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Sancho talks Olympic rewards, women’s football and the TTFA

“Obviously it is at the Prime Minister’s will to deliver what he or she sees as a just reward (for Olympic athletes),” Sport Minister Brent Sancho told Wired868. “As much as I would like to standardise it, it will always come down to what they want and the emotions of the country at that point in time… But it is something that I think needs to be visited to see if we can have a common approach to it.”

Just one month into the job, Sport Minister Brent Sancho sat down to discuss his vision for the ministry and respond to questions from Wired868. The following is the second instalment in our chat with the former Central FC chairman and 2006 World Cup defender:

Photo: Sport Minister Brent Sancho (back row, far right) poses with ECCE students. (Courtesy SPORTT)
Photo: Sport Minister Brent Sancho (back row, far right) poses with ECCE students.
(Courtesy SPORTT)

Wired868: The 4×100 relay team was rewarded by the Government for finishing third at the 2012 Olympic Games. They hope to be moved up to silver due to disqualification by doping of US sprinter Tyson Gay and they feel their reward should reflect a second placed finish.

What do you think of their case? And should their be standardised rewards for athletes based on performances in international meets?

(The Trinidad and Tobago 4×100 metre team of Richard Thompson, Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callender and Marc Burns are uncertain as to whether they will receive silver medals from the IOC although Gay returned his medal in May 2014).

Brent Sancho: My answer to that is two-fold. We should have a policy in place. One of the things I think we should have is a buffer between the Ministry and the sporting bodies like a board or committee that can take these different ideas and wants and be able to give recommendations to the Ministry.

For example, I am not moving away from the 4×100 team, but if I am given a proposal from a hockey team because I am not an expert I will need a committee who can say this is justifiable and recommend that they should be given and so on…

 

Wired868: And what about rewards for athletes?

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Government feted Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Government feted gold medalist Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.

Sancho: They can help with that too. I think one of the problems we see in this Ministry is that people have done things based on their emotions and feelings and in sport you can’t do that. Obviously it is at the Prime Minister’s will to deliver what he or she sees as a just reward. As much as I would like to standardise it, it will always come down to what they want and the emotions of the country at that point in time.

So there is always a challenge to say we can standardise it because circumstances vary. But it is something that I think needs to be visited to see if we can have a common approach to it.

 

Wired868: We have the 2016 Olympic Games coming up now. If we get four gold medals and seven bronze, the bronze medalists may not get anything whereas if we get two bronze alone, then the two bronze medalists may get huge awards. 

With that in mind, should we push to have something in place now to reward based on merit and not emotion?

Sancho: Yes. I think we should have something standardised but we should also have provisions in place for if the Prime Minister believes it should be merited extra or merited less.

Some may argue if another team were to qualify for the (FIFA) World Cup, obviously it would not have the same impact as the 2006 team. So we need to take all those things into consideration and give it some flexibility so that, if the Prime Minister of the day wants to add or decrease, they should be able to do so.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Richard Thompson, Emmanuel Callender, Marc Burns and Keston Bledman finished third at the London 2012 Olympic Games. However, they are due silver medals after US sprinter Tyson Gay subsequently failed a dope test. (Courtesy AFP 2015)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Richard Thompson, Emmanuel Callender, Marc Burns and Keston Bledman finished third at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
However, they are due silver medals after US sprinter Tyson Gay subsequently failed a dope test.
(Courtesy AFP 2015)

Wired868: Any word for the 4×100 team?

Sancho: It is something I will have to look into. I am only guided by what has happened and transpired in the past and obviously I will have to talk to the Permanent Secretary and deputy Permanent Secretary on how they see fit (to deal with it). Money will always be an issue here because a lot of money has been… As much as I want my ministry to be athlete-based and I want to give athletes incentive to do well, I also have to be cognisant of the fact that I am dealing with taxpayers dollars and I cannot spend it frivolously and willy-nilly. But at the same time, I believe rewards should be given to those who deserve to be rewarded.

 

Wired868: Do you think, in this specific case, their suggestion that they got a third place prize and should rightly be given a second place one has merit?

Sancho: I need to examine the entire scope of it. It is difficult to say from a layman’s point of view. I was an athlete once and they will always want. (Smiles)

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Sport Minister and Senator Brent Sancho. (Courtesy SPORTT)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Sport Minister and Senator Brent Sancho.
(Courtesy SPORTT)

Wired868: What about the elite athlete funding that has been shrouded behind a veil of secrecy (under former Sport Minister Anil Roberts)? Should the public know every cent that is spent and to whom?

Sancho: Once you’re spending taxpayers dollars, the taxpayer needs to know. That is my bottom line… In terms of the elite funding, what I have found out is that it was done on a person’s feeling at the time and it did not seem to have followed any guidelines. And we also have to take into consideration that some sports will need a bit more. So it is very challenging to standardise. We also have to be realistic about a person’s achievable goals… It is a very contentious subject because of the discrepancies of the past and it is something that has taken up a lot of my time.

 

Wired868: As you mentioned discrepancies, can you tell us anything about the LifeSport probe?

Sancho: That does not fall under me. That has gone over to the police and to the Ministry of National Security. They are looking into it.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeepers Kelvin Jack (left) and Shaka Hislop during the 2006 World Cup.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeepers Kelvin Jack (left) and Shaka Hislop during the 2006 World Cup.

Wired868: Can you update me on your role with the World Cup 2006 bonus case?

(Sancho is one of 13 World Cup players who successfully sued the TTFA for unpaid bonuses although the judgment is yet to be satisfied).

Sancho: I’ve obviously had to recuse myself from being part of it because of it possibly being deemed a conflict of interest. So I have recused myself.

 

Wired868: But you are still party to the case?

Sancho: I would say even ‘no’ in the sense that I haven’t had any knowledge of what is transpiring. I know before I took the post that there was a lot of talk about the next step and I believe that will be soon. I don’t believe it has stalled. I believe it is in a planning process before moving forward and that is the last I’ve heard of it.

Everyone knows how I feel about my 13 comrades who are involved in it. But I have taken up a post to represent the people of Trinidad and Tobago so I will have to respect that post and obviously recused myself from being part and parcel of anything to do with the court case.

Photo: TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee (centre), ex-2006 World Cup player Brent Sancho (right) and TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips address the media during a happy moment between the trio in 2013. Sancho was announced as the Sport Minister in February 2015. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee (centre), ex-2006 World Cup player Brent Sancho (right) and TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips address the media during a happy moment between the trio in 2013.
Sancho was announced as the Sport Minister in February 2015.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Wired868: Have you met (TTFA president) Raymond Tim Kee in an official capacity as Sport Minister yet?

Sancho: I have met (TTFA officials) Sheldon Phillips and William Wallace but not Tim Kee. He must be a busy man. (Laughs) I’ve met all the (sport) presidents except for Tim Kee. But I think I’ve been most generous to football as we are now working feverishly to get them that parcel of land so they can get their Goal project. And we are also now trying to assist them for both the Gold Cup and the World Cup.

And I even went in my capacity to add the women’s team (to an international fixture on March 27) so they can get games coming up and I’m also looking at having the first women’s professional league soon.

 

Wired868: Considering the issues that the (male) Pro League is having now, do you think that is feasible and realistic?

Sancho: I think the Pro League is a lesson and a blueprint to start something on a smaller basis using the MLS model. Meaning that this league I am looking at is the brainchild of the ministry and the business side of it will make sure that the club survival is based on the sole entity concept.

I feel quite confident and there has been encouraging feedback from corporate Trinidad… The women are high in the memory of corporate Trinidad at the moment. I think it is a tragedy that these girls have not kicked a ball since the (FIFA World Cup play off against) Ecuador…

There is a massive gap from school and league football to national football (at present).

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago players Kennya Cordner (right) and Anique Walker head for the dressing room after their 1-0 FIFA 2015 Women's Cup Play Off second leg defeat to Ecuador on December 2 in Port of Spain. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago players Kennya Cordner (right) and Anique Walker head for the dressing room after their 1-0 FIFA 2015 Women’s Cup Play Off second leg defeat to Ecuador on December 2 in Port of Spain.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Wired868: You’ve said sponsors are responding well. How advanced are these talks then?

(The Sport Minister held a symposium on the prospective women’s professional league after this interview. The operating cost of the women’s league was given at roughly TT$3 million per season).

Sancho: There has been a lot of planning… One of the things we want to do in the next two or three weeks is have a symposium with corporate Trinidad and all of the sporting bodies, clubs and athletes to discuss corporate involvement and what it takes to stimulate the corporate dollars. I think a lot of organisations and athletes don’t understand what they need to do and I think some companies don’t understand how they can help…

 

Wired868: How soon do you plan for that league to kick off?

Sancho: I am looking for an end of May start.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national women's team winger Ahkeela Mollon (left) takes former national youth team midfielder Lorne Joseph for a run during the 2015 Wired868 Football Festival. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national women’s team winger Ahkeela Mollon (left) takes former national youth team midfielder Lorne Joseph for a run during the 2015 Wired868 Football Festival.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Wired868: Will this be about the current women’s league getting a cash injection or are we talking about a totally different league?

Sancho: It will probably be a new three month league but we have discussions with the management of WOLF and it will be something that will raise the bar of women’s football in the country. We are also talking about bring women from overseas to participate and having higher training regimes and exposing our players to a more concentrated effort in terms of women’s football.

 

Wired868: What will the minimum wage be?

Sancho: There will be a provision for school players to have a stipend. So we are still toying with the idea of what a minimum wage will be. But this league isn’t designed to make anyone a millionaire or to be able to live off it in year one. But what it does is give women players the capacity to play football for three months of the year, coupled with international friendlies around it.

Photo: Point Fortin East Secondary student Denicia Prince (left) takes on two St Augustine Secondary defenders in the 2014 Coca Cola Girls' National Intercol final. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Point Fortin East Secondary student Denicia Prince (left) takes on two St Augustine Secondary defenders in the 2014 Coca Cola Girls’ National Intercol final.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Wired868: What is the most surprising thing you have found since you took over this post?

Sancho: A lot of people like to talk about wastage and squandering in different governments but a lot of what I’ve seen is wasted within the middle order, which is the public service…

(This is) where procurement and procedures went out the window and people just felt they could go and do what they want. And this dates back 10 or 15 years… I feel aggrieved being a former athlete because I know some of the funds I’ve seen wasted would have produced many world champions for this country.

 

Wired868: What do you think is your biggest challenge?

Sancho: The biggest challenge I feel is getting the sporting boards and bodies to stop thinking that the ministry of sport owes them money or is compelled to pay for everything. And also to get the sporting organisations to realise they have to run their own affairs and show the ability to raise their own funds…

Sport is big business and they have to run it as such.

Photo: Denesh Ramdin (left) and Dwayne Bravo (centre) appeal for a catch while on Trinidad and Tobago cricket duty.
Photo: Denesh Ramdin (left) and Dwayne Bravo (centre) appeal for a catch while on Trinidad and Tobago cricket duty.

Wired868: How will we get more accountability for taxpayers money from the TTFA and other sport bodies?

Sancho: We have given the football federation a March deadline to bring in their accounts… Once we put the policies and procedures in place, it will be very clear. There will be certain things they have to adhere to and, if they don’t, they wont get the funding. It is cut and dry as that…

We expect all sporting bodies to follow suit or they will not be funded. The days of happy-go-lucky spending of taxpayers dollars are done… Transparency, accountability and proper procurement will now be a main part of how we do things.

 

Wired868: If the TTFA doesn’t raise a cent for its World Cup campaign, what happens then? Does the government come in and underwrite everything?

Sancho: No. I think that is one of the things that we are looking at. We need to see a comprehensive business plan. They need to start helping themselves. We have met with some sporting organisations that have done a tremendous job in raising their own funds.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee (right) and general secretary Sheldon Phillips. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee (right) and general secretary Sheldon Phillips.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Wired868: Can you give me an example?

Sancho: We have just met with the Trinidad and Tobago wrestling association who are about to become an official sport body… and also cricket and the automobile industry. The others are just not resonating in my head right now.

 

Wired868: So the TTFA is backward among local sporting bodies?

Sancho: Well, they are one out of several who are backward and need to come up to speed… but they’ve assured me that they are working on getting up to scratch and they’ve started by saying they will present accounts by the end of March and that is a good start. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.

Match contracts (for international football games) will have to be part and parcel of our agreements (going forward). We are mindful of the fact that we are spending lots of taxpayers dollars and we have to account for it…

We are looking into the possibility of gate sharing where half of the gates will go back to players’ stipends and coaches’ stipends and players’ match fees and coaches’ match fees. They haven’t said they accept it yet but it is a sponsorship agreement and this is what we want.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national head coach Stephen Hart (left) with assistants Hutson Charles (centre) and Derek King. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national head coach Stephen Hart (left) with assistants Hutson Charles (centre) and Derek King.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Wired868: What can the Sport Ministry ask for without being deemed to be interfering by FIFA?

Sancho: I think that is a question for the TTFA. But we want to see their full detailed accounts and we are aware of the funding given to them by FIFA and maybe Concacaf as well. So we expect to see that as a line item in their accounts and we want to know what they have planned for it.

We are not going to tell them how to spend their money. That’s for sure. That is not my business. But as long as they show a certain amount of transparency and accountability, like every other sporting organisation, they will have no problem with me.

 

Wired868: Is there a potential conflict of interest with you demanding audited statements from the TTFA while simultaneously being involved in a financial matter against them?

Sancho: I won’t say it is a conflict of interest. I think it just gives me a better understanding, than any other Sport Minister who sat in this chair, of accounts and financing as it relates to football because obviously that is the sport that I have come from.

The reason we are asking for the accounts is because it is part of of our policy for all sporting bodies. So I have an obligation to the Ministry and the general public to do my job. I won’t be passing information on to anybody but I am not going to hand out funds without disclosure.

Photo: TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee, who is a member of the FIFA Futsal Committee, tries out the furniture at the global football body's Zurich headquarters.
Photo: TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee, who is a member of the FIFA Futsal Committee, tries out the furniture at the global football body’s Zurich headquarters.

Wired868: What about the TTFA’s debts to players, coaches and former coaches? Does the Ministry of Sport involve itself in that?

Sancho: We have heard a presentation from (TTFA general secretary) Sheldon Phillips that he has plans to put the debts to bed and to see how they can move things forward. This responsibility resonates and lies with the TTFA and they will have to figure out how to pay their debts.

And it is not just them. I have the same problem with other sporting associations who seem to rack up bills and, as the old people say, they have champagne taste and beer money.

 

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One in which Brent Sancho discusses his suitability for the role of Sport Minister, vision for State sport grounds and relationship with Central FC and the Pro League.

Wired868 will publish the third and final instalment of this interview in which Sancho gives his view on the negative image of the present Government and why he chose to join the People’s Partnership.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 15 years experience at several local and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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18 comments

  1. He points out a few things that really need addressing. One is the way they disburse money. While we are required to submit Plans Financials and all sort of other Paperwork and must not be late (which is all the way it should be…to justify the requested support), we then are totally up to the ministries mercy as to when they will call to tell us how much we may be getting and when. When the call finally comes that we have a check to collect it has no further info with it, why it is only a fraction of what has been requested and what they expect us to use it for….. How can one submit a 5Year Plan, if one does not know whether it can be financed….. even when we receive a check, it still leaves open whether this is a indication of continuous support or not….
    If fixing this is part of Standardizing financial handling i am all for that….

  2. He has met all Sports Presidents? That is not correct. He hasn’t met with the President of Triathlon as yet….

  3. So what about the highly paid advisor? Why do you have to form committee to find out ?

  4. Talk and that is all it is. He won’t be around to do anything.

  5. Agreed lasana i said the exact same thing went asked recently! More than that if the systems of development are not in place for coaches and players we will have a whole heap of players who could barely walk with a football saying they not playing without money and the level of the women game instead of improving will nose dive. That money will be better spent on development. It is interesting to note pennial women power house Real deminsion do not have a basic office space to even register its players. I could go on and on but for not only the long term good also immediate benefits the mareque players still in trinidad can be assigned to different clubs as mentors/ coaches paid and used to develop the wolf league. Anything else would be selling fake dreams to our young women which will result in as the old folk say killing d cow for beef to buy milk for a hundred years

  6. Not neglecting the sporting programs at Primary and Secondary schools across the country.

  7. Gordon Pierre, the biggest long term issue for me with a professional women’s league is how it would make money for investors.
    With the men’s league, players move on to leagues abroad who either buy players or pay loan fees. So it is still something. And everyone can dream of selling a Kenwyne Jones and making millions.
    But global women’s leagues don’t pay to buy players. Not now.
    So, to me, it means that investors will have to make money off the gates and that is extremely difficult to do in a small country like ours.
    Of course if they decide to do it for the sake of women’s football, I won’t necessarily have a problem as it is $3 million to possibly improve a few hundred women. Possibly.
    But I’m not convinced about the business aspect of this yet.

  8. Y don’t the minister ask each sporting association to see their development programs/ plans? Grassroots program across the country? That’s a better bet In my books… All these big time facilities and lights on grounds and not one structured coaching program! Sad sad if u ask me… #plaintalk

  9. All sports need to be given the same treatment by the Minister and the Ministry of Sports because I guarantee that very few people would have expected Keshorn Walcott to be our second Olympic Gold medallist so if the TTOC is serious about going after ten Olympic medals then we need to ensure fair treatment to all athletes whether it is with regard to assistance in getting employment based on qualifications, elite athlete funding or rewards for placement in tournaments international or otherwise. It is a simple issue so there is no need to complicate it. The sporting organizations can assist in terms of the level of the various tournaments etc and it should be agreed based on the countries that are involved and some sort of international ranking etc. Keep it simple and make it transparent. If fixed rewards were in place there would be no question as to what a bronze medallist gets as opposed to a silver. In fairness to all national athletes, rewards should never be based on whims and fancies.

  10. Anybody with basic common sense knows to get to a proleague you need the need to have the basics to support product or will the tax payers money be just given out on whims and fancys!! Await to see the action to back up the talk!

  11. After the first part which was very encouraging this is a big let down!! Speaking about tax payers money on one hand and on the other talking about a womend proleague without the ground work of players, coaches and administerative pool beening put in place! Would love to see the sponsors list

  12. Yes, he might give Suruj Rambachan some competition with his admiration for Tanty Kamla 🙂

  13. the man is clearly toeing the party line and not putting a foot out of place, next MP for wherever the UNC feel to put him, but we’ll see what he can do in these next few months, he can become pretty popular because you know its gifts like rain this year 😉

  14. Having said that, it is open to debate if one can avoid potential conflicts of interest so easily since that particular dilemma is more about perception than anything else.
    He certainly does seem to have clear ideas of what he wants to do with the ministry. I’m interested to see if community grounds built with bars and so on helps. It seems a good idea.

  15. Brent Sancho seemed to have immersed himself deep into the business of sport in T&T. Although I do not agree with his thoughts on Olympic Athletes reward at the will of the Prime Minister, so far, he is rebuilding by faith in the Ministry of Sport:- He has a keen sense of conflict of interest and apparently works diligently to avoid such. If is clear that he has been collecting information via executive meetings with T&T sport organizations to get a grasp of the modus operandi of each organization. His visionary leadership, thus far, is far superior than that of the last Ministers of Sport. Once again, I would recommend that the Minister of Sport not be a political appointment for the benefit of T&T sports. This post, Minister of Sport, is a political position and if or when PNM wins the election it is most likely Brent Sancho will be replaced and T&T Sports will lose continuity. I feel at the moment that Brant Sancho probably needs a solid 5 years at the helm to be effective.

  16. Mr. Sancho should look at the sport of Taekwondo and see how he can help. It is an Olympic Sport and its survival depends on its success. If a small country like T and T can medal, it will go a long way for the sport in remaining an Olympic event.