Sport Minister Anil Roberts and, by extension, the Trinidad and Tobago government spared little expense in celebrating the finished article as it recently feted Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott and 50 of the country’s top sportsmen.
But the feeling within local football circles is that the Sport Ministry is not delivering to the athletes who are most in need.
This week, the Trinidad and Tobago national under-17 team, which breezed through its Caribbean qualifying group in July with 28 goals scored and one conceded from three matches, was forced to halt its preparations for the final CONCACAF World Cup qualifying round in February.
The national under-20 team cancelled a weekend trip to Fort Lauderdale, Miami where it was due to play two practice matches against Canada in the build-up to its Caribbean Football Union (CFU) qualifiers in November.
And the senior team has abandoned a scheduled warm-up fixture away to Puerto Rico, which was meant to prepare the “Soca Warriors” for the upcoming Caribbean Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) marketing manager Anthony Harford told Wired868 that the local football body has not received payment from the Sport Ministry since April and there was no money to continue.
“The position remains exactly as it was,” said Harford, who is also a director at All Sport Promotion. “They continue grand charging but we still haven’t received one cent. We are all becoming disillusioned by this.
“In my opinion, the government should to be there to facilitate and encourage growth and encourage its citizens. We have 300,000 young people in Trinidad who are struggling without many choices and we are just monkeying around with them.”
National technical director Anton Corneal was distraught.
The TTFF’s coaches had survived with a stipend of $2,000 per month while they report to sessions for three days a week. Corneal has not been paid this year.
“We have been pushing on for as long as we can without the funds but we can’t do it anymore,” said Corneal. “The under-17 and under-20 teams qualified and we have to say ‘thank God.’ We owe coaches, maxi drivers, everybody. I have not been paid for the year and I have a family to look after. I can’t do this anymore…
“I have been to the government and there have been promises but I don’t know how long we can wait again.”
Ashwin Creed, the Sport Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, admitted that Corneal has visited him. However, he dismissed any suggestion that the Sport Ministry was obliged to help.
“Remember the Ministry doesn’t have to give anybody money or to do anything,” Creed told Wired868.
Harford claimed that the Sport Ministry promised to help the men’s under-23 and women’s under-17 teams at a meeting in January 2012. The TTFF subsequently submitted a budget for $7.5 million. The Sport Ministry paid $3.4 million of that figure in April 2012.
But Creed did not offer much hope that a cheque for the remaining money was in the mail. He refused to even discuss funding for the men’s senior or under-20 football squads.
“I am not going to talk about those teams,” he said, “they failed so they have to do their homework and come again.”
It might be a bitter pill to swallow for a host of unpaid coaches and officials within that program including under-23 men’s coaches Angus Eve and Derek King, women’s coach Even Pellerud and sport psychologist Roger Warner.
Ditto for retired school teachers Charmaine Harris and Trudy-Ann Marquis who travelled as tutors to the under-17 girls to make sure they did not fall behind in their CXC studies.
“We owe probably over $150,000 to our maxi drivers,” said Corneal. “I had a driver from south calling me and crying out because he probably has a loan to pay on his vehicle. That is when I said we cannot do this anymore.”
Still, Creed has promised to help the national under-17 men’s team although, according to Harford, the Sport Ministry has not paid anything yet and the CFU qualifying rounds ended over a month ago.
“The Ministry is assisting the under-17 teams and there is a methodology,” said Creed.
Corneal might have been experiencing the Sport Ministry’s methodology since March.
He claimed that he was asked to provide a strategic plan for the national teams before the Sport Ministry would pay. He said that he handed over one and was told to redo it.
Corneal alleged he was asked to provide supportive documents next. And then letters of support from the TTFF.
Seven months later, Corneal, who helped steer two youth teams to successive FIFA World Youth Championship tournaments, is still unpaid.
In fact, the Sport Ministry has not made a payment to the TTFF since an instruction by National Security Minister and former TTFF special advisor Jack Warner to starve the federation of funding, which Wired868 carried exclusively on 7 May 2012.
Warner claimed, at the time, to be angry at the TTFF for being slow to support his preferred candidate, Harold Taylor, at the CFU presidential election. Antiguan Gordon Derrick was eventually elected to replace Warner at the Caribbean helm.
Harford says the Sport Ministry has taken an antagonistic approach with him and the TTFF ever since.
“I wrote a note to Mr Creed a week ago and asked when I could tell these people that they will be paid,” said Harford. “He said they haven’t reconciled the accounts yet and that the auditor general has queries. What queries? Up to now, no one has gotten back to me on that.
“I am becoming more and more angry at the way these people are treating our children.”
Harford found it passing strange that Creed singled out one of several national teams for funding and wondered if it was within the remit of a PS to make such judgment calls.
“Is it because Creed’s nephew (Brendon Creed) is the captain of the national under-17 team that is to receive funding?” asked Harford.
A private company supposedly stepped in at the last minute to rescue the national under-20 men’s team which, on the day it was due to fly to St Vincent, had no money or plane tickets.
At present, a 26-member women’s under-17 team is at a training camp in Florida that is sponsored by the parent of an older national player. The parent, who spent approximately $250,000, prefers to remain anonymous.
“He pulled me aside and said he is willing to loan TTFF the money because he wants to see the children do better than the previous generation,” said Harford. “And, whenever the TTFF can pay, it will reimburse him.”
Pellerud used his own money to sponsor this year’s Trinidad and Tobago Women’s League Football (WoLF) Big Four tournament although the 59-year-old Norwegian coach has not been paid by the TTFF in seven months. His contract with the national women’s team ends this year.
Corneal still hopes that someone steps in to save the TTFF’s program. But, for now, he and his coaching colleagues have reached their limit.
“These young players have potential but need individual improvement, strength work and better tactical understanding,” said Corneal. “We are not even close to the exposure that the other teams have at this stage. We have plans and a program but it is impossible without money…
“People want to see the icing on the cake but they don’t want to help with the ingredients. These players have worked so hard and their dreams and opportunities are being hindered for what I don’t know.
“I am praying that something comes out of this and that we do not go into our tournaments unprepared.”