Editorials

Just as Shankly was wrong, so is the BFA

  • Murder scene: the Bermuda Football Association’s slowness to react after the shooting murder of a registered footballer, Boulevard goalkeeper Ronniko Burchall, is symptomatic of the country’s gradual desensitisation to death (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once alluded that football was more important than life and death.

But those who know the Liverpool story will appreciate that his famous quote came some time before Hillsborough, and it came before Heysel — and, belatedly, that it is wrong.

Officers in our major sporting organisations are elected or appointed to lead, but too often in times of strife the “head in the sand” approach is the default option. This has led to the buck being passed when affiliates and the wider public are looking to those they have put in power for leadership.

The Bermuda Football Association’s slowness to react in the wake of the death of Ronniko Burchall is just the latest example.

True, the shooting murder is said by the police to be gang-related, and the BFA has been at pains to remind that the gang lifestyle has nothing to do with football — and it doesn’t.

But Burchall was a registered footballer with Boulevard Community Club, and as such they are both part of the “football family”.

Yet nowhere is there to be found acknowledgement of the loss of a member of the family or statements of condolence to the blood family or the club — not in a press release, not on the BFA website or on any of its social-media channels.

It is as though, from a football perspective, the gruesome event that has rocked the Back of Town club to its foundations never happened. But we all know it did.

The first official reaction from football’s governing body as a consequence of a lone gunman walking up to Burchall on the grounds of St David’s County Cricket Club on December 29 and firing at him in premeditated fashion was a two-line statement announcing the postponement of Boulevard’s scheduled January 6 match with PHC Zebras.

Fully six days later, a mere two days before the scheduled date, with no explanation as to why!

The match might have gone ahead had Boulevard not requested time to grieve, which BFA president Mark Wade confirmed in an interview with this newspaper, also on Friday gone.

That is precisely where we take huge exception. It should not be left to the bereaved to make such a difficult decision but rather for a governing body to act in a strong but dignified way — not get caught in the grip of inertia.

Failure to do so opens the door to untold emotions being played out on the football pitch.

It is not as though recent history had not already given the BFA a steer as to what prescribed protocol should be in times of death, in particular.

On September 15, only hours after Mazhye Burchall lost his life in a motorcycle crash, his Robin Hood club were given permission to play their night match with Devonshire Cougars.

It was an outrageous decision by all concerned then and remains outrageous now, giving no consideration to the psychological effects the hours-old tragedy had on the Hood players, the opponents and the paying public.

Despite a series of tributes on the night, which continue months later whenever a former team-mate from either Hood or PHC is given a platform, the ability to carry on with sport in such proximity to death shines a light on a gradual desensitisation to loss of life that is sadly afflicting this country.

On the night of September 15, the result was a match that was played as though someone had died — it was that bad, and ill-advised.

“You could see we were in our own heads and a lot of things we were doing [on the pitch] were out of character,” was Hood coach John Barry Nusum’s frank admission after the match that should have never been played. “There were a lot of emotions.”

That says it all.