and New Zealand, where they had an historic run to the round of 16, after drawing with France and Brazil and defeating Panama in the group stage.

The Reggae Girlz eventually bowed out following a 0-1 loss to Colombia.

In their most recent fixtures, the Reggae Girlz suffered back-to-back losses to Canada in a failed bid to qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, but the progress the team has made under Donaldson’s leadership is without question.

“You can’t take sides, you have to look on every stakeholder and see what they are bringing to the table and if you have good governance principles then you should discuss it with at least the major stakeholders.

“Cedella Marley is a major stakeholder, have they discussed it with Cedella Marley?” James questioned.

“And in all this the Girlz should be the front of the equation, there are representatives of the Girlz who are very vocal and very focused, you should have called them in and say ‘listen, here is our position. What is your view because I am sure they are going to get a view that is not in agreement with that decision by the JFF,” James continued.

The former football boss also took issue with the JFF’s widely circulated release stating that the decision to part ways was with Donaldson was mutual, as the coach refuted the claims and revealed that the meeting with Chung and JFF’s Human Resource Manager Suzie George-Gayle, lasted a mere five minutes.

The JFF statement said, “after an extended discussion, both parties came to an agreement that the contract would not be renewed.”

James said this again called the JFF’s character into question.

“And again, that is against governance principles. Discussion and respect are a part of good governance principles, so a five-minute thing, I don’t know what you call that, it is just disrespectful,” he opined.

“If the context of what the man [Donaldson] said is true, the press release emanating from that is also false then, because it said that they were in agreement. So, once it says that, and you bring false into it, then it doesn’t put JFF in a good light because there are other things people are going to assume are false,” James noted.

Upon reflection, James recalled the fact that Donaldson was not the initial first choice for the JFF from the onset.

It was Englishman Jonathan Morgan, who found favour with the JFF Technical Committee. However, Morgan later received an offer from Burnley Women’s team and opted out of the race for the Girlz top job, which resulted in Donaldson taking the reins.

“I think that is what is ticking off the JFF, the fact that coach Lorne Donaldson was not selected by them. So, what is embarrassing to the Technical Committee is that they chose someone [Morgan] and Cedella Marley chose a different person [Donaldson] and that person has worked miracles,” James reasoned.

“So, people should be willing to eat humble pie in the context of national importance given the success and progress made in that (World Cup) campaign and say alright let us look at it (Donaldson’s contract) again.

“From there, they could then lay down the plan, not only to Lorne, but to everybody in the national programme that you have to seek permission to speak on certain matters and if you don’t follow the guideline, you will be severely sanctioned,” he explained.

“But the thing with the Girlz programme is that you don’t know who has the authority to speak because you don’t hear anything from anybody else. So, I am not sure who is making the decision for the JFF, if it is the Technical Committee or the Board of Directors, nobody really knows, so apparently all legislation is left to this fellow [Chung],” James ended.

Sherdon Cowan

Sherdon Cowan is a five-time award-winning journalist with 10 years' experience covering sports.

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