The Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation’s (TTFF) coaches are going unpaid and its debts are mounting as the Sport Ministry’s recent apparent indifference to the local football body threatens to create a crisis within the nation’s most popular sport.
Anthony Harford, chairman of the TTFF’s marketing firm All Sport Promotion, claimed that he submitted an invoice for $3.4 million to the Sport Ministry on 23 May 2012, which was meant to cover expenditure for the men’s Olympic team and women’s Under-17 team. The men’s and women’s teams competed in March and May respectively.
A further budget of $1.1 million was given to the Sport Ministry to take the Under-17 and Under-20 boys’ teams through their respective Caribbean qualifying tournaments.
However, according to Harford, Sport Minister Anil Roberts has not so much as responded to their hand-delivered letters much less fulfilled his alleged promise to the national youth teams.
And the effects of the financial crisis is being felt keenly by the football body, which has no major sponsor at present and had its FIFA funding suspended. FIFA has refused to pay its $1.6 million (US$250,000) subvention to the TTFF this year due to Work Minister and ex-FIFA Vice President Jack Warner’s alleged misappropriation of funds meant for Haiti that was wired to a TTFF account.
Warner denied the accusation but FIFA is yet to rule on his defence.
And Harford suspects that Warner is responsible for the football body being starved of funds by the Government too.
Wired868 revealed exclusively, on 7 May 2012, that Warner wrote Sport Minister Anil Roberts on an official State letterhead and urged him to halt all funding to the TTFF.
Warner’s letter was in response to the TTFF’s perceived unwillingness to support his friend, Harold Taylor, in his ultimately unsuccessful bid to replace him as the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president.
Harford was publicly lauded by Sport Minister Anil Roberts last year as the conduit between the TTFF and the Government but he believes Warner changed the dynamics of their relationship.
“It is more than passing strange that we have had absolutely no funds or a word of correspondence since that letter (from Warner),” Harford told Wired868.com. “Mr Warner advised them not to support football and I am getting the sense that this is happening although I cannot prove it.
“My name was in that letter and I get the sense that they now see me as the enemy and not the person they wanted to stabilise football.”
However, Ashwin Creed, the Permanent Secretary of the Sport Ministry, denied the State offered any financial guarantees to the TTFF or that Warner’s letter influenced its behaviour.
“We promised to help but we didn’t promise to pay the whole thing,” said Creed.
Harford said otherwise and insisted he had documentation to support his claim that the Sport Ministry is breaking its word.
On 25 August 2011, Roberts promised just over $45 million to bankroll Trinidad and Tobago’s 2014 World Cup qualifying effort. But the Sport Ministry spent just $8 million last year as the “Soca Warriors” were eliminated in the first round of qualifying.
Harford claimed that the mood was different when he and TTFF General Secretary Richard Groden met Sport Ministry representatives Caryl Kellar and Creed in January 2012.
“The Ministry told us that the only projects they were prepared to support were the Under-23 (Olympic) men and the Under-17 women teams,” he said. “They said there would be no support for the senior men and they would not support anything else.
“We were told we could still supply them with a budget for the Under-20 and Under-17 men’s team but there was no commitment on their side.”
Harford said the TTFF submitted a budget for $7.5 million for the Olympic men’s and Under-17 women’s team and, by April, they received $3.4 million of that figure.
“The payments were made so late,” said Harford. “When the girls left for Panama, they left without a cent and couldn’t even pay their hotel bills while we were waiting on the Ministry. I appreciate the help we have gotten but it doesn’t happen in a manner that encourages professionalism and efficiency.
“We cannot be professional if a team is travelling and we do not know beforehand if we have money for the hotel or plane tickets.”
Both teams failed to advance past the group stage and Harford subsequently handed the Sport Ministry an invoice for $3.4 million rather than the maximum allotted $4.1 million. A budget of $1.1 million was also submitted for the Under-17 and Under-20 men’s teams, which are already in training.
Harford claimed that he is yet to receive any response from the Sport Ministry although he is prepared to wait until month’s end before making a final conclusion.
Meanwhile, the TTFF, which is also fighting 13 Germany 2006 World Cup players in the High Court, is floundering.
National women’s coach Even Pellerud is owed almost three months’ salary now while the men’s Olympic team and women’s Under-17 team staff is due one month’s wages each.
Other persons owed by the TTFF include sport psychologist Roger Warner, retired school teachers Charmaine Harris and Trudy-Ann Marquis—who tutored the young women in four different countries to ensure they didn’t fall behind before their O’ Level exams—as well as the Caribbean Examination Council and several caterers, maxi-taxi drivers and hotels.
Harford said All Sport Promotions has also gone unpaid for the past three months while staff of the present national youth teams is working without promised stipends.
The TTFF hopes to secure a sponsorship deal with the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) soon as well as to restore its relationship with FIFA, which should provide some stability. However, Harford urged the Sport Ministry to improve its service to the sporting bodies who were finding it difficult to operate with late payments and unfulfilled promises.
“I think the only way is for the TTFF to be independent of the Sport Ministry although it is difficult to attract sponsorship at a time like this,” said Harford. “We really have to plead with the corporate sector to support us and if the Ministry wants to get on board after then all well and good.”
For now, the TTFF remains in a precarious position—shunned by FIFA, snubbed by the Government and its former Special Advisor, at odds with its past players and unable to pay its present employees.