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Ascension football league kicks off March 25.
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The second instalment of the Ascension Invitational Football League has been given the all-clear for a March 18 opening with official competition matches set to begin a week later on March 25 at the La Horquetta Recreation Ground.

This was confirmed both by the Minister of Sports and Community Development, Shamfa Cudjoe and Ascension League tournament director, Keiron Edwards when contacted about the competition on Tuesday.

The league was first held in 2019, as a pre-season event to the T&T Pro League season with record-domestic league champion Defence Force capturing the Division One crown and $125,000 top prize, while San Fernando Giants won Division Two and $100,000.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition was not held in 2020 or last year, but tournament organisers have been very busy and in consultation with officials from the Ministry of Sports and Community Development, Sports Company of T&T (SporTT) and Ministry of Health to start the tournament which has a budget of $3.5 million by mid-March with $175,000 in prize money.

Last month, following a meeting of sporting stakeholders, T&TFA General Secretary Amiel Mohammed said that the granting of the endorsement letter needed by the Ascension Tournament would be discussed by the association with the help of the newly installed Technical Director of the T&TFA, Anton Corneal.

Reached for a response on the tournament Mohammed confirmed that following discussions by the Normalisation Committee-led T&TFA and its officials the Ascension Invitational were granted its endorsement letter which gives the competition the full backing of the local football body.

Mohammed also stated that two other tournaments, namely the Tiger Tank Under-20 Tournament and the Next Level Consulting Limited U-19 Community Invitational are expected to be informed by the end of the week if they too will be given the green light for their staging,

Also last month Edwards also confirmed that the Ascension Invitational received the endorsement letter from the T&TFA while they were also given the all-clear by the Ministry of Sports and Sports Company of T&T with regards to the health and safety guidelines and protocols to be implemented at the venues.

However, according to Edwards, the only hindrance to the league kicking off was getting the all-clear by Minister Terrance Deyalsingh’s Ministry of Health.

And reached for comment yesterday, Edwards confirmed that the Ascension League was now in possession of their letters of permission from the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Sports and Community Development as well as the T&TFA.

Edwards added, "It's a real sign of relief for us and we are very grateful to the Government for their support, and we are now in the final stages of planning for the opening on March 18 and what that will entails to be followed by the official start of matches on March 25.

Commenting on the approval, Cudjoe said that early last month when the Ministry of Sports and Community Development met with Ascension League representative Keiron Edwards, the Sports Company of T&T and the T&T Football Association (T&TFA), the Ascension League noted that the T&TFA was giving them some push back in the granting of approval.

"But since then they (Ascension) have been given the necessary approval from T&TFA and I spoke with Keiron (Edwards) again on February 24, when he reached out to me and told me to thank you so much after I sent him a copy of the letter.

She added, "He messaged me while I was in Cabinet on Thursday (February 24), and I told him that they (Ascension League organisers) were good to go and I sent him the signed letter where the Ministry of Health wrote to me and I told him it was just a matter of him picking up his letter, and he told me thank you so much for the update."

Cudjoe noted that Edwards only had one concern when he saw the approval which centred around the dates set out for the starting and completion of the competition.

She explained, "He said one thing I saw was that the approval was from March 18 to April 31, but there was a back and forth about wanting the end date in August, but the application they submitted for between March and April, so they were not clear on what they wanted.

"I then spoke with Minister Terrence Deyalisngh and he said he will change the dates to cover the entire period of the league and I spoke with the Minister's legal team with regards to having the letter done over and so on, and he said he was just going to write them a blanket approval because we are very adamant about having sport re-open and we continue to push for the full re-opening of sport and I think we are heading in the right direction."

For this year’s tournament, the ten participating clubs in the Premier Division are expected to be Terminix La Horquetta Rangers, T&T Defence Force, T&T Police, Malabar FC, Central FC, Deportivo Pt Fortin, Central Soccer World, AC Port-of-Spain, Cunupia FC and Real West Fort FC who will compete in two rounds of football providing 18 match days for a winners prize of $100,000, second place $50,000, and third $25,000.

The additional venues to be used include the St James Police Barracks Grounds, St James; Diego Martin Sporting Complex, Diego Martin; Arima Municipal Stadium, Arima; and the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo.

While the focus, for now, is on the staging of the top flight ten-club competition, Edwards noted that discussions are also continuing with representatives of the six T&TFA regional associations inclusive of the Eastern Football Association (EFA), Central Football Association (CFA), Southern Football Association (SFA), Northern Football Association (NFA), Tobago Football Association (TFA), and the Eastern Counties Football Union (ECFU) to host their tournaments to the $1.5 million as well.

The Ascension League is also expected to be aired on SportsMax and two local television stations so far.