Five months after Trinidad and Tobago was controversially forfeited from the Concacaf Girls’ Under-15 Championship in the United States, the local Girls’ National Under-15 Team have not held a single training session and have no idea when next they will meet on the football field.
Team manager Vernetta Flanders confirmed that the girls programme is dormant at present.
“Our last training session was in the first week of August last year,” Flanders told Wired868. “I’ve asked the programme director and he said information should be coming to me shortly. The parents and the players have been asking when the programme will be restarted but I just can’t answer their questions. That is where we are at this point.”
Remarkably, the Girls Under-15 Team should be benefitting from a TT$10 million cash injection—with TT$8 million from the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB) and TT$2 million from the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA)—split over four years for the National Elite Youth Programme, which includes a boys team for the same age group.
There was nothing in the pact between the TTFA and NLCB suggesting that one sex deserved a bigger slice of the pie than the other; but the difference in how either team is faring is unmistakable.
Last July, as both elite teams neared their first overseas excursions, the football body creaked into action.
Late visa applications meant that the Girls Team never made it to their Concacaf tournament in Florida. At the time, US Chargé d’Affaires John McIntyre memorably accused TTFA president David John-Williams of hurting talented young players by his “failure to plan.”
The Boys Team were also scheduled for a Caribbean Challenge Series competition in Curaçao at around the same time but found that the flights were booked. So, the local football body chartered them a plane.
Since then, the boys have continued their development with as many as four training sessions per week, while the girls have floundered.
“As we speak we are on a break [from the Christmas period] but we are supposed to recommence training on the 20th of January,” Boys National U-15 manager Wesley Webb told Wired868, “and then it would be twice during the week and twice on the weekend in preparation for the [Concacaf] tournament, which will be in the summer.”
TTFA National Elite Youth Programme coordinator Gary St Rose could not be reached for comment on the inactivity of the girls team or the apparent disparity in treatment between the two sexes.
John-Williams, who is the owner of Pro League team W Connection, was criticised in the past about the abundance of current and past Connection employees within the TT$10 million Elite Programme.
St Rose as well National Under-15 Boys Team head coach, Stuart Charles-Février, assistant coaches, Clyde Leon and Leonson Lewis, and Webb are all linked to Connection, which does not have a women’s team.
Women’s National Senior Team manager Jinelle James and goalkeeper Saundra Baron both accused John-Williams of misogyny last year while lashing out at his treatment of the Women Soca Warriors.
Women’s League Football (WoLF) president Sharon O’Brien, who is also a TTFA employee, declined the chance to comment and stated that her brief was to preside over local women’s football rather than the international game.
“TT Wolf has nothing to do with any national team,” said O’Brien. “The football association is in charge of the national teams; our job is just to give them the experience of playing football locally.”
TTFA technical director Anton Corneal could not say for certain why the Girls Under-15 Team was inactive but he did reveal that there had been financial issues.
“The administrative side is under Gary St Rose but he reports directly to me—and I met this scenario in place [when I was appointed technical director] with the coaches already under contract,” said Corneal. “Last May, the coaches—and this was the men’s and women’s at the time—asked me about payments and I did ask the TTFA; but I have no control over that.”
Nobody was able or willing to confirm whether the technical staff members for either team were fully paid. However, a source—who spoke on condition of anonymity—said Under-15 technical staff members received just one month’s salary since June 2018.
The head coach and manager of either team are under contract until June 2019 while the support staff allegedly receive payment without a written agreement.
Corneal has not been paid as technical director since June 2018 either and described himself as ‘close to breaking point’. He said local football coaches are thoroughly frustrated with the current situation.
“I have to ask myself what precedent do I set for other technical directors if I continue like this,” said Corneal. “The Under-15 coaches are being owed and it is similar to the grassroots programme where half were paid but the others were not.
“[…] It is difficult for me to ask them why they are not training under those circumstances.”
At TT$10 million over four years for the TTFA’s Elite Programme, the Girls Under-15 Team should, in theory, receive TT$1.25 million per year—less any administrative expenses. (In John-Williams’ first year in office, the local football body spent TT$1.26 million on legal fees, without winning a case).
Wired868 asked John-Williams to confirm the status of the Girls National Under-15 Team and whether staff members from either elite team were still owed money. He did not respond up to the time of publication.
However, TTFA general secretary Justin Latapy-George insisted that the girls are important to the local football body.
“The Under-15/Under-16 Girls represent a significant percentage of the TTFA’s continued investment into the future of football in Trinidad and Tobago,” stated Latapy-George, via What’s App. “As such, under the direction of the Technical Director and Technical Committee, the plans for the Team into 2019—as well as the age group under these young ladies—will be communicated to the Board of Directors to formalise the necessary implementation plan.
“In this way it will be assured that resources are adequately allocated to support the programme(s).”
Latapy-George could not say why the Girls Team needed to have a plan ‘formalised’ by the TTFA board while the Boys Team can apparently move seamlessly into 2019.
“I am unaware of any plan to start the boys programme any different to the position articulated for the girls,” said Latapy-George.