Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee has described Senator Brent Sancho as “the worst Sport Minister ever” as the relationship between the two bodies appears to now be at breaking point.
The senior “Soca Warriors” are due to leave for Jordan this evening but have still not received funding for two nights accommodation in London. And the National Under-23 Team has still not received money for international practice games, a training camp or even visas to fly to Puerto Rico for the preliminary 2016 Olympic qualifying round, which kicks off on June 19.
Tim Kee told Wired868 that he clashed with Sancho last week after various funding issues including the Sport Minister’s declaration that the Government would only pay half of the players’ match fees leading up to the July 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Tim Kee, who is also the Port of Spain Mayor and PNM treasurer, insisted that Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s $9 million Cabinet note, last December, guaranteed funding for the Senior National Team straight up to the Gold Cup tournament.
While Sancho retorted that 70 percent of the $9 million was spent on paying TTFA arrears to its coaches and players.
“I told him you would go down in history as being the worst Minister of Sport we ever had,” said Tim Kee, as he discussed his fiery meeting with Sancho last week. “So you would have to tell the players they are only getting half of their match fees. (Sancho) said that is my job not his job.
“I told him the Government has to support the National Team. He said he doesn’t know about that and his shoulders are broad and he can deal with that.
“I said my shoulders are broad too but the difference between you and I is you are a politician and I am not.”
Sancho offered a similarly abrasive response.
“I am not getting into a verbal joust with a renowned incompetent administrator,” Sancho told Wired868. “At the end of the day, it is the players who will suffer. He needs to stop playing politics with the sport.”
The Warriors coaches, players and officials are already suffering.
Just hours before their flight to Jordan via London, which leaves at 7.40 pm on June 11, Warriors manager William Wallace said he still does not know if the team will get the necessary funds to travel.
“It is 11.16 am and I am driving into Port of Spain where a cheque is supposed to be done,” said Wallace, who is also a Carapichaima East school teacher. “I am not sure what time that is going to be finished, so I will have to park up somewhere and wait.
“Then, I have to take (the cheque) to a bank and get it changed, load (the money) on to a credit card for me to use when I get to England and get home (in Chaguanas) to change to get to the airport at 5 pm…
“What we have to go through to get a dollar (from the Ministry of Sport) is dehumanising!”
National Senior Team head coach Stephen Hart, who steered the Warriors into the 2013 Gold Cup quarterfinal round, said he was told to be at the airport this evening to depart for their international fixture with Jordan on June 16. But no one knows if they will travel or not.
He said the current funding situation was harmful to the psyche and morale of his squad.
“This is becoming unbearable,” Hart told Wired868. “We are treating these players as if they are schoolboys and they don’t have arrangements to make with their families and they don’t have lives.
“It is wrong in every way. There is no team, I am sure, that is preparing for the Gold Cup the way we are.”
David Muhammad, who is manager of the Olympic Football Team, referred to their current predicament as a disaster.
“We submitted a budget of $1.7 million for three months, which included three camps, two tournaments and six competitive games plus three international friendlies and local practice matches,” said Muhammad. “That is an absolute minimum budget because just one game for the National Senior Team costs $600,000. But nothing has materialised.
“We asked for three foreign trips to play against Grenada, Antigua and Panama and we didn’t get a single one. Right now, we are hoping we can at least get a camp.”
Muhammad explained that the national players are travelling to training on a nearly daily basis at grounds all over the country. Without a centralised camp, the team officials are forced to give or lend money to players for transport even though the staff members are not being paid either.
Muhammad used a practice match in Toco as one example of the poor support they have received.
“We asked for help in getting transport for the game,” said Muhammad. “We had 42 persons at the time because we were still screening players. The Ministry of Sport said they were sending us a bus but sent a 24-seater maxi instead.
“We ended up having to travel to Toco in five different vehicles.”
Tim Kee said the situation felt more galling when he observes that foreign Women Premier League (WPL) players are being housed at the Chancellor Hotel while the Sport Ministry has approved millions for the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) competition.
According to Sancho, the Government will spend US$3.5 million for the CPL with the burden split between several ministries including the Sport Ministry.
“The Red Steel is not even a Trinidad and Tobago team,” said Tim Kee. “So I would like to know how the Ministry got money for that and we cannot get money for the national football team.”
Sancho retorted that Tim Kee’s football body failed to raise any of its own funds for the Gold Cup or upcoming 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. And claimed the TTFA refuses to declare its subvention or other sources of funding from FIFA or CONCACAF.
“We have asked them to submit the money they have gotten from FIFA and CONCACAF and other sources and he refuses to,” said Sancho. “Yet he is demanding that we must pay all their bills. He is even asking us to pay for insurance for players when his own company (Guardian Life) refuses to sponsor their insurance…
“We have been very generous despite all their shortcomings and we are trying to work with them. But he is trying to agitate the program and he knows only the teams will suffer.”
Sport Ministry communications manager Shabaka Kambon gave an estimated breakdown of its spending over the past three years to the various sporting bodies.
“Football got over $50 million with $33 million going to the football association,” said Kambon. “Track and field and cricket got less than $20 million each. Hockey, boxing and netball got less than $7, $6 and $4 million respectively…”
Tim Kee said general secretary Sheldon Phillips and himself were trying to raise funds from corporate Trinidad and Tobago. But he conceded that they have been largely unsuccessful.
It is the first time in living memory that the Warriors will enter a World Cup qualifying campaign without a single notable sponsor.
“We have tried and we have not been getting any traction,” said Tim Kee. “We have started a new (income generation) initiative with a new website and so on and we have deals in kind with Blue Waters and Gatorade.
“But we don’t have any direct money coming in.”
In the meantime, temperatures continue to rise and fingers point back and forth between the TTFA and the Sport Ministry.
Another Sport Ministry official, who spoke anonymously, accused football of presenting “reckless budgets.”
“We looked at the budget the Under-23s brought,” he said. “And any player who plays in every match for them would make $20,000 a month in match fees and stipends for their two months…
“Now remember these are under-23 Pro League boys. They are spending recklessly.”
But Muhammad defended the request.
“Whoever said that obviously knows nothing at all about football. even if that were the case, does that mean you cancel all the camps and matches for the team?
“The budgeted (match fee) figure was US$1,000 per game for six competitive games,” said Muhammad. “The justification is the National Senior Team pays match fees of US$1,500 for entry level Caribbean Cup qualifiers. The Pan Am Games are much higher profile games but still we reduced it to US$1,000.
“Our squad is a fully professional squad and we are the only Caribbean team that qualified for the Pan Am Games. Anyone who thinks that is too much probably thinks we are lowly servants or slaves.”
The Under-23 manager claimed that even the mention of match fees was an attempt to play games by the Sport Ministry.
“These players are already getting just US$50 per day stipend and working on a minimum budget and they want to slash match fees too?” asked Muhammad, rhetorically. “But my point is, even if they disagreed with the match fees, does that mean you cancel all the camps and matches for the team because of that?! Why bring up match fees now?
“This goes back to the colonial mentality that black people shouldn’t be making money. Did they cancel the camps because of spite then?”
Sancho did not give a firm commitment to either the senior or under-23 Warriors and said only that the Sport Ministry would do its best.
It suggests an uncomfortable year for football—and the women’s Under-17, Under-20 and Senior Teams also have international engagements—unless the TTFA can raise its own money.
“Football gets far more than everyone else (from the Sport Ministry),” said the anonymous sport official. “Why bite the hand that feeds you? If I was a member of corporate Trinidad and Tobago, I would say if Tim Kee’s company isn’t putting in money then why should I?
“What don’t the loads of businesses he meets as Mayor of Port of Spain or PNM treasurer give money?”
Editor’s Note: Trinidad and Tobago National Team Manager William Wallace said he eventually collected a cheque from the Ministry of Sport at 4.03 pm on June 11, which will be used to pay for accommodation. He left the cheque to be processed and transferred on to his credit card tomorrow morning.
In the meantime, the “Soca Warriors” will fly to London and then head for their hotel with the hope that the money will come in time. The technical staff members are still owed salaries while there is insufficient funds to pay the players’ full match fees.
All money mentioned in the article is in TT dollars unless otherwise stated.