Wed, May

La Horquetta Rangers celebrate a goal during the 2019 First Citizens Cup final against Police FC at Diego Martin Sporting Complex on December 6, 2019

Richard Ferguson, the main man behind the Ascension Invitational football tournament has revealed that his own Terminix La Horquetta Rangers professional club is not yet training.

This comes despite the green light being given for a return to the football field for the first time in nearly two years since the Covid-19 pandemic began.

In January, Sports Minister Shamfa Cudjoe announced approval had been given for the Ministry of Sport and Community Development’s Safe Zone Return to Play proposal.

A release from the Minister explained: “National Governing Bodies and Sport Serving Bodies will now be able to host sporting events and execute sporting activities for fully vaccinated athletes, coaches, officials, and administrators, at specific sporting facilities. Approval has also been granted for fully-vaccinated spectators to attend events at 50 per cent facility capacity for outdoor events, and 25 per cent facility capacity for indoor events subject to guidelines to be issued by the Ministry of Health.”

The new Public Health Regulations took effect from Monday, January 24, 2022. However up to yesterday, Rangers owner Ferguson revealed his club is still grounded.

“We cannot train,” Ferguson declared. “Remember, unless we first get approval, it is still against the law for us to begin training.”

The Ascension Invitational, the only competition offering cash prizes, began in 2019, as a pre-cursor to the local professional league. Initially, 24 clubs, competing in two divisions competed for TT$650,000 in prize money. However, the tournament has not been played in two years due to Government’s restriction of contact sports at the onset of the pandemic.

This year’s tournament will be carried on the SportMax cable television network. However, the wait for Ministry of Health approval means that Ferguson cannot yet announce a start date for the 2022 edition. He would have liked to begin at the end of March.

“We still do not have approval from the Ministry of Health,” Ferguson told the Sunday Express. “When we get approval, we will be able to issue a start date, but we haven’t gotten approval as yet.”

At club level, there is also uncertainty for several reasons. Two years away from football has seen a turn-up at many clubs, with those clubs that would pay players especially affected, since there is no funding from Government or otherwise.

San Juan Jabloteh have put out social media notice that they are recruiting Under-20 footballers. So far, their only hint at preparation has been on-line. The club was seeking a February 7 meeting with interested players and parents of persons wishing to represent Jabloteh at the upcoming Tiger Tanks Under-20 Invitational tournament.

Meanwhile, Cunupia FC coach Michael DeFour hinted that the pandemic may force teams to go even younger this year, as some of the more seasoned players have had to make economic decisions to survive over the past two years. DeFour said his likely player pool is vaccinated but he expects them to be very young.

“The goalpost has shifted because where players were playing actively and trying to better their careers (pre-Covid-19), some have had to make decisions based on the economic situations, in terms of looking for employment and the new batch of players are young or younger and out of playing time for two years.”

DeFour stated that the economics also dictates that teams will only begin training when an established date to start any league is established.

“We are expecting a league (Ascension Invitational),” he said. I would not say (we are) training but we have started a gathering and coming together to prepare men for the pre-season.

“Nothing too regular until we have a (start) date and then we can go with a plan to resume full training,“ he added.

Police FC head coach Richard Hood thinks six weeks is sufficient time to get his team ready for competition. But the former T&T national women’s coach is still awaiting approval for the Lawmen to begin training, hopefully this week.

“We have not begun our preparation as yet because we are still awaiting approval from the CoP (Commissioner of Police) to start to prepare. We are hoping that we would receive such approval so that we can start on Monday,” Hood stated.

Hood also revealed that there may be changes in his team since some of the Lawmen are not willing to meet the conditions set down by the Health Ministry for play to begin.

“We have to operate within a safe zone and we have some players that are refusing to take the vaccination, so they will not be part of the effort,” he added.

For the most part though, Hood felt that the impending resumption of play was great news for the local football fraternity.

“We have been off the field for two years and for our peace of mind and the development of football in the country, that has set us back considerably,” he said. “So we are really looking forward to getting back on the field and doing the job we love.”

SOURCE: T&T Express