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Warriors on airport fiasco: We were tricked!

Trinidad and Tobago national football team head coach Stephen Hart and team manager David Muhammad have broken their silence on the team’s decision to fly to Argentina on June 1 without goalkeeper coach Michael Maurice and therapist Dave Isaac.

Hart and Muhammad said they initially refused to board the flight to Buenos Aires but eventually agreed after alleged misinformation by Tourism Ministry representative Gina Welch. The “Soca Warriors” coach described chaotic scenes at the Piarco International Airport as the team arrived that Sunday morning to board the chartered Caribbean Airlines flight.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart. (Courtesy CONCACAF)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart.
(Courtesy CONCACAF)

“It was absolute bedlam at the airport,” Hart told Wired868. “It was such a disaster you couldn’t even fathom.”

Muhammad, who felt the technical staff was deceived and disrespected, said the Warriors’ needs came a distant second to persons who were meant to be supporting the team and benefiting from the opportunity offered by the high profile friendly international match.

“It was a very disgusting, distasteful experience,” said Muhammad. “I have nothing against local celebrities or their friends or anyone; but the way everything happened was very classist in my opinion and very disrespectful.

“We are grateful that the Ministry of Tourism arranged the flight in the first place; but it seems that the coordination ended in the hands of the wrong person and they made a mess of it.”

The travel party, including Maurice and Isaac, had already been ticketed and Muhammad was collecting boarding passes when the problem started.

Welch, according to Muhammad, walked over the Caribbean Airlines official and identified herself as the deputised authority from the Ministry of Tourism. And she said that only people on her list were authorised to board the plane.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart (centre) makes a point to midfielder Lester Peltier during a training session in Buenos Aires. The "Soca Warriors" were without physiotherapist Dave Isaac and goalkeeping coach Michael Maurice who were initially left behind at the Piarco Airport. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago head coach Stephen Hart (centre) makes a point to midfielder Lester Peltier during a training session in Buenos Aires.
The “Soca Warriors” were without physiotherapist Dave Isaac and goalkeeping coach Michael Maurice who were initially left behind at the Piarco Airport.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)

“My first assumption was that list she had would include everyone on my list plus anybody else,” said Muhammad. “So I didn’t panic and the three of us started going through my list one by one. But when we got to Dave Isaac, she said ‘no, he is not on this list’.

“I said yes and she said no. I said to the clerk that he is on the list no matter what this person is saying and that I was there to get his boarding pass.”

Welch is the managing director of FV Holdings, which describes itself as a brand communication agency that creates, revitalizes and promotes strong distinctive brands.

She was twice acquitted of fraud charges in 2004 and 2009, which dated back to her role with the now defunct Trinidad and Tobago Pageant Company that helped stage the 1999 Miss Universe pageant at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre in Chaguaramas, Trinidad.

Muhammed placed the blame for the airport fiasco in Welch’s handbag.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national team manager David Muhammad.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national team manager David Muhammad.

“There was toing and froing because neither Miss Welch nor I were backing down,” said Muhammad. “I said this entire event cannot occur unless these people get on. Then Miss Welsh said we have commercial flights for the people whose names were taken off the list.

“We were informed that the commercial flight would arrive in Argentina an hour before the charter because (our flight) had to refuel in French Guiana for an hour. Stephen did not want to board without the entire staff but we said okay they will wait for us in Buenos Aires and we will leave as a group.”

Hart was not at the ticketing counter. But he explained that Muhammad’s recollection of his conversation with Welch was instrumental in the Warriors’ decision to board the flight.

“The only reason we got on the flight was that we were told (Maurice and Isaac) were getting there before us,” he said. “I talked to them about it and they said that was fine and they had no problem with that. So we got on the flight.”

Muhammad said he boarded last as he tried to sort out Maurice and Isaac. He claimed to have asked Welch for an itinerary for the suggested commercial flight and she responded that she would get it for him.

“She said wait and she will get it,” he said. “I said give me the airline and I will get it myself. She said she will get that for me and left. And I didn’t see her again until after the flight.”

Photo: Argentina captain Lionel Messi (right) is tackled by Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Khaleem Hyland during their international fixture in Buenos Aires on 4 June 2014. Team manager David Muhammad revealed that the Soca Warriors threatened not to board the flight to Buenos Aires after a dispute at the Piarco International Airport. (Copyright AFP 2014/ Juan Mabromata)
Photo: Argentina captain Lionel Messi (right) is tackled by Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Khaleem Hyland during their international fixture in Buenos Aires on 4 June 2014.
Team manager David Muhammad revealed that the Soca Warriors threatened not to board the flight to Buenos Aires after a dispute at the Piarco International Airport.
(Copyright AFP 2014/ Juan Mabromata)

Welch told Wired868 that she had no recollection of any such conversation with Muhammad, though, and said she only followed orders at Piarco.

“I don’t know about that,” said Welch. “I don’t recall having that conversation. You need to talk to the Ministry of Tourism.

“Everybody was following instructions from the PS (permanent secretary) as guided by the TTFA.”

As passengers boarded, Muhammad said he saw Ministry of Tourism permanent secretary Juliana Johan-Boodram and asked about the commercial flight that Welch said was leaving at the same time. He claimed that the Johan-Boodram told him there was no such flight.

“The Permanent Secretary said we will have to go through travel agents,” said Muhammad. “At first they gave no assurance that they would pay for the flight but the PS eventually agreed to pay for it. She was actually very helpful.

“So I went through a travel agent and booked a flight for 5.41 pm. We left at 10.30 am.”

Hart could not remember precisely when Muhammad gave him the bad news but said it was too late to do anything about it at that point.

Once they landed in Buenos Aires, Muhammad and Hart discovered that Maurice and Isaac did not get on the evening flight either and it was not until the following day that they got on a plane. They arrived in Buenos Aires early on June 3.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national football head coach Stephen Hart (centre) and captain Kenwyne Jones (right) land in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago national football head coach Stephen Hart (centre) and captain Kenwyne Jones (right) land in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA)

“It was bizarre,” said Hart. “You are going there as a team and the whole reason for the flight is to get you all there… I explained the situation to the entire team upon landing…

“I don’t think anyone was too surprised after the fiasco that happened at the airport.”

But Muhammad said he got even angrier with the farcical situation after what he observed on the flight.

“The most disturbing thing to me was there were free seats on the plane,” said Muhammad. “Not only were (Isaac and Maurice) bumped off in exchange for some people’s friends and family members; they were bumped off for the security that everyone’s friends and family would get on, which was very sick. It was a typical example of classist Trinidad.

“Everyone (in the squad) was fuming and some of the passengers who realised what was happening were upset too. I have nothing against anyone who was a passenger on that flight but it is the way it was done.”

Muhammad said the squad did not abandon its colleagues and insisted that Welch deceived them.

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago national football team prays for teammate Marvin Phillip during practice at the Corinthians training ground in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Courtesy Allan V. Crane/TTFA Media)
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago national football team prays for teammate Marvin Phillip during practice at the Corinthians training ground in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
(Courtesy Allan V. Crane/TTFA Media)

“It wasn’t a mistake; it was a lie to get me to cool down because I was defiant,” he said. “There was absolute solidarity among the team to travel as a unit and we were deceived. That person misled us into believing there was a commercial flight leaving at the same time.”

Thus far, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) has not lodged an official complaint about the affair with the Ministry of Tourism.

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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51 comments

  1. After reading this article, these so called family, friends and celebrities should be pointed out. Put them on spot.

  2. Talking about Welch and fraud in that newsday article, I hear big big money recently went missing from the Tourism Ministry …….payments due to the same Welch company….Hmmm!

  3. I guess the PP Keeping it all in the house

  4. Is the woman being referred to in this airport fiasco, the same one referred to in this:

    http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,108412.html

  5. I pity the upcoming kids who want to play for this country. SMH! Disgustin and of course it would be passed off as amnesia or miscommunication….SINK!

  6. I always say the best way to ruined perfect opportunities is to involve government.
    The national team should not be reliant on government for any funding. What it needs to do is seek corporate sponsorship through endorsements and licenced use of national team images. That way it can be responsible for making it’s own arrangements and paying the salaries of both playing, coaching and support staff and not be subject to the whims of those in government.

  7. That is why we need the Don. You feel they could pull that stunt with him at the helm? Lol

  8. All pretense of anything faintly resembling structure and organisation about anything in this place is sadly misplaced.

  9. I love how this country still harbors those for lack of a better term are in fact our new world post colonial aristocracy, those entitled few for whom the rest of us must yield.

    To spite what we may believe massa days aren’t completely done!

  10. Gina Welch???? lol….I feel for David and the staff…. Keep up the fight David Muhammad

  11. Gina Welch?????? LOL, these people know how to survive.. LOL….. This is so sad, I know David Muhammad would have tried his best, I do feel your pain guys, keep the faith…..

  12. after their investigation we’ll see who is who….. or not

  13. Evidently lots of us are impervious to SHAME.

  14. I say “SHAME” on who is responsible for this debacle.

  15. When this BS go end boi???!! Smh. ..

  16. My husband works at the Min of Tourism and told me of this PS constantly being out of the country and taking along her friends with her. This does not surprise me in the least! I’m soooo damn sick of these bloodsuckers!!!

  17. So sorry for my boys. Gina Welch…….and FV Marketing??? My god. They currently doing a local awareness campaign for the Ministry of Tourism costing millions of tax payers $$$$$$$ . How come they got involved in Argentina? Ah hear the Ministry pay them plenty plenty money to do work on the Argentina trip. Hope the PS in Tourism got approval for that one… Check it out PS Cooper. Tax payers $$$$$$ jumping up!

  18. Football alone?? I have evidence on athletics a-la Pan Am Games.

  19. Annie, I made the comment before reading the article. The article confirmed my recollection. That case went kind of quiet because I never realised that she was not convicted.

  20. Wow, friends, family and supporters were more important than the team and their personnel?

  21. Playing politics with everything

  22. No respect for the sport and team

  23. It shows that for the big wigs onboard that flight the game was not important at all, nor were the Soca Warriors.
    What was important was their trip to Argentina, possibly to see Messi and the Argentinean team play in real life.

    What I would like to know is who placed them on the flight list and why.

  24. The P.S. needs to tell the nation what action will be taken for this deliberate deception and disrespect of the National football team.

  25. Atiba Williams…boy…my heart sank reading this article

  26. I am not surprised to hear about this at all, two cases of fraud allegations against Gina Welch, if you go through the archives, no one would be surprised. Is the Minister of Tourism going to investigate this Lasana Liburd, this is unacceptable.

  27. No surprise who cares about local coaches anyway ..at all levels is disrespect from folks who know nothing about the game..just opportunist

  28. all them set a stinking johnny come lately, must have never gone to a football match before but took tax payers money to carry their friends and family. ask boodram next 6 months what was the benifit she got for us, and that (edited) one call welch.

  29. I can attest, all the way back to the Strike Squad, every time Football gets Hot, all sorts of opportunists crawl out and even have the effrontery to make demands. People who would not spit on football a few month’s earlier. And these people think it is their right to abuse Football in just the way described.

  30. Gina Welch? Wait the name sounds familiar.

  31. Gerard said “accountable”.
    I Nearly dead!

  32. Trini football is such a microcosm of different realities. One minute you get an email from shaun Fuentes speaking about how the USA federation and world is hyping up the Soca Warriors progress after seeing them in the Argentina friendly. Then 10 minutes later Lasana drops this haha…

    Time to get my popcorn, since this movie just got interesting….

  33. Thanks for clearing this up! Lasana could now be a little easier on Mr. Hart, lol

  34. “Thus far, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) has not lodged an official complaint about the affair with the Ministry of Tourism.”

    Why would they when they were probably in on the bloody fiasco. Maddening!!!

  35. What an enormous shame and disrespect to our National Senior football team, some persons known to me, who formed part of the Cultural contingent, was told the cannot board at the Airport. You cannot imagine how the felt. Reading this Story made me sick, just like the society im residing in. This who know who and who is who BS needs to STOP, it has permeated all facets of life here.

  36. If this is true, it displays a disgusting lack of respect and consideration for the most important people in this matter, our team and its support staff. Someone needs to be held to account!

  37. Wow….no respect whatsoever for our team….imagine ministry officials, their friends and families are given such respect, free rides etc..enjoy the moment..cuz it going to end soon…miss welch u cannot b a trini….cuz no one will treat our soca warriors like that. This trip was a luxurious get away for ppl attached to the ministry of tourism, who needed to take their wives and outside woman out of Trinidad for a few days !!!! I’m also shocked that an official complaint has not yet been lodged by d ttfa to the mot

  38. Ok. So when they closed the door and saw empty seats they couldn’t tell the pilot to hold on, leh we pick up the other two….. as well as the president? (Seeing that he paid for his own flight?)….. or was it because he didnt go with his entourage the reason why there were empty seats?

  39. dis make me more sick dan a gunners fan dis morning

  40. I trust Muhammed’s account has more truth in it than anyone else’s but why did he just take the word of the Welch woman without first ensuring they were indeed booked on a flight? Could it have been so difficult to check that? She said she would get the itinerary, but if she was lying about the ticket, or at least he must have suspected something, why choose to believe what could have been a second lie, and was clearly a brush-off? Maybe I am a “difficult customer” but I would have wanted something more than word of mouth at that stage with such a fishy situation. Was Ms. Welch expected to be “coordinating” the flight?
    Obviously everyone is trying to make out like they did nothing wrong, now, but being on the outside of all sides, I have my own questions. Welch herself is unprofessional in her conduct, whether she was following orders or not, she should have made known the “supposed” change in arrangements before any arrivals at the airport. I am also interested to know the protocol for making such drastic changes in travel plans..Surely there are security risks being ridiculously flouted. The PS is the lord over all apparently so ….

  41. These politicians are simply not to be played with, even if they funding the squad!!

  42. Hmmmmm!!!! I will go with Muhammed’s and Hart’s account. Well they know what to do next time.