The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s National Football Committee, charged with restarting domestic football, has ruled that the privately-funded Ascension Invitational Tournament be denied an extension while clubs wait on taxpayers’ money to start the 2019 Pro League season instead.
The Committee also endorsed the Pro League’s invitation for Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) clubs to join them in a two-tiered competition, in a report submitted on Friday 30 August but not yet released to the media.
TTFA president David John-Williams gave the Committee—which is chaired by Selby Browne and included Julia Baptiste, Colin Partap, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Anthony Moore—seven days by to ‘investigate the structures and a pathway forward for Trinidad and Tobago football with immediate effect’, ‘look at the proposal by the TT Pro League (TTPL) [to start on 4 October with a second division including TTSL clubs]’ and rule on ‘[a request by TTSL clubs for] an extension [and] a second round of the Ascension [Invitational Tournament]’.
Browne and company, sans Joseph-Warrick who declined the invitation to join the Committee, took barely two days. They reported back to the TTFA Board after a solitary meeting, last Friday.
The Committee arrived at the same conclusion John-Williams shared before its meeting, which is that Pro League football must survive and enveloping the TTSL under its banner is good for all parties—despite the protestation of TTSL president Keith Look Loy.
Baptiste, the Pro League CEO, was a member of the Committee whereas Look Loy was not.
And, on the issue of ‘investigating the structures and a pathway forward for local football’? Browne said they will get back to that at an undetermined time in the future.
“The Committee Chairman outlined plans to consult with all football stakeholders, investors, TTFA member clubs, regional associations, administrators, footballers, coaches, technical service providers, football venue owners,” stated a release from the Committee, “on the establishment of a defined structure and pathway for the organisational restructuring of national football in Trinidad and Tobago from the community level to the professional club.”
So, in the end, the Committee’s job was merely to endorse the Pro League’s attempt to digest the TTSL and to rein in the Ascension Invitational Tournament, which is a TT$2.3 million competition funded totally by a private company.
The Ascension Tournament offers a total prize money of TT$650,000 for both divisions with appearance fees of TT$2,000 per match in Division One and TT$1,000 per match in Division Two. All players are covered by an injury benefit of TT$5,000 and a death benefit of TT$10,000. Registration for clubs is free.
Should the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) resume its funding of the Pro League, clubs would collect TT$450,000 each to pay players for the season, regardless of performance on the field.
The Committee said its decision to refuse an extension to the Ascension Tournament was because the competition agreed to wind up once the top flight domestic game began. It also noted that the request for a second round came from tournament organisers, All Sport Promotion, and not the Terminix La Horquetta Rangers club that got permission for the event in the first place.
“With respect to the matter of the permission granted by the TTFA Board of Directors to its member club Terminix La Horquetta Rangers FC to operate a Pre-season Invitation Tournament, and the fact that no request was received from the member club to operate a second round of the tournament,” stated the Committee, “the Committee noted that a condition of the original permission granted by the TTFA to Terminix La Horquetta Rangers was that the tournament will come to an end should Association Football commence.
“The Committee also noted the fact that the Terminix La Horquetta Rangers FC was included in the request of the TT Pro League Clubs to begin the TT Pro League 2019 season on 4 October 2019.”
Rangers director Richard Ferguson told Wired868 that nobody from the Committee called him to verify his interest in holding a second round or discuss the possible ramifications for the Pro League.
Ferguson, who is also a Terminix director, reaffirmed his commitment to the Pro League but also insisted he was ready to continue the Ascension Tournament if there was no other football available.
“We are abiding by the decision of the TTFA, they are the governing football body of Trinidad and tobago,” said Ferguson. “However the Ascension league stands willing and ready to play a second round of football should no other football be playing from 4 October.
“We have paid all our debts and the feedback on the tournament has all been positive. The [Ascension] league owes nobody [and] we have paid referees, match commissioners and all clubs have received their appearance fees…”
At present, SporTT are awaiting proof of payment from the eight Pro League clubs who received subventions in 2018—W Connection, San Juan Jabloteh, Central FC, North East Stars, Morvant Caledonia AIA, Club Sando, Point Fortin Civic and La Horquetta Rangers (formerly St Ann’s Rangers)—before releasing money for the 2019 season. Several clubs have said they are unable or unwilling to start the scheduled Pro League season without the subvention.
W Connection, which is owned by John-Williams, declined an invitation to join the Ascension Invitational Tournament, and are not involved in the competition while Central FC and North East Stars missed deadlines to take part.
Whether coincidentally or not, the act of stopping the Ascension Tournament and urging TTSL clubs to join the Pro League rather than start their own competition means there is likely to be no top flight competition unless the TTPL is resumed.
Arguably, a Committee tasked with resuming domestic football might have done the opposite—unless the point is to pressure the government to pay subventions to clubs on the grounds that the local game has stalled.
Look Loy suggested that something was amiss.
“We stand by our view that Ascension is good for Trinidad and Tobago football because it embodies the concept of the T-League: one elite league with half Pro League and half Super League clubs,” said the TTSL President. “What [the National Football Commission has] come up with is expected and it is a joke. While they are talking about pursuing the interest of professional football, they are still not saying where they are getting the money to do it.
“I have heard nothing about a resolution regarding the payment of players from the Pro League [in 2018] and John-Williams keeps saying the FIFA Forward money has not been sent.”
The Committee, in its report last Friday, said the FIFA Forward money ‘would be used to strengthen the Elite Two tier football in Trinidad and Tobago’—which would comprise of TTSL clubs playing as members of a new Pro League second division.
The Committee further stated that ‘the FIFA-funded pathway to the TTFA will include all TTFA Member clubs with particular reference to the TTFA Member Associations Zones’. There was no explanation as to how the TTFA’s use of FIFA Forward money in the Pro League would benefit the six zones.
Is the FIFA Forward money here? And, if so, why was the T-League disbanded? Why is the Committee pushing to close down all top tier domestic competitions before receiving money to start the Pro League?
Is there a back-up plan in case the Pro League clubs fail to satisfy the requirements for a second tranche of government subventions?
Wired868 tried unsuccessfully to contact Browne, Baptiste and Partap for comment.
According to the Tripartite Memorandum of Agreement between the TTFA, the Pro League and the TTSL that spawned the T-League’s League Commission, any disputes within the body must be taken to mediation and, ultimately, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).
As such, Look Loy believes the TTFA Board’s decision to dissolve the Commission last week was illegal.
“Of the three parties to the Tripartite Memorandum of Agreement, the only party that has stood by it is the Super League,” said Look Loy. “The TTFA has pulled out and the Pro League has pulled out. But the TTFA does not have the authority to unilaterally dissolve this agreement and that is why I voted against the dissolution.”
He explained why the TTSL was willing to play in a unified structure with Pro League clubs in the T-League or Ascension Tournament but not under the TTPL’s umbrella.
“First of all, we have no idea what the conditions of entry [to the TTPL] would be,” said Look Loy. “In fact, the first thing should be that they have shown they are incapable of even running a proper league. The Pro League doesn’t even have sensible, steady fixtures. They play games at 3pm and 4pm in empty stadiums and show no interest in rooting matches within communities.
“They can’t even run their own one division let alone two. The Super League clubs are accustomed to a well-run competition. Our fixtures are stable and we know when our season starts and ends. We are not accustomed to the haphazard arrangements that happen in the Pro League.”
He insisted that the majority of the TTSL clubs want to remain separate to the TTPL.
“If the Pro League goes off on their own and the Ascension [Tournament] is stopped, we will go ahead with our own competition,” said Look Loy. “We already have a format in place and fixtures as well as one sponsor, who I will prefer not to name at this point in time. The Super League clubs have a meeting on Sunday to discuss our position on all of this.
“[…] I speak to my clubs daily and they say they are standing by the Super League and they have no interest in playing as the second division of the Pro League.”
(TTFA National Football Committee report)
The TTFA National Football Committee [was] elected by the Board of Directors on 28 August 2019 with wide ranging powers to review the structure, administration, management and operation of all football in Trinidad and Tobago, is comprised of TTFA Board Directors, Mr Selby Browne, Ms Julia Baptiste, Mr Colin Partap and Mr Anthony Moore.
The members of the new powerful Committee held its inaugural meeting on Friday 30th August 2019, to begin its mandate, and review matters referred to the Committee by the TTFA Board of Directors.
The Committee elected Mr Selby Browne [as] chairman and Mr Anthony Moore was appointed secretary.
The Committee reviewed two important matters forwarded by the Board of Directors for immediate review and determination.
With respect to the matter of the permission granted by the TTFA Board of Directors to its member club Terminix La Horquetta Rangers FC to operate a pre-season Invitation Tournament, and the fact that no request was received from the member club to operate a second round of the tournament, the Committee noted that a condition of the original permission granted by the TTFA to Terminix La Horquetta Rangers was that the tournament will come to an end should Association Football commence.
The Committee also noted the fact that the Terminix La Horquetta Rangers FC was included in the request of the TT Pro League Clubs to begin the TT Pro League 2019 season on 4th October 2019.
In light of the fact that the member club had also agreed to participate in the restart of the TT Pro League competition on 4 October, then no extension of the Ascension Invitational Tournament was recommended.
The National Football Committee reviewed the proposal from the TT Pro League Limited for the establishment and operation of a two-tier league beginning on 4th October 2019.
The Committee, reviewed the several structures and resources of the TT Pro League stated in its proposal and developed over a period of some two decades and after consideration, gave favourable recommendation of approval for the request of the TT Pro League to begin on October 4th 2019.
Committee Chairman, Selby Browne sought and received confirmation from the Chairman of the SPORTT Company, Mr Douglas Camacho, the fact [sic] that the Sport Company had in its account the funds approved by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago for the TT Pro League Clubs participating in the 2019 League, and awaited the completion of requirements of certain clubs for dispersement.
The Committee also reviewed the conditions for which the FIFA Forward funding would be used to strengthen the Elite Two tier football in Trinidad and Tobago to strengthen Professional football and to build a pathway for all football clubs to reach to the Elite level of football in Trinidad and Tobago.
The FIFA funded pathway to the TTFA will include all TTFA Member clubs with particular reference to the TTFA Member Associations Zones.
In light of the facts outlined, the Committee confirmed its recommendation that the TT Pro League begin its 2019 season on 4th October 2019.
The Committee Chairman outlined plans to consult with all football stakeholders, investors, TTFA member clubs, regional associations, administrators, footballers, coaches, technical service providers, football venue owners, on the establishment of a defined structure and pathway for the organisational restructuring of national football in Trinidad and Tobago from the community level to the professional club.
The members of the National Football Committee expressed sincere appreciation to the Board of Directors the TTFA for the confidence entrusted in them.
TTFA National Football Committee
Editor’s Note: Wired868 runs a weekly programme on the Ascension Invitational Tournament on Flow Sports and our website.