Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) marketing manager Anthony Harford accused Sport Minister Anil Roberts of attempting to create a parallel organisation to run local football as the conflict intensified between the two sporting bodies.
Roberts has consistently snubbed the TTFF since National Security Minister Jack Warner asked him to starve the local football body of funds in a letter on 20 April 2012, which was subsequently leaked to Wired868.com.
And Trinidad and Tobago’s senior national team players look set to suffer as a result with the squad’s participation in the upcoming 2012 Digicel Caribbean Cup now in doubt. The TTFF, via a press release yesterday, said the Ministry’s refusal to fund the team could mean its withdrawal from the Caribbean Cup, which serves as a qualifier for the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, and possible CFU and FIFA sanctions as well.
“This is our chance to continue our football programme and if these players miss out on tournaments like this it will set us back many, many years,” said national team technical director Anton Corneal. “I feel sorry for the young players that normally would get exposure in this tournament. This is an opportunity for them to go and show what they can do and make a better living for themselves.”
An email allegedly sent by Ashwin Creed, Permanent Secretary to the Sport Ministry, to the TTFF suggested that the senior team was unworthy of funding.
“With regards to the support for the senior team you have been informed on several occasions that the Ministry (sic) focus is on development given the abysmal performance of the senior team,” stated the email. “As you are aware their (sic) is a note before the Cabinet to treat with the way forward for football. This note is predicated on two consultations held on a development plan for football.”
The squad, written off as abysmal, includes 30-year-old Chaconia Gold medal winner and 2006 World Cup midfielder Densill Theobald of Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA as well as 10 players who represented their country at Youth World Cups.
Genk midfielder Khaleem Hyland, 23, became the youngest Trinidad and Tobago footballer to play in the European Champions League and the former 2007 Under-17 and 2009 Under-20 World Cup player was tipped to play a key role in coach Hutson Charles’ squad.
Creed refused comment on the email.
However, Harford accused the Sport Ministry of overstepping its boundary and disrespecting the country’s footballers and citizens.
“Is it that now we have two TTFFs?” asked Harford. “Are they now legislating on development and creating their own national team? Is it that Roberts is the president of a second TTFF and Creed is the secretary?
“Clearly the ministry now wants to run football in Trinidad and Tobago.”
Warner, who was the TTFF special advisor and FIFA vice-president before he resigned both posts due to an international bribery scandal, is a silent but arguably integral party to the conflict.
The UNC chairman supposedly fell out with the TTFF executive committee after its general secretary Richard Groden accused him of collecting a bribe from former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam and fraudulently representing the football body in correspondence to FIFA meant to save his own skin.
Warner was further aggrieved when the TTFF was slow to nominate Harold Taylor to replace him as Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president and, on 20 April 2012, asked Roberts to penalise the body as a result.
“I am advised that (…) a conspirational agreement with members of the TTFF and Sepp Blatter, President of the FIFA (…) was made to deny any representative from Trinidad and Tobago the opportunity to contest the position of President of the CFU,” Warner wrote to Roberts. “This attack, Minister, should never be allowed to continue and there has to be something we as a government can do in defense of our people.
“May I suggest therefore that the Government of Trinidad and Tobago do not contribute one cent to any organisation that fails to support the progress of its people. And I wish to also bring this matter also (sic) to the attention of the Honourable Prime Minister.”
Roberts confirmed that he received Warner’s letter, on a Ministry of Works letterhead, but claimed it did not influence his thinking as Sport Minister.
The TTFF believes otherwise.
“It is more than passing strange that we haven’t received a cent and all of this has come about since the letter (from Warner) went out,” said Harford.
Another TTFF insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed with Harford’s conclusion.
“I can’t understand how (the Sport Ministry) can allow one person to have so much control,” he said, “and how man can be so vindictive. How can Anil Roberts think this is fair?”
Harford was named in Warner’s letter and thinks he has been a target for the Sport Ministry even since.
On 12 September 2012, Creed faxed a letter to All Sport that claimed “significant discrepancies” in the statement of expenditure submitted by TTFF marketing in relation to funding received in 2011 and suggested that roughly $5.5 million was missing.
Harford informed Creed by letter, a week later, that the PS was referring to an interim statement provided on 31 October 2011 and not the final statement of expenses that he claimed to have delivered to the Ministry on 16 January 2012.
“It is unfortunate that your letter (…) should seek to imply that the TTFF Marketing/All Sport Promotion Ltd has not properly accounted for the funds provided by the Ministry of Sport,” stated Harford, in his response to Creed. “This is of particular concern to us since the final accounts were delivered since January 16th 2012 and your letter of 12th September 2012, some eight months later, does not seem to acknowledge receipt of these accounts which were delivered to you personally.”
Harford said he is prepared to step aside from his post if it will help the national teams receive funding. But, until he is so directed, will continue to seek private sector sponsorship in an atmosphere he described as very difficult.
“Nothing they do can frighten me because I have done nothing dishonest,” he said. “If I am wrong, then bring the fraud squad and cart me off to jail. Put don’t let the children suffer and hold the country to ransom.”
The “Soca Warriors” are due to leave for St Kitts on Monday and should play French Guyana in its first qualifier on October 10. Yesterday was the deadline to submit the travelling party to the CFU but the TTFF has requested an extension as it continues its search for alternative funding.
The TTFF gave the Sport Ministry a budget for $423,218, which comprises airfare, team stipends and a training camp. However, it is determined to compete with whatever funding it receive once feasibly possible; even if it means cancelling invitations to overseas-based professionals and renegotiating match fees and per diem for the remaining players.
The TTFF already owes dozens of persons and companies from hotels and caterers to maxi drivers, tutors, coaches and players.
National under-17 player Andre Fortune paid approximately $14,000 to travel from the United States to Trinidad to try out for the team and then to play in the CFU competition. The TTFF promised to reimburse him.
Twenty-one-year-old Kazkhastan-based defender Robert Primus, who plays for Aktobe FC, has already paid for his plane ticket home to play in next week’s Caribbean Cup qualifier, which must also be reimbursed. He could now find himself out of pocket as well as out of the team through no fault of his own.
Primus was a key member of Corneal’s 2007 Under-17 and 2009 Under-20 World Cup teams and the technical director believes it would be a waste of the time and money and time invested if players like Primus, Jamal Gay and Daneil Cyrus are not allowed to continue their progress.
“My opinion is that development takes a couple of years,” said Corneal. “We qualified for one World Cup in 2006 but the players involved were a part of two or three failed campaigns before. They were supported until they gained enough experience and then we qualified.
“Stopping the funding can only hinder the development of this team.”
Trinidad and Tobago has won eight of 15 editions of the Caribbean Cup—more than all the other regional teams combined—and has never failed to qualify for the competition.
That record is in danger this year.
T&T 29-man shortlist
(20 players will be selected for Caribbean Cup)
GK: Jan Michael Williams (DirecTV W Connection), Cleon John (North East Stars), Marvin Phillip (Central FC);
Def: Carlyle Mitchell (Vancouver Whitecaps—Canada), Robert Primus (FC Aktobe—Kazakhstan), Julius James (Columbus Crew—USA), Rodell Elcock (Defence Force), Kareem Moses, Seon Power, Kevon Villaroel (all North East Stars), Daneil Cyrus, Joevin Jones (both DirecTV W Connection), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force), Aubrey David (Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA);
Mid: Khaleem Hyland (Racing Genk—Belgium), Densill Theobald (Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA), Clyde Leon (DirecTV W Connection), Kevon Neaves (T&TEC), Keon Daniel (Philadelphia Union—USA), Kevin Molino (Orlando City—USA), Hughtun Hector (Song Lam Nghe—Vietnam), Keron Boucher (St Clair Coaching School), Kevon Carter (Defence Force), Duane Muckette (1st Fc Santa Rosa);
For: Darryl Roberts (Samsunspor—Turkey), Willis Plaza (Sai Gon FC—Vietnam), Richard Roy, Devorn Jorsling (both Defence Force), Jamal Gay (Neal & Massy Caledonia AIA).