The Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team will concede home advantage in a World Cup qualifying campaign for the first time in 36 years, after Ministry of Health chief medical officer Dr Roshan Parasram ruled that a proposal by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) fell short of local Covid-19 regulations.
Dr Parasram has steered clear of public statements on sport, ever since he was criticised by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, in July 2020, for refusing to sanction the Commissioner’s Cup youth football tournament.
At the Ministry of Health’s virtual press conference this morning, Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe delivered the bad news to the TTFA, which is now headed by Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad.
Cudjoe revealed the Ministry of Health’s counter-proposal to the TTFA, which, theoretically, offers three options for Trinidad and Tobago’s scheduled World Cup qualifying match against Guyana on 25 March 2021.
“One, bring the players in time so they can quarantine and play their game,” said Cudjoe, “two, set the date to a later time to allow the players to come in and properly quarantine; three, play the game on a neutral ground within the Caribbean and the Americas.
“Those are the three options being offered at this point in time.”
Fifa mandates clubs to release players at a maximum of five days before a World Cup qualifier, while the TTFA has no control over the date of the qualifying games. It means Hadad only realistically has the third option available.
i95.5fm talkshow host Andre Baptiste, acting as lobbyist for the normalisation committee, spent the past week claiming that the Warriors would be forced to play their opening home qualifier in Guyana if the government did not intervene; and that virtually every other nation was playing at home.
Both Baptiste’s claims were false, though, and did not fool the government.
Fifa permits countries to use neutral venues if they cannot play at home for a variety of reasons—a rule that existed since the last century. And Cudjoe’s own investigations found that more than a half-dozen Caribbean countries had already conceded home advantage.
“[…] Barbados are playing in the Dominican Republic, Anguilla is playing in Tampa and then the Dominican Republic,” said the minister of sport and community development, “Antigua [and Barbuda] and Montserrat are playing in the US Virgin Islands, St Vincent and the Grenadines is playing in Curaçao. Suriname is playing in the Dominican Republic…”
Whether ‘home advantage’ is significant during the Covid-19 pandemic—when teams are forced to have limited supporters, or none at all—is another matter entirely. But the normalisation committee’s 29-page proposal was doomed to fail, regardless of the CMO’s decision.
The TTFA suggested that it would host two persons per room at the Home of Football in Couva. Cudjoe said Dr Parasram was very troubled by that. So would Fifa be; and everyone else with passing knowledge of the novel coronavirus.
Fifa’s own ‘Return to Football—International Match Protocol’, which was published on 29 September 2020 and is freely available online, states: ‘Each individual must have their own hotel room.’
It is a basic Covid-19 provision, which is followed by Trinidad and Tobago cricket teams, as well as other travelling sport teams.
The TTFA not only hoped to have its own players stay two per room but hoped to subject visiting teams to that too. It was a non-starter and far from the only discrepancy in the doomed pitch by the Hadad-led body.
The proposal also failed to highlight several key aspects of business within its bubble: such as accommodation for reserve match officials, a minimum of three hygiene implementation officers, room sizes, and safeguards for temporary employees—such as drivers and cleaners—involved in the affair.
Cudjoe confirmed that the TTFA submitted its substandard proposal for exemptions on 2 February 2021. However, the World Cup qualifying fixtures were confirmed on 4 December 2020, while the draw was done since 19 August 2020.
What did Hadad and normalisation committee members Judy Daniel and Nigel Romano do in the two months between when Fifa revealed its fixtures and they submitted their proposal?
Ironically, Hadad has neither reconvened nor replaced the TTFA’s sport medical committee that was appointed by previous president William Wallace in January 2020.
Did the normalisation committee not believe it would be useful to have a standing committee of medical advisors in the middle of a global pandemic?
As Cudjoe confirmed, many of the other Caribbean FAs booked alternative grounds—even as the TTFA urged Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to force the CMO to accept their inadequate proposal.
It is left to be seen now what playing facilities are still available within the region, as a neutral venue. There is, of course, plenty of space and lax protocols in Florida; but then visa requirement for travel there mean the Guyana FA may object if Hadad turns to that option too late.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has put its own foot down on the matter. Cudjoe rejected comparisons to the 2020 Caribbean Premier League (CPL) cricket competition, which was staged in Trinidad.
“We must remember that for the CPL, [the cricketers] quarantined for 14 days—they quarantined for seven days and then [spent] another seven days in the bubble,” said Cudjoe. “Now TTFA is stating that [its] players cannot quarantine and that is troubling for us […] especially with players coming from the United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium—coming from countries where there are these strains that we are really concerned about.
“[…] Flying in, travelling to the Home of Football, and playing your game with no quarantine whatsoever; it does not sit well with our technical people at all. We are in the position we are in today as a country—to be commended by the World Health Organisation—because we have not made political decisions; we did not bully the CMO.
“[…] I have to agree with the CMO. And it is not my business, as it is being recommended, that I instruct or the Minister of Health instruct the CMO. We have to trust his advice to keep our people safe and even our players and the rest of the sporting fraternity safe.”
Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick requested at least 22 overseas-based players for the March qualifier and hoped to have a dozen from Britain.
It is anybody’s guess whether Fenwick, team manager Adrian Romain and Hadad have properly schooled themselves on Britain’s own quarantine rules and weighed them legally against Fifa’s existing law that allows clubs to refuse to release players under certain conditions.
Should the TTFA again fail to do its homework, more chaos will ensue next month.
For now, though, Trinidad and Tobago are set to play their home games in a different country for the first time since the 1986 World Cup qualifying series—when then TTFA general secretary Jack Warner not only conceded the right to host opponents but agreed to play home games on enemy territory.
Warner’s decision appeared to be motivated by money as Trinidad and Tobago’s opponents were happy to bear all the costs for both legs.
The National Senior Team of 1985—which was packed with young talent like Michael Maurice, Clayton Morris, Kelvin Jones, Wendell Moore, Garnet Craig and the late Larry Joseph—lost 1-0 and 2-1 to the United States and drew 1-1 with Costa Rica before falling 3-0 in their final match.
Fenwick, in contrast, is facing Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas and, unless the normalisation committee leaves it too late, will hope for neutral venues rather than trips to Guyana and St Kitts and Nevis.
Despite the bad news for Trinidad and Tobago’s international footballers, there was a ray of sunlight for local amateur athletes. Cudjoe revealed that the government has decided to roll back restrictions on outdoor sporting activities.
The reprieve will not extend to league competition—such as the Pro League or Ascension Tournament—but would permit training and scrimmages, involving 22 players or less.
“Today we are opening up to be able to have sporting activity taking place for recreation purposes,” said Cudjoe. “At this point in time we are only going to focus on sporting activities that cater to 22 or less people. We are not going to open yet for leagues and that type of larger activity that may attract larger crowds…
“[…] We are allowing outdoor sport only. We are not rolling back sport that are indoors or leagues… It is important that we roll back slowly and monitor the situation properly before we allow larger gatherings.”
Sport, outside of international team practice, has not been allowed since March 2020—although the rule has been routinely flouted for months.
Now, Trinidad and Tobago is free to ‘sweat’.
Editor’s Note: The TTFA subsequently announced that it will play Guyana in the Dominican Republic. Click HERE to read.