Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad tried to pass the blame for the recent temporary lock-out of Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) coaches, with a release that was immediately rebutted by three national coaches.
On Tuesday morning, security at the Ato Boldon Stadium locked the gates and stopped coaches from entering the compound at roughly 9.30am, with a stand-off that lasted for over an hour.
Hadad claimed that the ‘disrespectful’ treatment of the country’s coaches had nothing to do with him and insisted that it was a Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) decision.
“The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) wishes to place on record that it did not block any of the coaches or members of the national teams’ coaching staff from entering the TTFA’s offices on Tuesday 25 August 2020,” stated Hadad today, via a TTFA release. “The Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) facilities, which include the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, where the TTFA’s head office is located, remain closed in keeping with the public health measures declared by the Ministry of Health to stem the spread of Covid-19.”
Hadad further claimed that the TTFA has ‘not intentionally deferred payment of salaries to any member of staff’ and ‘is willing to engage any member of staff to explain the reason for non-payment’.
The normalisation chair’s assertion provoked raised eyebrows from coaches who have sought feedback on their owed salaries for the past four months, as well as those at the Ato Boldon Stadium on Tuesday.
There were roughly seven technical staff members in the parking lot of the stadium at around 9.30am when, according to a coach who spoke on condition of anonymity, one female member of their group went inside the TTFA’s office to use the bathroom.
“[Office administrator] Sharon O’ Brien saw her and asked ‘what allyuh doing here’,” said the coach. “And she said she told Sharon: ‘allyuh get allyuh salary already, so we are trying to get our own’. And that was when things started happen.
“Shortly after that, security guards came and started locking up under the tunnel [to prevent access to the TTFA’s office] and we saw them close the gate outside.”
The technical staff members inside the venue included: Terry Fenwick, Angus Eve, Ross Russell, Natalie Harper, Stern John, Clayton Morris and Wayne Sheppard. When they realised that a further 12 members were prevented from entering, they decided to drive outside the venue to join them. Only Morris stayed, in case none of the coaches was allowed to reenter.
The former ‘Strike Squad’ captain and Men’s National Under-15 assistant coach tried to be discreet, just in case security spotted him and decided to throw him out.
On 15 August, Morris was honoured with the Father of the Nation Medal of Honour Gold by the Dr Eric Williams TC Memorial Committee for ‘outstanding contribution in the sphere of youth development, football and public service’.
Barely two weeks later, he was reduced to playing a game of ‘cat and mouse’ with Ato Boldon Stadium security officers in a bid to help his coaching colleagues get the attention of the normalisation committee—led by persons unknown to the local game.
At the stadium gate, the guards continued to allow other persons to enter the compound, so long as they did not identify themselves as coaches. The coaches who asked security for an explanation were not told about Covid-19 protocols, but instead were advised that there was nobody at the TTFA office to collect their letters.
When Wired868 asked on whose authority the coaches were being stopped, one guard said the stadium’s facility manager gave the order.
Facility manager Jeffrey John declined to confirm or deny whether he directed security to stop coaches at the gate and advised Wired868 to get a comment from SporTT media officer, Brent Garcia.
Garcia said he was not at the venue and was only told that ‘it was an unfortunate mix-up’. He said he could not give more details. He did confirm that there was no report of a congregation inside the facility, which might have justified action by the security.
“We called the office on Monday to ensure they would be open on Tuesday and we were told they would be open,” said Men’s National Under-17 Team head coach Angus Eve. “So we had gone there with plans in place to adhere to all the Covid restrictions and, had the gate not been locked, it would not have looked as though it was a protest.
“The only reason it became a sort of gathering was when the security guards said they are no longer allowing coaches to go in, although other people were allowed to go into the compound including to visit the TTFA.”
Men’s National Under-15 Team assistant coach Wayne Sheppard said he was bewildered by Hadad’s claims that he is ‘willing to engage any member of staff to explain the reason for non-payment’.
On 29 April, Hadad told all technical staff members that he would have assistant Yale Antoine arrange meetings with each coaching squad within a week, so as to review contracts and letters of appointment and discuss remuneration.
“He said we would be told when we would meet again, so why is it that we have to call now to find out about that?” asked Sheppard. “A big part of leadership is managing expectations and communication, and if you tell me that you are going to get back in contact with me but say nothing for four months and pay other people, how can you come and say that it is up to me to contact you to find out what is going on?
“This dialogue must have a certain level of respect.”
All the same, Sheppard—along with other coaches—have reached out to Hadad, without success.
“I have asked the technical director [Dion La Foucade] as my direct boss when we will be getting paid, especially when we heard in the media that he was paid,” said Sheppard, “and he said he didn’t know, and that several times he tried to speak to Mr Hadad and was told to speak to [his assistant] Amiel Mohammed, who was not forthcoming with any information—and that was the last we heard of that.
“Even today, there was an online meeting with the Ministry of Sport and Hadad said all any coach had to do was call him. So immediately after the meeting, myself and another coach called, and neither of us got any response.
“So I hope he reads this article and maybe returns my call, because I’ve tried to get on to him.”
Eve expressed frustration too at the level of communication from the normalisation committee.
“[Hadad] made a statement yesterday that coaches and players were so important to our future and for our sakes he doesn’t want the country to be banned by Fifa,” said Eve. “But if you ask me if I feel that respect, my answer has to be a simple ‘no’. Everyone else has been paid except the coaches and the players and we would like to find out why.
“There is a sense that we went for a protest on Tuesday and we were being irresponsible in a time of Covid. I want the public to understand that is not what happened.
“[Normalisation committee member] Nigel Romano said in the press that they needed to look over our letters of appointment and we were not getting any feedback on that. So all we went to do was ensure that they had copies of our contracts.”
Hadad, in today’s press statement, claimed the normalisation committee is ‘working assiduously to find solutions to a wide range of matters related to the organisation and its national teams’.
At the moment, the coaches appear unimpressed.
“If there is a valid reason why the coaches haven’t been paid yet, then someone from the leadership group running the TTFA needs to come and say what that is,” said Sheppard. “To me, that is basic [courtesy].”
Hadad did not respond to requests for comment on the discrepancy between his account of Tuesday’s incident and that of his coaches.