Sixteen games in 11 days. That is what the Ato Boldon Stadium is set to host once the CONCACAF Under-20 Women’s Championship kicks off on 18 January.
And although—according to a top Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) official—the field at the Couva “Home of Football” currently looks in pristine condition, a sports management expert insists that the TTFA might well be setting itself and the country up for a major embarrassment.
“This is not best practice at all,” said the professional, speaking to Wired868 on condition of anonymity. “You will not find that happening for any other country at any youth tournament. Nobody who has credibility in field maintenance and so on would recommend to host all these games at one venue.”
The venue, he fears—the only one of the country’s major stadia not either plagued by faulty lighting or in a state of disrepair—will be unable to stand up to the demands which will be made on it by the workload of the tournament, which is intended to qualify three teams for the Under-20 Women’s World Cup in France later this year.
Mere months ago, on the eve of Trinidad and Tobago’s final Russia 2018 World Cup qualifier, the United States Soccer Federation’s (USSF) official Twitter account had a field day at the TTFA’s expense, poking fun at the local association over the volume of water at the Ato Boldon Stadium and the unusual conditions which their players met when they turned up for a practice session. Persistent rainfall had swept across the country for a number of days, leaving the Stadium track and certain areas of the playing field under water.
TTFA general secretary Justin Latapy-George dismissed that occurrence as an anomaly and, after in a walk-through the facility with Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs Darryl Smith and Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) officials on Wednesday, TTFA president David John-Williams pointed to the improvements in the drainage system at the Stadium.
Latapy-George told Wired868 that the TTFA has been working closely with SPORTT to ensure that the facilities, particularly the playing field and the drainage system, are in optimal condition for the tournament. And while Latapy-George stated that Facility Manager Jeffrey John is best placed to comment on the specific improvements pertaining to maintenance work, to his eyes, he said, the playing surface was “in pristine condition.”
Contacted for comment, John said that he was not authorized to speak with the media without prior clearance by his principals at SPORTT.
Ato Boldon’s “savannah grass,” according to Wired868’s source, will assist in maintaining decent playing conditions to start with. However, despite recent repairs to manholes around the track, there could be problems later on because recent weather patterns suggest that the water table will be high.
“By the time they reach the finals that field will be in a state,” he predicted. “I hope they have an alternative venue in mind.”
He expressed sympathy for TTFA officials who, he said, would not have foreseen the current problems with the various national stadia when they proposed T&T as hosts of the tournament. Interestingly, Latapy-George suggested to Wired868 that it was not the local association but CONCACAF which “would have done their necessary assessments” and ultimately made the decision to stage all the games at the Couva venue.
He indicated, however, that the TTFA thinks the Ato Boldon venue will provide a more intimate atmosphere for the Jamaal Shabazz-coached team, the same argument used to justify playing World Cup games against Honduras and the United States in Couva last year.
The 11-day 18-28 January tournament will see the Ato Boldon host eight double-headers, with two off days after completion of the group stages and another after the semi-finals.
Last year’s Confederation Cup in Russia saw 16 games evenly split among four stadia while the 2017 Under-17 World Cup in India utilized six stadia for the 52 matches of 23-day tournament, with Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium accommodating a total of 11 games.
Here at home, when Trinidad and Tobago hosted the CFU Men’s Under-17 Championships in 2016, 16 games were played in ten days. On that occasion, though, the Ato Boldon and Hasely Crawford Stadium facilities shared the responsibility of hosting the group stage matches before the knockout fixtures were contested in Couva.
Russell Latapy’s Under-17 troops, one remembers, were unable to make the most of home field advantage, failing to emerge from a group which included the formidable Jamaica and Haiti.
The hope is that the young female Warriors will be a lot more at home in the conditions at the Couva “Home of Football,” and will produce much more in terms of results than their Under-17 compatriots did, provided…
“We could reach a situation,” the Wired868 source speculated. “where the match commissioner, if he is strong enough, states that the field is unsuitable. What will we do then?”
“I would be pleasantly surprised if the [playing surface] lasts. But I would say that the maintenance team there is the best in the Caribbean. However, they are not miracle workers.”
Latapy-George is confident that the tournament organizers would not be without options if conditions at the Couva facility made adjustments necessary. Other stadia such as the Larry Gomes and the Mannie Ramjohn, he pointed out, are at the TTFA’s and CONCACAF’s disposal for daytime matches,
But the source pointed fingers at Government, suggesting that policy priorities are, to be kind, “flawed.” Why build new facilities when so many of the existing ones are in need of repair and ongoing maintenance?
“We keep building new stadia,” he noted, disapprovingly, “and allocation is not going up!”
“Why put 160 million dollars towards a stadium in Diego Martin?” he asked rhetorically, suggesting that that money would have been better spent doing upgrades and repairs to the various sporting facilities around the country, beginning with the faulty lighting at four of the two-island republic’s major stadia.
As a parting shot, the source insisted that what is needed is a national consultation where all sporting stakeholders come together to discuss freely and frankly the business of sport.
Asked whether the difficult-to-access location of the Ato Boldon is not likely to have an adverse effect on gate receipts, Latapy-George told Wired868 that the TTFA and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) had flirted with the idea of directly targeting schools to boost their market reach for the tournament. They eventually decided against it.
“Due to limited resources, we felt it best not to target schools at this juncture,” he explained, adding that transportation and security issues had come to the fore in the discussions.
He maintained that the TTFA was offering value for money in Couva, patrons getting for a mere $TT40 the opportunity to watch future senior international standouts on display.
Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago’s opponents for the 18 January opener, are already in town. The high-profile US ladies have also arrived and are likely to be making an early outing to the venue to begin getting used to the prevailing conditions before their Group B opener against Nicaragua on 19 January.
The TTFA will hope there will be neither #RiverToFrance nor other disparaging tweets coming from the USSF once they make their own early assessment of the Couva facility.