Pro League clashes with TTFA/TTSL on demand for unlimited Caricom players

Gems at Lajoya

Tripartite discussions between the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), the TT Pro League and the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) appear to have reached an impasse with the parties disagreeing on three points.

At present, the three bodies continue to disagree on the administration of the competition and the split of advertising revenue between tier one and tier two clubs. In the first year of competition, tier one will comprise of the current 11 Pro League teams while tier two will have 13 TTSL outfits.

Photo: Central FC attacker Sean Bonval (left) slips the ball through the legs of W Connection defender Kurt Frederick during Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 3 January 2020.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

However, the real bone of contention regards the use of ‘non-nationals’ in the proposed competition.

At present, the TTSL and TTFA have agreed to the registration of seven non-national players with three allowed to be on the field at any given time. The Pro League has no restrictions regarding the use of foreign players.

The fuse was lit, though, when the Pro League insisted that Caricom nationals should not be considered as non-nationals and urged the TTFA to lift any proposed restrictions on Caribbean players.

Pro League CEO Julia Baptiste, who is guided by the TTPL board headed by interim chairman and Central FC managing director Brent Sancho, pointed to Caricom’s revised Treaty of Chaguaramas as a legal defence of her employer’s position.

“According to Article 46 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, the following categories of Caricom nationals have the right to seek employment in any of the participating CSME Member States: University graduates; artistes; musicians; media workers; sportspersons.”

Photo: W Connection and Suriname international attacker Dimitrie Apai (left) hits past Police FC goalkeeper and captain Adrian Foncette (right) for the opening goal of the TTFA FA Trophy final at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 8 December 2017.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Baptiste then proffered a definition of sportspersons, in this context, as: ‘persons who are active in or qualified to enter a particular field of sports with the specific purpose of earning a living as a professional or semi-professional’.

At present, Morvant Caledonia United have 11 non-national players within their ranks: seven St Lucians, two Guyanese, one Jamaican and one Nigerian. W Connection have the second highest number of non-nationals with five: two St Lucians and one apiece from Grenada, Dominica and Suriname.

Both teams have a long history of welcoming regional talent while Connection brought well over a dozen Brazilian and Colombian players to Trinidad over the last two decades.

Connection, which is run by former TTFA president David John-Williams, employ iconic former St Lucia stand-outs Stuart Charles-Fevrier and Earl Jean as technical director and head coach respectively. And Caledonia technical director and co-founder Jamaal Shabazz is the current St Lucia Men’s National Senior Team head coach and previously coached Guyana’s international team.

TTSL president Keith Look Loy, who is also chairman of the TTFA technical committee, accused the Pro League—and Shabazz in particular—of being motivated by self-interest.

Photo: Then Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team coach Jamaal Shabazz (centre) considers his option during an international friendly action against Panama at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 22 March 2018.
At present, Shabazz is the St Lucia national team head coach.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

“It is unpatriotic for anyone to […] be clamouring for the option to have a team that can comprise entirely of foreign players,” said Look Loy, who insisted he spoke only in his capacity as TTSL president during the tripartite talks. “But this is about self-interest. Caledonia has something like 12 St Lucia nationals because Jamaal Shabazz is the coach of St Lucia and is seeking the interest of St Lucia above that of Trinidad and Tobago!

“In addition to which—let us speak plainly—it is scab labour they are looking for. They want cheap players to undermine our own Trinidad and Tobago players in their marketplace. So our players are fleeing to look for work in Barbados and so on [because] they are pricing out our players to bring in cheap labour.”

At present, W Connection’s Surinamese winger Dimitrie Apai and Morvant Caledonia’s Nigerian goalkeeper Katibi Kolapo, who is a food and agriculture student at UWI, St Augustine, are among the Pro League’s top players while San Jan Jabloteh are captained by St Vincent and the Grenadines international Nical Stephens.

Local football fans have also embraced scores of regional talent including Pierre Bruny (Haiti), Kendall Velox (St Vincent and the Grenadines), Peter Byers (Antigua and Barbuda), Fabian Reid (Jamaica), Jonathan Faña (Dominican Republic), Gerard Williams (St Kitts and Nevis), Collie Hercules, Gregory ‘Jackie Chan’ Richardson, Walter Moore, Charles Pollard (all Guyana), Sheldon Emmanuel, Titus Elva, Elijah Joseph and Jean (all St Lucia).

Photo: Morvant Caledonia United custodian Katibi Kolapo shows where his loyalties lie during Pro League action against TLH Rangers on 21 January 2020.
Kolapo, a Nigerian, is considered one of the Pro League’s top goalkeepers.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

And Brazilian midfielder Gefferson Gourlart, who represented W Connection a decade ago, remains one of the Pro League’s finest ever players.

Look Loy, whose FC Santa Rosa team were marshalled by St Vincent and the Grenadines international midfielder Durwin Ross over the years, stressed that the intention is not to close the door to foreign talent outright.

However, he insisted that clubs should not import players to the extent that the development of locals are stunted and criticised Pro League clubs who use Sport Company subventions to pay non-nationals. (The majority of Pro League clubs comprise almost entirely of local players.)

“I am not talking about the law, I am talking about what is right for Trinidad and Tobago football,” he said. “You cannot have an unlimited number of Caricom members [in a team]. I will not accept that.

“What is the purpose of the national league if not to serve the national football of Trinidad and Tobago? And what is the purpose of a subsidy from taxpayers of Trinidad and Tobago but to serve the interest of this country?!

“How can you take money from our treasury to pay foreign players and to improve foreign countries?!”

Photo: M’vt Caledonia Utd forward Tev Lawrence (centre) is congratulated by teammates after his double against Police FC during Pro League action on 7 February 2020 at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
Lawrence, who is the Pro League’s joint fifth highest goal scorer, is also a St Lucia international.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

TTFA president William Wallace said he does respect Caricom law and would not run afoul of it. However, he stressed that his mandate is to develop the local game and said he will not accept the Pro League’s claim.

As a result, he hopes to return to the negotiating table in another attempt to reach consensus.

“We can have a personal feeling on something but we have to be guided by law,” said Wallace. “At the same time, we are trying to achieve the development of our players and that is what we are expending money on. If I am finding money for something and my main objective is to develop a player pool for my national coaches, then why would I spend money on players who cannot represent our national team?

“[…] Our internal competition laws does not stop the club from hiring Caricom players but we want to have a limit on the number that can play. How can a game with 10 or 20 non-nationals on the field of play help Trinidad and Tobago’s football?”

Despite the Pro League’s use of the Treaty of Chaguaramas as its crutch, Wired868 notes that the document does provide exceptions.

Photo: Morvant Caledonia and St Lucia international defender Melvin Doxilly tries to initiate an attack for his team during Pro League action against Police FC on 7 February 2020 at the Ato Boldon Stadium.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

Article 46.3 states: ‘Nothing in this Treaty shall be construed as inhibiting Member States from according Community nationals unrestricted access to, and movement within, their jurisdictions subject to such conditions as the public interest may require.”

And Article 47 states: ‘1.Where the exercise of rights granted under this Chapter creates serious difficulties in any sector of the economy of a Member State or occasions economic hardships in a region of the Community, a Member State adversely affected thereby may, subject to the provisions of this Article, apply such restrictions on the exercise of the rights as it considers appropriate in order to resolve the difficulties or alleviate the hardships.

‘2. Where a Member State: (a) intends to apply restrictions in accordance with paragraph 1 of this Article, it shall, prior to applying those restrictions, notify the competent Organ of that intention and the nature of the restrictions;

(b) is unable to comply with sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph, it shall, upon applying the restrictions in accordance with paragraph 1, immediately notify the competent Organ of the application and nature of the restrictions…

Photo: North East Stars winger Brendon Figuera (right) tries to get away from W Connection midfielder Briel Thomas during 2015/16 Pro League action yesterday at the Larry Gomes Stadium.
Thomas is a Dominica international.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

‘5. Restrictions applied by a Member State pursuant to paragraph 1 of this Article shall be confined to those necessary: (a) to resolve the difficulties in the affected sectors;

(b) to alleviate economic hardships in a particular region.’

Can the fact that Trinidad and Tobago’s ‘professional’ clubs cannot support themselves and rely on subsidies from the government or elsewhere be used as evidence of ‘economic hardship’ in this particular field, thereby creating room for an exemption to restrict Caricom footballers?

At present, the three parties are refusing to budge. However, law permitting, a TTFA source noted that it can start a three-tiered league with whichever clubs are interested while leaving the Pro League to its own devices.

The Trinidad and Tobago government’s agreement to subsidise the Pro League ends in 2020 and it is uncertain whether the deal will be continued.

Wallace believes that roughly half of the Pro League clubs are happy to join the TTFA’s new league with its proposed restrictions. However, he remains hopeful of a deal that involves all 11 teams, which are: Connection, Morvant Caledonia, Defence Force, Terminix La Horquetta Rangers, Police FC, Point Fortin Civic, Tiger Tanks Club Sando, Central FC, San Juan Jabloteh, AC Port of Spain and Cunupia FC.

Photo: Defence Force attacker Reon Moore (left) dribbles past AC PoS defender Jokiah Leacock during Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 14 February 2020.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/Wired868)

The three bodies also disagreed on the split in advertising revenue for the new league. The TTFA suggested retaining 30 per cent of revenues, with 70 per cent to be divided between the top two tiers. However, the Pro League requested a 45 per cent and 25 per cent split in its favour.

The Pro League also refused to agree to the activation of marketing and competitions committees for the league or that it should be administered by the TTFA, until they are informed about ‘who the sponsor is’ and ‘what is the sponsor bringing to the table’.

Last year, Look Loy was adamant that the new local league format—then referred to as the ‘T-League’—should not be run by the TTFA. He tried to explain his about-turn.

“Under the T-League, there was this commission because money was coming from several different origins,” he said. “The TTFA was putting in money, there was Fifa money, the Pro League was supposed to be putting in government money, etc. This one, it is quite straightforward. There is one source of funding, which is the sponsor.

“And the sponsor has said that they want TTFA to run it. They are not prepared to do it otherwise. The Super League has agreed to that and we will support the TTFA running it.”

Photo: Central FC playmaker Che Benny (left) puts W Connection midfielder Briel Thomas on his backside during Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 3 January 2020.
Benny represented T&T at every youth level but is uncapped as a senior.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Thus far, neither Look Loy nor Wallace has confirmed the identity of the three-tiered league, which is due to kick off in June.

The points that three parties have agreed on are:

(Promotion and relegation)

In 2020, no teams would be relegated from tier one; one team will be promoted from tier two to tier one and one team would be relegated from tier two to tier three; one team would be promoted from tier three to tier two.

Thereafter, two teams will be promoted and relegated from each of three tiers.

(Squad rules)

Tier one clubs can register a minimum of 20 players and a maximum of 30 players with a minimum of 15 contracted players at a minimum of TT$3,000 per month; a maximum of 7 non-nationals can be registered with three playing at any one time; clubs must always have a minimum of three under-21 players on the field.

Photo: San Juan Jabloteh forward Justin Araujo-Wilson (centre) sprints back to the centre circle after his goal against Central FC during Pro League action at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 7 February 2020.
Wilson is 17 years old. Jabloteh lost 3-1.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/CA-Images/Wired868)

Tier two clubs can register a minimum of 18 players and a maximum of 30 players; a maximum of 5 non-nationals can be registered with three playing at any one time; clubs must always have a minimum of three under-21 players on the field.

(Support for clubs)

Tier one clubs would receive TT$250,000 in the absence of government funding; tier two clubs would receive TT$100,000 in the absence of government funding.

(Prize money)
Tier one will receive money of TT$400,000 to be distributed amongst its clubs; tier two will receive TT$100,000 to be distributed with the winning club receiving a pre-season tour to Scotland for 18 players and seven technical staff members.

The Pro League was initially due to receive TT$300,000 in prize money along with an all expenses paid trip to Scotland for its champion club. However, it snubbed the Scottish excursion and renegotiated for an additional TT$100,000 instead for tier one.

Photo: AC POS midfielder Rivaldo Coryat (right) tries to dribble past a Morvant Caledonia opponent during FCB Cup action at the Diego Martin Sporting Complex, Bagatelle on 28 October 2019.
The match ended 2-2.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The new league will run from mid-June to mid-December in its first year and for eight months thereafter.

The TT Pro League will continue to administer its own youth competition in 2020 with the Republic Bank National Youth League expected to involve the remaining youth clubs. The three parties are expected to discuss the formation of a national youth league for the 2021 season and beyond.

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About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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