The João Havelange Centre of Excellence, formerly known as the João Havelange CONCACAF Centre of Excellence, has done a U-turn of sorts regarding the Trinidad and Tobago national under-17 team but the result is the same.
The young “Soca Warriors” will not have the benefit of preparing on turf for the United Arab Emirates 2013 Under-17 World Cup qualifying series in Panama, despite the fact that their three qualifiers will be played on the artificial surface next month.
Wired868 revealed exclusively last week that the Centre of Excellence refused to allow the teenage footballers to practice at the Marvin Lee Stadium, although the venue was constructed for the benefit of CONCACAF teams and paid for by FIFA and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF).
National Security Minister Jack Warner, who is a former FIFA vice president and TTFF special advisor, and his wife Maureen Warner are the only two directors listed at the facility.
TTFF president Raymond Tim Kee said he queried the refusal to allow the young national players to use the venue. He was subsequently told that Warner and Centre of Excellence CEO Jamila Charles both allegedly refused to take responsibility for the rejection letter that was emailed to national under-17 manager Christo Gouveia.
“I was told that the (employee) who wrote the email to Christo misunderstood (her orders),” Tim Kee told Wired868.
Tim Kee said he did not ask Warner directly but declined to say who his query was directed towards.
A Centre of Excellence employee with responsibility for Marvin Lee Stadium bookings initially informed the national team:
“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… I do apologise for any inconvenience that this may have caused to both you and your team.”
Gouveia, on the TTFF president’s instructions, resubmitted the under-17 team’s proposed training schedule for the Marvin Lee Stadium. This time, the Centre of Excellence administrative staff accepted the request but responded with a bill that the national team cannot afford.
The Trinidad and Tobago youth team was asked to pay $5,000 per hour with an additional $1,000 per hour if the lights are used. Gouveia said training sessions generally last two to two and a half hours. This is understood to be the usual rental fee for the venue.
Even if the team trained only during daylight hours, its six sessions would cost between $60,000 to $90,000.
“As it stands, we are not using the Marvin Lee Stadium and we will have to use the Ato Boldon Stadium to prepare,” said Gouveia. “So we will have no preparation on turf going into the tournament. The costs (of the Marvin Lee ground) are outside what the TTFF would be able to afford.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s CONCACAF opponents next month, 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, in a previous interview. “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.”
The TTFF contributed $3.97 million (US$617,312) directly to the Marvin Lee Stadium and allowed a further $8.9 million (US$1,386,396) to be used on the Centre of Excellence from money allotted to the local football body from the FIFA Goal programme. But this expense will not benefit the present national players.
Wired868 tried unsuccessfully to reach Charles, the Centre of Excellence CEO, for comment by phone while she has not responded to messages left with her secretary or on her voice mail.
Tim Kee told Wired868 that he will investigate the amount of money spent by the previous TTFF administration to use the Marvin Lee Stadium. Last year, CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb launched a legal probe into the confederation’s rights regarding the Centre of Excellence and this is due to be completed next month.
The national under-17 team travels to Miami this weekend and will play two practice games against the United States under-17 squad on March 22 and 24 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
The young Warriors will then return to Trinidad for a final week’s preparation before they head to Panama for the World Cup qualifiers, which start on April 6.
Coach Shawn Cooper and assistant coach Leonson Lewis told the TTFF Media that the competition represented a “once in a lifetime opportunity” for the young men.
“They will be a nervous bunch at this time because they are young and it’s the first time they will be going into a qualifying tournament like this one,” said Lewis, a former Trinidad and Tobago international star and Portugal-based professional. “I was there at one stage and I know how it feels. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for them you are only going to be under 17 once.
“I try to get into their minds how they should think, and we, to prepare them as best we can for the tournament coming up in Panama.”
The Trinidad and Tobago national under-17 team hopes that its failure to prepare for the conditions in Panama will not be to the detriment of the squad’s World Cup Cup dreams.
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