Members of the Football Players Association of Trinidad & Tobago (FPATT) were invited to attend the annual FIFPro congress in Barcelona from 22nd to 24th November as observers.
The purpose of the invitation was to allow the fledgling Trinidad & Tobago Players Association to better understand the workings of FIFPro and to meet the 42 member nations, with a view to apply for membership at next year's congress.
The FPATT representatives, Vice President, Clayton "JB" Morris and International Development Manager, Kevin Harrison, arrived at the Hotel D'Arts, the venue for the event, on Wednesday evening.
Harrison, an Englishman who became involved with the Trinidad & Tobago union through his work as a financial executive for England's players union, the PFA, and Morris a former captain of the T&T national football team, said they were both excited upon their arrival in Barcelona.
"It was quite daunting, arriving at such a large event where everybody knew one another," commented Clayton. "We had no idea of the protocol or what was expected of us."
"JB had to recover from his long flight, whereas I needed to recover from England's loss to Croatia," laughed Harrison. "So I hit the bar!"
"I met a few guys from FIFpro and the Dutch players union and immediately felt at ease."
The congress began the next day.
"We walked into this large auditorium, with tables set out in lines with each country's name already in position. There were interpreters and sound boxes at the back, and microphones and headsets for everyone," said Morris.
"It looked like a United Nations conference," added Harrison, "but felt like the first day at a new school. People from all nationalities were standing in groups renewing old acquaintances, and we were the new boys."
"We'd decided beforehand that we wanted everyone to know that Trinidad & Tobago were present and to make ourselves identifiable," said Morris, "So we had special shirts made for us by our sportswear manufacturer, Vandanel. The shirts had the FPATT logo on the breast pocket and the T&T flag on the back below the collar. Combined with our T&T ties, no one needed to ask where we were from!"
"It was a positive advantage, as people recognised the flag and approached us," said Harrison, "When delegates asked us if we were Trinidad & Tobago, I said yes-he's Trinidad and I'm Tobago!"
The congress began with an opening speech from outgoing President, Philippe Piat, and Secretary-General, Theo van Seggelen welcomed members and observers and introduced new members and candidate members.
The congress then divided up into divisions. Trinidad & Tobago were welcomed into the Americas division. The main topics in this division were issues surrounding the Mexican union and Bolivia's concern over FIFA's investigation into playing at high altitude.
"It was quite funny," said Harrison, "There were around 26 Spanish speaking delegates and only 4 English speakers - T&T and USA, so the meeting was conducted in Spanish. Every time one of the English speakers wanted to speak, there was a collective sigh and a fumbling for headphones!"
Morris continued "We received much support from the Americas division, as they were pleased to see a Caribbean country being represented. They were all aware of the situation with the blacklisted players and their arbitration case and stated their disappointment in the lack of respect shown towards the World Cup players by the T&T Football Federation."
Everybody met up again in the main hall, where reports were provided on each of the divisions.
Each day there were lunches and semi-formal evening meals. These gave everybody the chance to meet with delegates from other players associations and compare notes on each others progress, and to share ideas.
"We made the decision at the outset that we would sit with different delegates at each meal. That way we could maximise this opportunity to make contacts and build friendships," said Clayton. "We also were careful not to just sit with English speaking delegates."
"At one meal we sat with delegates from Serbia and Montenegro, which made communication difficult, but we still enjoyed each others company," said Harrison.
"The liveliest bunch were the guys from Cameroon and South Africa," laughed Morris, "Somehow, this led to us all greeting one another as "Mandela" for the rest of the conference!"
The second day saw reports from the various FIFPro committees, a DVD presentation of FIFPro activities during the past year, a report concerning FIFA/FIFPro cooperation, followed by presentations from FIFPro Commercial Enterprises concerning the computer games industry, FIFPro merchandising and the FIFPro World XI 2008.
This was followed by a presentation concerning Match France98-FIFPro Rest of the World Team. This is a match being staged at the Stade De France in July 2008 to commemorate the French World Cup winning team. The original French 98 team will play an All-Sta rest of the World XI.
The afternoon session consisted of the findings of the FIFA "Football at High Altitude" consensus meeting. Many medical tests had been carried out and the conclusion was that there appeared to be no danger to health by playing at high altitudes.
Next came a very interesting session presented by Mike Foster, General Secretary of the English Premier League and covered goal line technology. This consisted of four static cameras for each goal line placed strategically around a ground. The results were available after 3 seconds and were similar to the Hawkeye camera systems used in cricket and tennis. Comparisons were made with the Adidas chip in ball system, currently being trialed by FIFA.
After a late lunch, a tour of Barcelonas Nou Camp stadium took place. "This was our first visit to the Nou Camp," said Harrison, "The place is awesome."
The highlight for Morris was taking the stadium tour with Hristo Stoichkov, the Bulgarian delegate. "We stood in the Nou Camp museum with Stoichkov in front of a trophy case containing his Barcelona shirt and the golden ball awarded to him after scoring his 200th Barcelona goal. He must have had his photograph taken with 100 delegates, but smiled all the way through it."
The third day began with the morning being devoted to financial matters, and deciding the winner of a "brainwave" competition. This was a competition to encourage new ideas to benefit FIFPro member nations. The prize of US$10,000 went to the Australian contingent who had designed a FIFPro scholarship aimed at assisting new members to attain the various skills required to run a successful players association, such as administration, book keeping and legal workshops. Upon receiving the cheque, the Australian Executive Chairman, Brendan Schwab, stated that the money would be used to help fund the scholarship for new members.
Delegates from each nation then divided into two groups for seperate workshops.
The first focused on FIFPro legal affairs such as formation of a Dispute Resolution Chambers, a mechanism to remove the need for court action in disputes.
The second covered the FIFPro Academy, which is an online university aimed to fit around footballers training schedules and be globally accessible. One of FIFPro's main concerns is player education to aid employment after football.
There was also a presentation from ProZone and FIFA on comparisons between artificial turf and grass pitches, and an update on anti-racism campaigns.
Finally, everyone met up in the main auditorium for the election of a new European division board member, details of next years conference in Chile (Congress alternates between Europe and the rest of the World), and finally the closing remarks from the new FIFPro president.
In the evening, at the final night dinner, Clayton Morris presented FIFPro Secretary General, Theo van Seggelen with a Trinidad & Tobago doll playing a steel drum. Promises to keep in touch were made all around.
"The last night was great," said Harrison, "we made some good friends over the 3 days and some very useful contacts. I imagine the South African guys are still partying in Barcelona as we speak!"
Morris was very moved by the whole conference. "Sometimes in Trinidad & Tobago you feel isolated and that the world doesn't understand the plight of football in our islands," he said. "It is only when you attend a global event like this that you discover that the world is aware. It is watching. And it will support us when we ask. The most important task that FPATT faces now is achieving full FIFPro membership at the next congress. But to do that, we need the support of everyone - the government, the ProLeague, the businesses, the players and the supporters of Trinidad & Tobago football."
Harrison added "It is time for the professional footballers of Trinidad & Tobago to realise the benefits of a players association. There are 45,000 members of FIFPro. These footballers receive benefits and support that are currently unavailable to the guys in T&T. By becoming members of the global footballing family, not only will it benefit the players, but it will benefit football in Trinidad & Tobago as a whole."