Twenty-one year old Trinidad and Tobago track star Jehue Gordon lifted the mood of sport enthusiasts today with a golden run in the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
The Trinidad and Tobago national under-15 football players might not have felt like celebrating, though. The young “Soca Warriors” today suffered the ignominy of being withdrawn from a CONCACAF tournament, due to issues arising from a late confirmation of funding by the Ministry of Sport.
The CONCACAF under-15 tournament kicked off on Tuesday evening in the Cayman Islands and Trinidad and Tobago was scheduled to take the field earlier today against Honduras while the boys should have travelled to the competition’s venue since Sunday August 11.
Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) general secretary Sheldon Phillips told Wired868 that the local football submitted a budget of roughly $380,000 to the Sport Ministry in the third week of July.
CONCACAF takes care of accommodation, meals and ground transport for all participants. But the TTFA needed the Sport Ministry to pay for its airfare and stipends for the team’s coaches.
The football body was willing to send its squad without payment and then try to collect stipends for its staff after the competition. All that was required was a phone call from the Ministry of Sport to Naipaul’s Travel that would authorise the travel agency to book the team’s flight to the Cayman Islands.
But the Sport Ministry’s “okay” happened just three days ago; well after the national team’s deadline.
Wired868 contacted an official at the Sport Ministry for comment but was told that only Permanent Secretary Ashwin Creed could explain what happened. The website failed to reach Creed up to the time of publication.
“Personally, I’m gutted at the fact that we had to pull the team,” said Phillips. “It is still ultimately the TTFA’s duty to manage the team and that is the most frustrating thing because we have had to rely almost entirely on the Government… In the last few days, I was fuelled by thoughts of how I would have felt as a 14-year-old player.”
Today, Phillips wrote the parents of the players as well as CONCACAF general secretary Enrique Sanz to inform them of the country’s withdrawal from the competition. Trinidad and Tobago is not known to have ever withdrawn a team from a CONCACAF football competition and the late pull-out means the two island republic could be handed an international ban, although the TTFA is not worried about that prospect at the moment.
Although Trinidad and Tobago could not make it to the CONCACAF Under-15 competition, 18 other Caribbean nations took part:
Cayman Islands, Aruba, Bermuda, Bahamas, US Virgin Islands, St Maarten, Jamaica, St Lucia, Guadeloupe, St Martin, St Kitts and Nevis, Curacao, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Antigua and Barbuda, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada and Haiti.
The senior Trinidad and Tobago team is still buzzing from an encouraging performance at the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup when the Warriors advanced to the second round for only the second time in the nation’s Gold Cup history.
But, last year, the players were pleading with the Sport Ministry for funding after Creed threatened to withhold funding from the national team due what he described as the abysmal performances of the squad.
“We as players have not been officially told about any possibility of us not going to St Kitts (but) we’ve seen it in the press and it saddens us,” said Densill Theobald, a 2006 World Cup player and Chaconia Gold recipient. “I hope the powers that be realise that this isn’t hurting one man or the TTFF (but) a squad of human beings who use football as a way of life.
“So what about the other teams that are not in the World Cup? You are trying to tell us that they are not being supported or loved by their leaders?
“… How do they expect success to come if they don’t want to invest and help in the road to success?”
Phillips informed the respective parties yesterday that the young under-15 players will not have the same chance to represent their country as their senior counterparts.
“It is with tremendous disappointment (that we) inform you that our U15 Boy’s National Team will not be able to compete in the CONCACAF U15 Tournament currently underway in the Cayman Islands,” stated Phillip, in a letter to Sanz. “For the past two weeks, seats on flights coming out of Trinidad and Tobago for groups have been extremely challenging to secure. While our request for tickets was submitted several weeks ago to our main financial supporter, Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs, the Ministry only recently authorized our booking on August 12.
“We are most disappointed for the young men who will miss a wonderful opportunity through no fault of their own…”
TTFA technical director Anton Corneal explained that withdrawal from the CONCACAF tournament could set the development of the young players back by at least one year as well as rob the football body of a valuable yardstick for a national team.
“I think they are missing out on a lot of exposure at the right age,” said Corneal. “It is a pity (and) it tells us how we see sport and what sport really means for us. These are kids we are trying to give direction and focus through sport.
“Playing for the national team is what little kids dream of and this is taking that dream away. These opportunities missed can turn kids away from seeing the national program and sport as a positive thing.”
The national under-17 women’s team was in the same position but the TTFA managed to fly 14 players as well as team coach Marlon Charles to the British Virgin Islands for Caribbean Football Union (CFU) action this week.
Today, the young women whipped St Kitts and Nevis 7-0 thanks to two goals from Jahra Thomas and one apiece from Chevonne John, Zoe Swift, Summer Arjoon and Eden Charles as well as an own goal. The under-17 women face Antigua and Barbuda from 4 pm on Friday.
“It was an encouraging first game performance for us,” Charles told the TTFA Media. “We were in a difficult situation due to absence of some of our players but the girls remained focused and they were able to get the job done…
“Now we will look to continue in similar fashion on Friday.”
Phillips said the TTFA did everything in its power to afford the under-15 boys the same opportunity but the late notice from the Sport Ministry added to a hectic holiday season made travel to the Cayman Islands virtually impossible.
“We tried to arrange charters,” said Phillips. “We also spoke to the Ministry of Finance and they tried to accommodate us by talking to Caribbean airlines. CAL chairman Phillip Marshall was very helpful but they just couldn’t pull any planes off because of the season.
“We spoke to LIAT and Copa Airlines and several other charter companies in Venezuela and Santo Domingo. We even sent a formal letter to the head of the Defence Force (Major General Kenrick Maharaj) but the timing was bad. For the entire week, there were no flights available.”
Phillips said the issue of funding would not affect the senior team’s trip to Saudi Arabia next month as the team’s appearance fee would help cover expenses, which they hope to recover from the Sport Ministry.
But the local coaches remain unpaid and are owed tens of thousands of dollars, which the Sport Ministry promised to repay. Only head coach Stephen Hart and director of football Leo Beenhakker received salaries for work at the July 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, when the Warriors made their second quarterfinal appearance in 13 years.
Hart and Beenhakker are paid directly by the TTFA while the remaining technical staff members are to be paid by the Sport Ministry.
“We are using funds from FIFA and Concacaf to provide payment for Stephen (Hart) and Leo (Beenhakker),” said Phillips. “But those are not never-ending funds. We are doing what we can to stretch that money out… Right now, everything is focused on securing solid commercial sponsors in time for the next fiscal year…
“We are still working on (the outstanding coaching salaries) with the Ministry. We were told it would be dealt with in the middle of July but the money ran out. Now they are telling us it would possibly be by September or October, which is obviously disappointing.
“We are doing everything we can. We believe (the Ministry of Sport) when they say they are going to satisfy that debt.”
Up until the eve of the Gold Cup, Warriors coach Hutson “Barber” Charles was due in excess of $80,000 while fellow staff members including Derek King, Jefferson George, William Wallace and former head coach Jamaal Shabazz are also owed salaries by the TTFA.
Phillips, who acknowledged the support from the Sport Ministry to the national football teams this year, expressed hope that the Trinidad and Tobago community would help the TTFA to meet its costs in the not-too-distant future.
“Hopefully, our national community will answer our call for support,” stated Phillips, in his letter to CONCACAF, “and recognize the tremendous role public and private sectors can play in supporting football as a positive and coordinated force in the lives of our young people.
“The TTFA is working diligently to establish financial independence through the continued development of our Commercial Department. Once secured, the support of our commercial partners and leveraging additional revenue streams will reduce our dependence on government support for development programs, thus eliminating episodes like this from happening again.”
Editor’s Note: The Trinidad and Tobago Mens’ National Hockey Team advanced to the semi-finals of the on-going 2013 Pan American Games in Canada. But only because the International Hockey Federation (IHF) agreed to defer the team’s opening games as issues related to the late release of funds meant the team could not get to Canada in time.
Wired868 congratulates the hockey men for their success despite the mismanagement of their sport.