Three days and as many decisions. God knows the trauma that Trinidad and Tobago’s National Under-23 football players have endured over the past week.
One thing now beyond dispute is that the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) has only made things worse.
Today, the “Soca Warriors” were advised that their 2016 Olympic qualifying fixture against Suriname will be postponed until Thursday June 25 in Puerto Rico while the group match days should play on Thursday, Saturday and Monday respectively.
Yesterday, the CFU ordered Trinidad and Tobago to face Suriname at 10.30 pm tonight while, on Monday, the game was declared as abandoned in favour of the Warriors with the Dutch-speaking nation ruled out of the competition.
And, Sunday and before, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago were expected to face each other at 5.30 pm today.
Caribbean football officials have been admonished, en masse, for corruption ever since the Mohamed Bin Hammam bribery scandal in 2011. While the FBI has already issued warrants for two past and present regional administrators, including Trinidad’s Jack Warner.
But incompetence is just as glaring an issue in the Caribbean, which, by virtue of its number of member associations, has the most political clout in CONCACAF.
Granted the ineptitude is, arguably, not restricted to the governing body in this case.
The four participating nations, host Puerto Rico and guests, Suriname, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, knew the tournament location and fixtures since 21 April 2015. None of the travelling nations attempted to secure visas until nearly mid-June.
And, as it turned out, the United States Embassy began experiencing serious technical problems on May 26.
“The Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs is currently experiencing technical problems with our overseas passport and visa systems,” stated the US Embassy’s website. “This issue is not specific to any particular country, citizenship document, or visa category… Passport applications accepted overseas or after May 26, 2015 are affected by this delay.
“If you applied for a U.S. passport overseas during this time frame and have travel plans within the next 10 business days, please consider requesting an emergency passport…”
Warriors team manager David Muhammad is not alone in suggesting the CFU erred in putting a Caribbean competition on one of the few islands in the region that requires visas for entry.
And Muhammad urged CFU officials to follow the example provided by Canada, who host the July Pan American Games and also insists on visas for travellers.
“What the (Trinidad and Tobago) Olympic Committee did was requested a roster along with photographs, which were submitted to the Canada embassy,” Muhammad told Wired868, “and, through the Canadian Embassy, we got temporary accreditation which will have the same weight as a visa for the duration of the tournament.
“If the CFU wants to hold a tournament in a country where a visa is required, they could at least explore the possibility of something of that nature.”
According to Muhammad, St Vincent and the Grenadines Under-23 players are stuck in Barbados awaiting visas for the past two days while their Surinamese counterparts are yet to land in Puerto Rico.
It created a farcical scenario in which Muhammad, who had a 12th Trinidad and Tobago player—former National Under-20 midfielder Keane McIvor—flown in today, claimed an administrative victory by virtue of getting to Puerto Rico at all.
McIvor, according to Muhammad, was the best player who was ready and able to join the squad. Although he hardly helps the balance of the squad, which now has one goalkeeper, two defenders, six midfielders and three forwards.
“The impression given is that the Trinidad and Tobago team was behind everyone else,” said Muhammad, “but we are the only travelling team that is here and ready to play. So I am really proud of that.
“I want to express my gratitude too for the Ministry of National Security and Sport for having our visa situation expedited. And also Peter Rampersad, William Wallace, Sheldon Phillips and Sharon O’Brien who really worked hard at this.
“Now looking at how the other teams have fallen by the wayside thus far, it was a really impressive group effort by all of those persons and the staff out here.”
It is left to be seen how much the Warriors’ improvisations help in the long run. After selecting a 20-man team two weeks ago, Under-23 coach Zoran Vranes was forced to cut half his players as he adjusted his roster on at least four occasions.
McIvor’s arrival, for instance, means that Trinidad and Tobago will have 21 players when the remaining nine Warriors land tomorrow. Tournament rules allow just 20-man squads.
“We will ask to play with 21,” said Muhammad.
Olympic competition rules also mandates that teams select three goalkeepers within that 20-man squad. The Warriors will have just two goalies, Montell Joseph and Aaron Enill, after Central FC custodian Javon Sample was denied a visa.
“We asked an official (about competition with two goalkeepers) and he said it is fine,” said Muhammad. “It is the kind of lenience that will be expected at this stage I guess.”
The alleged relaxing of the rules was delivered verbally as has been every CFU decision save the word that Suriname had withdrawn from the competition. Muhammed revealed that the stipulated match coordination between participating nations and tournament organisers are yet to take place.
“We have had no match coordination meetings at all since we were here,” he said.
Wired868 tried to contact CFU general secretary Damien Hughes for word on the competition by phone and email. Up until the time of publication, there was no response.
At present, Trinidad and Tobago is set to play Suriname tomorrow evening in Puerto Rico. But who knows what tomorrow will bring.
(Trinidad and Tobago Under-23 Team in Puerto Rico)
Goalkeepers: Montell Joseph (Unattached);
Defenders: Leland Archer (College of Charleston—USA), Martieon Watson (W Connection);
Midfielders: Neveal Hackshaw (North East Stars), Jelani Felix (Defence Force), Duane Muckette (North East Stars), Jabari Mitchell (W Connection), Xavier Rajpaul (College of Charleston—USA), Keane McIvor (Lindsey Wilson College—USA);
Forwards: Rundell Winchester (Portland Timbers 2—USA), Ricardo John (Virginia Tech—USA), Adrian Welch (St John’s University—USA);
Staff: Zoran Vranes (coach), David Muhammad (manager), Gilbert Bateau (assistant coach/trainer), Michael Taylor (physio), Esmond O’ Brien (equipment manager).
(Remaining squad members due to arrive in Puerto Rico in Thursday)
Goalkeeper: Aaron Enill (San Juan Jabloteh);
Defenders: Alvin Jones (W Connection), Jesus Perez (North East Stars), Josiah Trimmingham (San Juan Jabloteh);
Midfielders: Jomal Williams, Aikim Andrews (both W Connection), Kadeem Corbin (St Ann’s Rangers).
Staff: Nigel Neverson (goalkeeper coach).
(Players who failed to get travel documents and visas)
Goalkeeper: Javon Sample (Central FC);
Defender: Shannon Gomez (W Connection);
Forward: Dwight Quintero (Central FC);
(Player who travelled with invalid visa)
Midfielder: Nathaniel Garcia (Central FC),
(Players who were omitted to let in others with visas)
Defenders: Jibiri McDavid (Police FC), Maurice Ford, Triston Hodge (both W Connection), Dario Holmes (San Juan Jabloteh);
Forward: Neil Benjamin Jr.
Editor’s note: The following notice was released by the CFU at 8:15 PM on June 24: Official word has now been given from CFU. Suriname are officially out of the tournament. The fixtures are now as follows:-