The Trinidad and Tobago national under-17 football team was dealt a low blow to its United Arab Emirates 2013 Under-17 World Cup chances yesterday when the teenaged “Soca Warriors” were denied any chance of practicing on the Marvin Lee Stadium at the Dr João Havelange Centre of Excellence, which was a key part of their preparations.
The national starlets already booked their place for the CONCACAF stage of the World Cup qualifying series, which starts next month on April 6 in Panama, and are just three games away from being only the second Trinidad and Tobago under-17 team to qualify for a FIFA tournament in the country’s history.
The snag is that all three World Cup qualifiers will be played on turf and the only artificial venue in the country is at the Centre of Excellence.
And the Centre of Excellence has said no, despite the fact that the Marvin Lee Stadium was built for the TTFF using a FIFA grant. Wired868 proved exclusively, last year, that the Centre of Excellence belongs to Jack Warner, who is the National Security Minister and a former FIFA vice president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) special advisor.
Team manager, Christo Gouveia, called the venue to book training sessions as soon as the CONCACAF draw mandated the Trinidad and Tobago squad to play on the artificial surface of the Estadio Agustín Muquita Sánchez in Panama.
The under-17 manager was initially told, by a booking clerk, that the Marvin Lee Stadium was available on the requested dates.
However, the clerk subsequently emailed Gouveia and said that she was told by her “superiors” not to facilitate the national team.
Wired868 was able to obtain, through an anonymous source, a copy of the email sent by the Centre of Excellence employee to the national under-17 team manager. There was no suggestion that money was a factor in the snub.
“This email serves to inform that we will be unable to facilitate the U-17 team at the Marvin Lee Stadium due to instructions passed on to us by our superiors,” stated the Centre of Excellence employee. “… I do apologise for any inconvenience that this may have caused to both you and your team.
“However on behalf the management and staff of the Centre of Excellence we thank you for showing interest at (sic) our facilities and do wish you all the best in your future endeavors.”
Wired868 tried unsuccessfully to reach Centre of Excellence CEO Jamila Charles so as to confirm whether the order to blank the national team came from her or a member of the Warner family. The National Security Minister and his wife, Maureen Warner, are listed as the only two directors of the facility while their sons, Daryan and Daryll, both held senior posts there.
Gouveia admitted that it is a blow to miss out on the venue, especially as Trinidad and Tobago’s CONCACAF group opponents, Costa Rica and Canada, both have their own turf facilities.
“It would have definitely been a plus (if we got to use the Marvin Lee Stadium),” Gouveia told Wired868. “Our team is competitive and we can get through the first round. But the fact is playing on turf is different to playing on grass because the pace of the game is different and the ball moves faster and you need different footwear and so on.”
Instead, the national under-17 team turned to the Tacarigua National Hockey Facility for assistance and has already received a favourable response.
However, the Tacarigua venue is available just once a week and is much smaller than a football ground, which means that the national team cannot do proper shadow sessions or play any practice games there.
“It is too small for an 11-a-side game,” said Gouveia, “but at least we can do small sided games. So we intend to use it for four versus four situations so that the players can at least get a feel for the pace of the turf and practice using the proper gear for turf.”
Ironically, the TTFF should, arguably, own the Marvin Lee Stadium as it was built through FIFA’s Goal programme although the local football body paid Warner’s family rent for use of the facilities for years.
The Goal programme allows each national football body to “receive funding for football development projects” and helps “build national association headquarters, training academies and artificial and grass pitches.”
Each member association, once its request is accepted, is entitled to receive up to $3.2 million (US$500,000) per project. The TTFF was twice the beneficiary of GOAL funding to a tune of $8.9 million (US$1,386,396), which was $2.5 million (US$386,396) more than the maximum figure allowed.
Both projects went to the Centre of Excellence to construct the Marvin Lee Stadium and the Futsal hall, which is often used for comedy shows, flea markets and expos.
At the time that Warner quit his FIFA office while facing charges for facilitating bribes, his son, Daryll, was the FIFA Goal Development Officer based in Trinidad and with jurisdiction for over half of the Caribbean.
The Marvin Lee Stadium was so far over budget that FIFA spent almost twice its stipulated amount for Goal projects while the TTFF had to use from its own savings to help fund its construction.
Information on FIFA’s website shows that the TTFF contributed $3.97 million (US$617,312) towards the artificial surface.
Last September, present CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb hired global legal company Sidley Austin LLP to determine whether the confederation can reclaim the Centre of Excellence along with other issues related to Warner’s tenure as CONCACAF president.
A final report is expected from CONCACAF between April and June 2013.
It will be too late to benefit the national under-17 team and the World Cup dreams of just under two dozen local teenage football players.
The young Warriors were unbeaten in their Caribbean qualifying group and set a new CONCACAF record after mauling the British Virgin Islands 23-0 in a qualifier at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 25 July 2012.
Gouveia assured local fans that, despite the setback, the talented national team will not waste time feeling sorry for itself and would do its utmost to qualify for the FIFA competition. Gouveia was also the team manager when Trinidad and Tobago qualified for its first Under-17 World Cup in 2007 while the Warriors played, as the host nation, at the 2001 competition in this age group.
“I don’t want to say if we don’t play on the turf we are going to lose,” said the manager. “We didn’t get as much preparation as we would have liked. But we did get some preparation and the Sport Ministry and Sportt Company were very helpful…
“Not having the chance to prepare on turf is not good. But we are not stopping. We are going full steam ahead.”
2013 CONCACAF U-17 Championship
Group A: Panama, Barbados, Jamaica
Group B: Canada, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago
Group C: United States, Guatemala, Haiti
Group D: Mexico, Honduras, Cuba