“[…] How can the SSFL decide that an unavailable ground is reason enough to postpone an already rescheduled game in a tournament that has already started a month late—and when there were grounds available elsewhere?
“[…] I object to (SSFL assistant secretary administration and fixtures committee member) Gerald Elliot’s disregard to Arima North Secondary as well as to the fixtures and integrity of the Big 5 competition—despite his position as a SSFL executive and Fixtures Committee member…”
The following is the presentation made by Arima North Secondary football team programme director Lasana Liburd at the SSFL General Council meeting on Tuesday 22 November, which called for sanctions over a twice-rescheduled Big 5 fixture against Siparia West Secondary:
At 1.22pm on Wednesday 16 November, SSFL office administrator Sharmilla Ramkissoon-Samaroo issued an email with the new Big 5 fixtures. The email addresses of Arima North Secondary and Siparia West Secondary were listed among recipients.
The schools were listed to play in a rescheduled Big 5 game from 3.30pm at the Siparia Sporting Complex. The game was rescheduled because referee Cecile Hinds blew off the previous attempt of the two teams to play on Saturday 29 October after she said the ground conditions were dangerous. She asked both managers if they objected to her assessment and neither did.
At 2.19 pm on Wednesday 16 November, SSFL office administrator Sharmilla Ramkissoon-Samaroo forwarded the initial email with the fixture change to the media.
On Thursday morning at just before 11am, I confirmed arrangements for transportation to Siparia for the Big 5 game. By 11.56am, Arima North technical director Wayne Sheppard confirmed a caterer for the match while training sessions were planned to get our team ready for the match—which meant training at a community ground, so that our school ground could be in good condition for our first Big 5 home match on Thursday 24 November.
On Friday 18 November at roughly 12.12pm, Arima North representative Darren Maharaj called me to say that general secretary Azaad Khan informed him that the match was off, due to unavailability of a ground.
I told Mr Maharaj in no uncertain terms that our position was the game must play and Siparia should either find another venue or we were willing to find one for them.
After two attempts to contact Azaad Khan, he returned my call at 1.45pm and I told him the same. He told me that he was waiting for a written letter from Siparia regarding their ground issues and that only then could intervention occur.
I did not hear back from Khan on Siparia’s presumed ground issues and nobody from that school reached out to Arima North—although I’d spoken to Siparia West coach Dexter Francis in the past. So we continued planning our training sessions for the game and kept arrangements for transport and meals in place.
On Saturday at 8.49am, barely 24 hours before kickoff, Arima North principal Vishnu Debie wrote to Azaad Khan and asked for confirmation as to whether the game was postponed and noted that he received no official confirmation.
He noted the cost incurred for the last trip to Siparia and explained that another postponement would also have a negative psychological impact on the players. He stated: “Arima North is willing to play the match at an designated suitable venue by Siparia Secondary or the SSFL on Sunday 20th November.”
At 9.10am, I tried unsuccessfully to reach Khan by phone. I then called SSFL assistant secretary administration and fixtures committee member Gerald Elliot at 9.15am in the presence of ANS technical director Wayne Sheppard—as we were both on the training ground.
Elliot said the game was off and when I objected, he replied: “well if allyuh want to travel down Siparia then go ahead, but the game is off.” When Sheppard tried to make a point about the lack of proper procedure, Elliot hung up.
I forwarded Elliot an excerpt, via WhatsApp, from the SSFL constitution which stated: “unless it presents a satisfactory explanation to the appropriate committee or sub-committee, within three days in writing to the League (excluding Sundays and public holidays) a team that does not appear on the field of play to carry out a fixtured match shall be deemed to have lost the match and it shall be suspended for the remainder of the match and it shall be suspended for the remainder of the season. As well as whatever action the Disciplinary Committee may take.”
Elliot’s response was: “Im glad u r aware of that, let d SSFL run its football. Thank you.”
I replied, at 9.46am: “Elliot, we have a game tomorrow and we are yet to receive official word on if it is going to be played and when. But if you think that is reasonable then what can I say.
“We are trying to also keep Siparia West out of trouble. But I give up. Whatever the SSFL rules—so long as in accordance with the constitution—we will accept.
“We respect the SSFL right to make a decision but with nothing in writing, how do we prepare?
“Our boys are training right now in the rain for a game. Maxi booked. Caterer. If we don’t go to the game, then we are the ones who can be kicked out of the Big 5. We must have something in writing to proceed.”
Elliot did not respond.
At 11.25am, Elliot emailed the Arima North school on an official SSFL letterhead under the subject “Cancellation of Game”. He stated: “Please be advised that your Boys Big 5 game… has been cancelled due to non-availability of ground. The League will inform of new date & time for this fixture.”
The email was copied to Darren Maharaj but not myself, as a school rep.
At 12.55pm, I contacted SSFL South Zone president Essiel Seecharan since I heard that he was trying to help Siparia to find a ground. I did not know at the time that he is also head of the Disciplinary Committee.
I told Seecharan, via WhatsApp, that: “Our position is if Siparia is having trouble sourcing a ground, we will do everything we can to help. We will do everything possible to facilitate a game on Sunday—no matter where in the country that Siparia finds a suitable ground. But the game must play.”
At 1pm, I called Seecharan on the matter and we discussed Siparia’s issues in finding a ground. Seecharan suggested that, despite the wording of the constitution, there was “precedence” that other teams prevailed before the disciplinary committee in a situation similar to Siparia’s.
I then phoned officials at the Larry Gomes Stadium and the Arima Veldrome, just in case Siparia indicated they needed help. The official at Larry Gomes also said he would reach out to other grounds including the Ato Boldon Stadium, Mannie Ramjohn and Moruga venues to enquire about their availability.
Siparia West coach Dexter Francis called at 1.23pm to inform me of their issues and I suggested to him that although Elliot clearly gave assurances that the football match was off—they were at risk of running afoul of the constitution, and that our position is we were willing to play the match at any suitable venue they found.
I also said we were prepared to source a ground for the match if they could not.
Francis said he and his manager had just started making calls for a venue and were set to drive to Erin to check out the ground there.[…] At 4.05pm, Francis called back to say that a friend informed him that there is nothing Siparia West could do to ensure the game plays, since the SSFL already ruled that the match is cancelled. And that was our last communication.
Arima North Secondary wanted the match to play. Siparia West coach Dexter Francis said he wanted the match to play. But we were both blocked from finding a way to ensure the game played due to an email by Gerald Elliot, which cancelled the game—despite knowing of Arima North’s objections and that the tournament was already a month late.
As a member of the media, I never received an email confirming that the game was off.
According to the SSFL’s Constitution: “The Fixtures Committee shall have the power to change any of its fixtures originally decided upon for any reason the Committee deems fit.”
I remain unsure as to whether the decision to “cancel” the game was taken by the Fixtures Committee and ratified by the SSFL Executive Committee—or whether by Elliot alone.
However, how can the SSFL decide that an unavailable ground is reason enough to postpone an already rescheduled game in a tournament that has already started a month late—and when there were grounds available elsewhere?
The rules of the Big 5 competition state, in article 7: “The sport masters of teams, which do not have their own home ground, are required to give three days notice to the referee, assistant referees, press, radio, television, the zone secretary and the general secretary, of the venue of such fixture.”
I object to Elliot’s disregard to Arima North Secondary as well as to the fixtures and integrity of the Big 5 competition—despite his position as a SSFL executive and Fixtures Committee member.
As a result, I wish to object that this game be moved to 6 December and instead ask that the result be awarded to Arima North; and I move a no confidence motion against Gerald Elliot.
Editor’s Note: The SSFL Fixtures Committee, which is chaired by Azaad Khan and also includes Laurence Seepersad, took responsibility for Elliot’s email that “cancelled” the Big 5 game between Arima North and Siparia West on 20 November.
The resulting no confidence motion in the entire SSFL Fixtures Committee was soundly defeated with: two votes for, six against, and 11 abstentions.
The Big 5 competition determines the three teams that advance to the SSFL Premier Division.
At present, the SSFL Big 5 fixtures requests that Arima North play Bishop’s High School in Tobago on Sunday 4 December and then travel to Siparia to face Siparia West on Tuesday 6 December. Arima principal Vishnu Debie has requested a new fixture date out of concern for the wellbeing of his students.