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Williams, Shaka on CONCACAF team to launch Caribbean pro league

DIRECTV W Connection chairman David John Williams and former 2006 World Cup player Shaka Hislop were today officially unveiled as members of a CONCACAF task force mandated to do a feasibility study on the potential of a Caribbean professional football league.

The committee is considered the final step before the possible formation of a full-fledged league, which could offer professional employment for over 200 players as well as referees and administrators.

Photo: DIRECTV W Connection captain and St Kitts and Nevis international Gerard Williams (left) wins a header against an Antigua Barracuda opponent while Daneil Cyrus (right) looks on during the 2012 Caribbean Club Championship. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: DIRECTV W Connection captain and St Kitts and Nevis international Gerard Williams (left) wins a header against an Antigua Barracuda opponent while Daneil Cyrus (right) looks on during the 2012 Caribbean Club Championship.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Williams, whose club remains one of the local Pro League’s most successful outfits, is thought to be a key figure in the push towards the re-introduction of a Caribbean professional competition.

“I submitted a proposal about three years ago to the CFU (Caribbean Football Union) and they are taking it a step further now,” Williams told Wired868. “There isn’t much I can say right now other than they are looking very seriously at forming a Caribbean professional league after extensive discussion at the last (CONCACAF) summit…

“The CONCACAF and the CFU is committed to forming a Caribbean professional league.”

CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, in a release, expressed excitement at the possibility of the competition.

“I am certain that there are immense untapped opportunities for football in the Caribbean,” said Webb. “We need to evaluate thoroughly how best to convert potential into a viable structure that could create new futures for clubs, players, fans and the game as a whole.”

Apart from Hislop and Williams, the task force includes: Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, ex-Jamaica Prime Minister and Jamaican National Premier League chairman Edward Seaga, Mexican league president Decio de Maria, US Major League Soccer (MLS) chairman Don Garber, FIFA official James Johnson, CFU general secretary Damien Hughes, Bermuda Speaker of the House Randolph Horton, Barbados FA president Randy Harris and Cayman Islands attorney Simon Firth.

Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper and ESPN commentator Shaka Hislop.
Photo: Former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper and ESPN commentator Shaka Hislop.

“Our focus will be to analyze the feasibility of a sustainable business model,” Garber told CONCACAF, “one that can serve as the cornerstone to build a league that provides a platform for Caribbean talent, as it develops equity and value in the long term.”

Haitian Football Federation president Dr. Yves Jean-Bart, who famously accused Warner of failing to relay earthquake relief funds to Haiti, two years ago, will chair the task force while Digicel marketing head Kieran Foley, IMG senior vice president Jefferson Slack will serve as special advisors along with an England Premier League representative.

“The Premier League is honored to be one of the special advisers to this task force,” said England Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore. “We are making our entire executive team available to offer any help we can in realizing the potential for top-class professional football in the Caribbean.”

Williams said he was honoured and humbled by his appointment on the task force while Webb cooed about the perceived strength of the team and the chance to make a significant impact on the Caribbean game.

If successful, Webb would succeed where his Trinidadian predecessor, Jack Warner, failed almost two decades ago.

In 1992, Warner, the CONCACAF and CFU president, founded the Caribbean Professional Football League (CPFL) with Harold Taylor, then CFU general secretary, as the tournament organiser. However the league, which changed names and formats twice in four years, was beset by poor attendances and member clubs incurred heavy losses before it closed in 1995.

Photo: Jeffrey Webb (centre) with then CONCACAF president Jack Warner (right) and FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Photo: Jeffrey Webb (centre) with then CONCACAF president Jack Warner (right) and FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Trinidad and Tobago Hawks, Malta Carib Alcons and Trinity Professionals, all Trinidad and Tobago clubs, won the three respective editions of the competition.

“Analysing past attempts to develop such a project in the region will provide important information,” said de Maria, “as we seek to create an entity that serves the good of the game.”

Not all the regional stakeholders appear sold on the project.

In January, Jamaica football president Horace Burrell told the Jamaica Star newspaper that he doubted whether the region had the infrastructure for a professional tournament or if it could deal with the issue of travel and poor attendances at football matches on most islands.

“Frankly and honestly speaking there is no infrastructural development across the Caribbean to accommodate such a football competition in a structured way,” said Burrell, “so personally I don’t see this manifesting itself now.”

There is a potential rival for the Caribbean football market too in the form of Chris Anderson, the chairman and CEO of the Caribbean Football Trust Limited (CFTL) who, last year, vowed to launch a regional Major League Football (MLF) competition by September 2015.

The MLF would supposedly feature 20 teams competing for US$3 million in prize money and Anderson hinted that he could work in tandem with CONCACAF.

However, Williams is unconvinced by Anderson’s plans.

Photo: W Connection owner David John Williams (left) signs a sponsorship deal with DIRECTV marketing manager Tamara Ragoonath (centre).
Photo: W Connection owner David John Williams (left) signs a sponsorship deal with DIRECTV marketing manager Tamara Ragoonath (centre).

“Up to now, Chris Anderson hasn’t said who are the (20) teams he invited,” said Williams. “The most I know is that the CFU hasn’t been approached for the (MLF) to be sanctioned and that is probably the most important factor regarding his proposed league…

“What we are talking about is a proper structured league that will have the blessings of FIFA, CONCACAF and the CFU. And if you look at the people invited from the MLS, the Mexican Liga and the Premier League, you can see how serious it is.”

He disagreed with Burrell’s pronouncement that the region cannot sustain professional football at this time and pointed to the success of the Caribbean Premier League cricket competition, which supposedly generated over US$100 million in its debut season last year.

“A lot of people thought franchise cricket couldn’t work but it has,” said Williams. “I think there is infrastructure through the Caribbean (including cricket venues) that can be used and purpose-built venues that can be developed.

“The improvement of the standard of play that will come about and so long as the league is properly structured and promoted and there is television involved, there will be fans.”

Photo: W Connection attacker Hashim Arcia (right) attempts to flick the ball beyond a wall of Guaya United defenders. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/ Wired868)
Photo: W Connection attacker Hashim Arcia (right) attempts to flick the ball beyond a wall of Guaya United defenders.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/ Wired868)

No proposed date has been given for the Caribbean professional league while Williams said it would premature to speculate about its potential impact on the Trinidad and Tobago Pro League. He did insist that Connection would always be a part of the local top flight game regardless.

 

CONCACAF Caribbean Professional Football League task force:

Chairman: Dr Yves Jean-Bart (Haitian Football Federation president);

Members: David John Williams (W Connection/ Trinidad and Tobago), Shaka Hislop (ESPN/ Trinidad and Tobago), Keith Mitchell (Grenada Prime Minister), Edward Seaga (Jamaica National Premier League chairman), Decio de Maria (Mexico Liga president), Don Garber (US Major League Soccer chairman), James Johnson (FIFA/ Australia), Damien Hughes (CFU general secretary/ Anguilla), Randolph Horton (Bermuda Speaker of the House), Randy Harris (Barbados Football Association president) and Simon Firth (Maples and Calder/ Cayman Islands).

Special Advisors: England Premier League, Kieran Foley (Digicel),  Jefferson Slack (IMG VP).

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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5 comments

  1. A Caribbean Pro League is the way to go. Firstly the likes of Fox and ESPN will be more likely to jump on board a project like this and, with international TV coverage, sponsors will be easily enticed to splash their cash. The major logistics of airfare and hotel accommodation can be solved by attracting an airline and a hotel chain among the main sponsors of the league.
    Jet Blue is a good bet, since they are new in the market. This SHOULD be a great opportunity for them to get a foothold in the Caribbean market which would aid in enhancing their profits on their New York to Caribbean route.
    As regards crowd support, it’s only in BIG TIME Trinidad that people don’t support local football and sport on a whole… Every island I’ve played in has been before good if not huge crowds. Apparently THEY don’t have the luxury of viewing the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, etc since you always hear “I cyar watch d Pro League after watching d Premier League nah”.
    Also the salaries for players and coaches SHOULD resemble something like a salary in the Caribbean league and not the paltry avg $4,000 a mth that players make in the “pro” league. And with the best players in the Caribbean and maybe elsewhere vying for the spots available in these teams, we can mount a serious challenge on the CONCACAF Champion’s League.
    To answer the question of what will be done with the Pro League, the 2 or 3 teams contesting the CPL can field their reserve team in the local league and this should also apply to all othe other teams in the CPL. ENOUGH SAID

  2. I agree 100% with Anthony! The League, the Clubs and even the government have not been able to consistently attract fans to make Pro League clubs even 10% self sufficient. I don’t think the answer is building community grounds either because 1. Clubs can not sustain them 2. If Community grounds were the answer, super league games will be filled and they are NOT [I work in the Super league so I can attest to this].

    A bit off topic but I think the answer lies in 4 long term solutions:
    1. A long term marketing plan and promotion budget from the Clubs & the League [5 years]
    2. More media credit & demarcation given to Players/Clubs. In the eyes of the public, are Pro League players seen the same as IPL Cricketers/National Cricketers & Soca and Chutney Artistes?
    3. Football should be more indoctrinated in the Primary & Secondary School System with a connection to the League and National System.
    4. Clubs should sell part ownership of their teams to community, corporations, business men, churches, sponsors [e.g shares, lifetime seats] How many ‘captains’ do this or go down with their ship when it sinks?

  3. Great! I hope the feasibility results are positive and we can see Caribbean Pro League soccer sooner rather than later.

  4. It remains my primary focus, the continued development of the W Connection Brand. There is need to take football in the Caribbean to a different level and there is the scope and interest. The establishing of a Caribbean Professional Football league will not only benefit football but will bring down the cost of goods and services in the region and boast regional integration. I am deeply interested in helping make this a reality.

  5. I like John Williams a lot because he seems to be an ambitious man – but I would have thought that his main focus would have been the development of the W Connection brand… The sad reality is that if the Government suddenly decided to take away free use of the various Stadiums throughout the country, there would be no place for any Pro League teams to play. That to me is a very precarious position to be in – minus the subvention and again, you’re treading in very uncertain waters.
    Always seems like we are thinking about these far reaching concepts as opposed to the most obvious which is – we cannot seem to attract people locally to pro football…
    I know that W has been very successful locally, but I would accept coming 3rd and 4th in the league as a compromise if my team was consistently watched by thousands when we played.