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U-20 Women’s Championship: Expert doubtful Ato Boldon Stadium can withstand 16 games in 11 days

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.

Photo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino struts his stuff at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva during an exhibition match on 10 April 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“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.

Photo: Some United States footballers get a piggyback ride to the field at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 9 October 2017.

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.

Photo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino (centre) and TTFA president David John-Williams (left) turn the sod at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 10 April 2017 while Sport Minister Darryl Smith offers a helping eye.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago right-back Jerrin Jackie (left) tries to keep up with Jamaica attacker Nicque Daley during Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Under-17 action on 20 September 2016 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

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?

Photo: Prime Minister Keith Rowley (centre) greets SPORTT chairman Dinanath Ramnarine (left) while Sport Minister Darryl Smith (right) looks on during the opening of the Brian Lara Cricket Stadium in Tarouba on 12 May 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

“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.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 coach Jamaal Shabazz (right) instructs attacker Aaliyah Prince during practice at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 9 January 2018.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

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.

About Roneil Walcott

Roneil Walcott
Roneil Walcott is an avid sports fan and freelance reporter with a BA in Mass Communication from COSTAATT. Roneil is a former Harvard and St Mary's College cricketer who once had lofty aspirations of bringing joy to sport fans with the West Indies team. Now, his mission is to keep them on the edge of their seats with sharp commentary from off the playing field.

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38 comments

  1. Sometimes i wonder, with all the comments from everyone in this forum is it possible that the authorities are happy the way things are? If they see the problems as they are today, why is it changes can’t be made to advance the football for our youth players ,Could it be that we as Caribbean people have grown accustom to the slow pace of enacting policies that it could be a similar case here?

  2. Wish we could fill that small stadium

  3. The day/nightmares will continue with parking..Already on the outside there is a problem caused by the keepfit enthusiasts parking their cars..We noticed that they have trimmed the field opposite to the Cricket centre recently..Is that part of the plan?

  4. Perhaps the organisers need organising

  5. Tobago needs serious repair! !!!

  6. Why aren’t we prepared to host some of the games in Tobago?

  7. So with 5 stadia available and many grounds that can host international games we are putting all the games at one venue? That’s a great idea to develop the girls game in this country! !

  8. lasana,
    1) “currently pristine conditions”? seldom heard a more dull statement. none of the ppl. i have seen in the video when the walked around the pitch has any, and i repeat, any knowledge and experience in sport surfaces. none!! it was really laughing out loud when i saw them looking into a catchment.  hearing that there were pumps installed additionally let me laugh even more. they talk about “improvements” on the drainage of the grass field. so what was really done?
    2) i have said similar already as your “anonymous sport management expert” in comments to your publication dated tuesday, 2 january 2018.
    having delivered successfully projects, incl. installation of drainages, in hcs, larry gomes and manny ramjohn, and having inspected the conditions in ato boldon, having approx 30 years experience in the sport surfacing and equipment business and having expertise and knowledge from executing projects in nearly 70 countries, having secured playable pitch conditions for live on tv matches in the german dfb pokal during strongest autumn and winter conditions, i expressed the same concerns, even without calling myself a “sport management expert”.
    3) unfortunately your anonymous source is loosing credibilty when stating that the maintenance team is the best in the caribbean. would really like to know on which facts this statement is based. he cannot talk about sportt company staff.
    4) the suggestion of your “source” for a national consultation is certainly good but not new. how many discussion rounds were already hold without any significant outcome? as long as you do not make a differnce between the real steakholders in sports and the pseudo or wannabe steakholders a next consultation will bring no new results.
    perhaps you should invite “real” experienced ppl to the next consultations and not only pyeudo experts.
    5) i could continue here with many more statements and suggestions, but i am doubting whether this would have any effect.
    6) pray for good weather conditions and that the girls will not plough the pitch too much.
     

  9. Where all the talkers as I say all them talkers no one can’t see that

  10. I understand it is the only stadium with working lights for the field.

  11. Two possible alternatives: 1. Play matches simultaneously at 4pm at another Stadium [HC, MR or LG] or 2. Play 4pm in another Stadium and 6pm in Ato Boldon under lights. Can’t blame TTFA here for Gov’t ‘priorities’

  12. No one is thinking about the thing called home advantage. Save the ground for our games and let the other teams play in other venues. One ground that has been used all season cannot possibly host the full schedule. Crazy people.

  13. Why is the Football Ass. so hung up on that small stadium?

  14. Madness

    I have trained on that field for over a year, it will not last.

  15. When dey say de field in pristine condition, ah hope de ball could actually roll instead of bouncing all de time like what was evident in de last couple of matches played there.

  16. I agree that the $160 Million should have been spent on upgrades to the existing stadiums. With the matches being played in different locations gives everyone an opportunity to see the games. The fact that it was given the okay, is detrimental to football in our country. There must be some standards and obviously I think everyone knows that with this current administration there are no standards. The ground staff will be tasked with ‘Mission Impossible’ to get the turf up to scratch in time for the final matches. Heaven help us if it rains. We are setting ourselves up again for embarrassment.

  17. Well the man spent plenty monies over the years in the professional league eh so he have to get plenty monies back eh he eh no jokey business man eh. Them really good yes Lol

  18. All your president concerned with is getting concacaf money for hosting tournament

  19. And one would figure that they wudda learnt from their last embarrassing lesson when they added over 150 extra seating accomodations and then the chairs remained empty for the whole game. Them really good yes