Mon, Jan

Morvant Caledonia United Head Coach Jamaal Shabazz

Morvant Caledonia United head coach Jamaal Shabazz is losing the fight to keep his players away from negative influences and is desperately hoping for a quick restart to local football.

Given Government clearance to restart team sport, Shabazz is among the local club owners and coaches hoping local football can resume via the rich Ascension Invitational Tournament.

Tentatively due to kick off in September or October, the competition seems to have hit a snag, as FIFA normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad allegedly indicated, via radio interview, that he is no longer willing to sanction the Ascension tournament, after initially sanctioning the tournament a year ago.

“I am battling with gang leaders, marijuana and puncheon (rum), who are fighting me for my players,” Caledonia coach Shabazz bluntly declared. “I am starting to lose the battle. I already lose two players. They cross the floor. They had gone over to the illegal side.”

Shabazz admits that his case is acute, coming from the hot spot area of Morvant and Caledonia, where most of his talent is drawn.

“Club Sando have outlined their intention to run an U-20 league, and along with the Ascension league, those are the two leagues we will focus on, providing we get government medical clearance. We have no problem with Ascension football, personally or professionally.”

Contacted yesterday, Ascension Invitational organiser Richard Ferguson indicated that the only hindrance to restart local football are Government’s go-ahead to resume team sport, and Hadad’s sanctioning the 2021 tournament.

Ferguson has produced a signed letter dated July 10, 2020, indicating that Hadad’s normalisation committee had sanctioned the 2020 tournament, prior to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Ascension Invitational football has served as a pre-cursor to the local professional league and debuted in 2019 with 24 clubs, competing in two divisions and vying for $650,000 in prize money.

Pro League champions Defence Force were the Division One champions, winning $125,000, while San Fernando Giants won $100,00 as inaugural Division Two winners.

The organiser had catered for a much bigger 2020 tournament (postponed) — estimated to cost $4.3 million and featuring 92 teams, including Pro League, Super League and Zonal clubs vying for $494,000 in prize incentives.

“We are ready to go,” Ferguson told the Express yesterday. “Once Government gives the clearance to play, we want to start.” The only other problem Ferguson has is the reluctance of the normalisation committee to give the Ascension tournament 2021 its blessing.

In a recent correspondence, Ferguson called on Hadad to explain his reluctance. “Can you explain this please?” was the question asked.

Another prominent club owner, who wished to remain anonymous, admitted to being confused by both Hadad’s position and lack of communication with clubs about the tournament. Hadad also did not respond to the Express’ queries on his position toward the Ascension Invitational and why was there a change of heart, a year after sanctioning the 2020 tournament.

“The organisers of the tournament would have used this sanction as the basis for procuring various goods and services for the tournament, including costs to broadcast games on live television in over 20 countries around the world. Tournament organisers would have spent $millions in preparing for this tournament based on the contract you signed,” Ferguson stated via correspondence to Hadad.

“In addition, sponsors would have withdrawn their support after you made public statements concerning the purported cancellation of the tournament. As such, you are exposing FIFA, TTFA, the normalisation committee and your good self to legal action as this is a clear breach of contract, Tort, and case of liquidated damages.

“Therefore, your apparently wild and reckless statements could result in millions of dollars in losses,” the communique further stated.

The organiser argued that, “the Ascension Tournament has sought to provide major sponsorship for various stakeholders in football, including women’s football, zonal football, Super League football and Pro League football and is committed to developing all aspects of football in Trinidad and Tobago.”

“It is ironic that you have been begging for corporate Trinidad to get involved in football but deny the organisers of the Ascension Tournament — a corporate entity, to perform a national service in hopes of improving our local game and giving our talented players the opportunity to showcase their abilities worldwide.”

SOURCE: T&T Express