The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) declared today that it is on the verge of withdrawing teams from the 2022 Concacaf Girls Under-15 Championship and Caribbean Football Union (CFU) Boys Under-14 Challenge Series.
The Girls Championship runs from 31 July to 7 August in Tampa, Florida while the Boys Challenge Series runs from 11-22 August in the Dominican Republic.
TTFA technical director Anton Corneal was aware of the impending youth tournaments when he returned to the post in February 2022 and the respective teams began screening in May.
However, the local football governing body, which is run by Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad at present, admitted today that it has not put things in place for the young players.
“After much deliberation, we are now facing the possibility of taking the very tough decision of withdrawing from the upcoming Concacaf Girls Under-15 Championship in Tampa, Florida and the Caribbean Football Union Boys Under -14 Challenge Series in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic,” stated a TTFA release. “A number of factors have contributed to this decision, including challenges in securing the necessary travel visas to the United States along with financial constraints for air travel to the United States and Dominican Republic.”
If the TTFA does not rectify the situation, it will mean the Women Soca Warriors have not appeared in a Concacaf Girls Under-15 Championship in six years, after the local body—then led by late president David John-Williams—also failed to sort out visas for players to participate in the 2018 competition.
The TTFA collects around TT$10 m per year from Fifa along with travel grants, as do all ‘developing’ football nations, while its debts have now been covered by a mystery loan. (The local football body has 10 years to repay a loan of TT$20.1 m.)
It is uncertain then why the Hadad-led body cannot find the money while Caribbean nations like Jamaica and Haiti are able to do so.
The TTFA release, which was unsigned, noted that Concacaf confirmed that Tampa would be the venue for the tournament on 6 June 2022 and hinted that the supposed late notice along with the Covid-19 pandemic affected their ability to get a team to the US.
“Despite our best efforts to communicate with all relevant stakeholders, even prior to that date, we have been unsuccessful in obtaining US travel visa appointments for 20 players and staff,” stated the TTFA, “while being cognizant of the well documented backlog of applications for US travel visa matters, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In fact, Concacaf made it clear that the Girls Under-15 Championship would resume in 2022 since last year while every tournament has been staged in Florida since 2016. In the case of the CFU Boys tournament, the team does not need visas. But again, the TTFA claimed it was powerless.
“The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association has worked closely with stakeholders to meet all requirements necessary for the participation of our National Teams in the various international competitions,” stated the release. “Over the past two years, several of our teams have competed in different tournaments ranging from the Senior Men’s and Women’s World Cup qualifying campaigns, the U-20 Men and Women, the U-17 Women, the Beach Soccer Men and Futsal Men’s qualifiers.”
The Hadad-led body failed to mention that the TTFA has operated without any standing committees since he assumed the reins in March 2020 and was officially recognised by local members in November 2020.
One of the first edicts of the normalisation committee, which also includes Nigel Romano and Trevor Nicholas Gomez, was to shut down all the TTFA’s standing committees ‘until further notice’.
The TTFA’s standing committees are: finance, audit and compliance, organising for TTFA competitions, technical and development, referees, legal, women’s football, youth football and development, sports medicine, players’ status, and marketing.
Hadad’s disdain for standing committees is, ironically, a continuation of the approach by John-Williams—under whose tenure the number of active standing committees once dropped to just one: the referees committee. Coincidentally, the TTFA plunged from 49th in the Fifa rankings to 104th during John-Williams’ four year term.
Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) president Osmond Downer explained, in a previous interview, why functioning standing committees are essential tools in governance of the game.
“No executive has all the in-house expertise necessary to run football, because most of the members of the boards are administrators,” said Downer. “They are not football experts or technical people, they are not doctors or lawyers, and that is why you would have expertise on your committees to advise the executive.
“Not even the Fifa executive, which has 38 members, has all the necessary expertise—and Fifa has standing committees from A to Z. The executive has to function using the advice of their standing committees.
“[…] No board, not even the Fifa board, can exist without the standing committees… Basically, if the board is the driver steering the association, and the players are the wheel on which the machine runs, then the standing committees would be the engine.”
The TTFA’s current three-member board said it has turned to the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) for help.
“We have also been engaging with the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago for assistance in obtaining the necessary funding for air travel to the two tournaments,” stated the release. “We have acted in good faith and proceeded with the preparations for the respective tournaments through our High Performance Programme for the respective age-groups over the past few months.
“The TTFA will continue to explore available options and will keep you updated on any further developments.”
In Hadad’s first meeting with national coaches in April 2020, he demanded that all national youth teams cease training immediately. It was not until December 2021 that another national youth team was allowed to train.
Between the TTFA boards led by John-Williams and Hadad, the natural development of Trinidad and Tobago’s boys and girls players were interrupted over an eight year period at a minimum.
The impact of the disruption is likely to be most evident between 2024 and 2032 when national senior coaches have to choose from a pool of players that have largely missed out on international experience afforded to their counterparts on opposing teams.
Notably, Trinidad and Tobago is now not only listed as a tier two nation in Concacaf, but in the Caribbean as well.
Concacaf put Trinidad and Tobago’s Under-15 Girls Team in League B, below its seven highest ranked nations: Canada, Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the United States (not necessarily in that order).
And the CFU, “[in order] to ensure balance [and] fair and equitable grouping”, put Trinidad and Tobago in Tier Two, below: Jamaica, Haiti, Aruba, St Kitts and Nevis, Bonaire, Curaçao, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
The young Soca Warriors are grouped with Bermuda, Guyana and St Martin. Whether they show up for the tournament at all is another story.