Sport Minister Brent Sancho has accused Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee and, by extension, the opposition PNM party of using national football players as political pawns, as the ill-will between the two bodies appeared to reach a new low in midweek.
Remarkably, the meeting was meant to finalise issues related to payment for the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team and Men’s Under-23 Team, as well as to discuss the upcoming Russia 2018 World Cup campaign and the Women’s Under-17 and Under-20 Caribbean Football Union (CFU) qualifiers.
“The PS (Gillian Macintyre) told me that Tim Kee didn’t want to meet (with me) because I have a litigative matter against him,” Sancho told Wired868. “I found it odd since there were matters that needed urgent attention. They have athletes out there (at the Toronto Pan American Games) who are not receiving money and threatening to strike but they are showing no urgency. It took their representatives two weeks to come in and meet with us.
“We had worked on a projected budget for the 2018 World Cup that we wanted to discuss (with the TTFA) as the campaign is about to begin…”
Wired868 tried repeatedly to contact Tim Kee without success. TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips accompanied Tim Kee to the Sport Ministry on Wednesday but did not want to discuss their meeting.
“I would rather you get those answers from Raymond,” said Phillips. “Anything regarding what took place in that meeting, I would rather come from him.”
Wired868 asked if he denied the Sport Minister’s account regarding Tim Kee’s stated refusal to meet with him.
“No,” said Phillips.
Tim Kee’s alleged refusal to meet Sancho was notable for several reasons:
The Sport Ministry pays all the TTFA’s coaches and funds its various teams;
At least four active national football teams rely on State funding at present;
The 2006 World Cup bonus dispute has not been before the courts in over two years and is dormant;
Tim Kee has officially met Sancho on many previous occasions while the court case was in exactly the same position;
The current “Soca Warriors” captain Kenwyne Jones is also a litigant against the TTFA and was the football body’s 2013 Player of the Year despite the unresolved court case;
And, it was Tim Kee who requested the meeting with the Sport Ministry on Wednesday, after initially failing to respond to an invitation from the Ministry for over a week.
In the midst of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament, Tim Kee surprised the Warriors technical staff and Ministry of Sport by endorsing a press release that accused Sancho of bullying the football body and poisoning relations between the two entities.
Sancho, who will contest the Toco/Sangre Grande seat at the General Elections on September 7, said he suspects that dirty politics are at play.
“I am suspicious about what is transpiring (because) why would you not want to have discussions when you have players who are basically stranded?” asked Sancho. “The only reasonable explanation I can think of is that Raymond is trying to use the athletes as political pawns.
“When you listen to what is being said on the political platform where (PNM candidate) Camille Robinson-Regis is talking about Central FC (a Pro League club formerly run by Sancho) and me hating football. And suddenly Raymond doesn’t want to sit down to try to solve things for the TTFA’s benefit…
“It doesn’t correlate… Or maybe they do not want to tell us what happened to the CONCACAF money.”
The last TTFA press release, which targeted the Sport Minister’s behaviour, followed Sancho’s suggestion that the football body received Gold Cup appearance money, which was undeclared to the Ministry.
“The whole thing started when we found out they got US$100,000 and didn’t tell us about it,” said Sancho. “They did a pie chart after that which said that US$33,000 was spent on match fees. But over the past six months, we paid every single match fee and stipend (for the TTFA).
“So where did that money really go?”
Phillips confirmed that the TTFA did collect Gold Cup preparation funding but insisted the body did nothing untoward and can account for its spending.
On Friday afternoon, there was another surprise for the Ministry of Sport as the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Under-20 Team jetted off to St Vincent for CFU action without State funding.
“I found it a bit strange that they didn’t ask for funding for the (Women’s) Under-20 Team because, over the course of this year, we have paid for every single team that left these shores barring the TTOC’s teams,” Sancho told Wired868. “We have paid 90 percent of the operation cost for all national teams, including travel, accommodation, coaches’ salaries and match fees.
“All of a sudden, despite saying they spent all the money they received from CONCACAF and the fact that the General Secretary said they only had TT$30,000 in their account just over a month ago, they found the money to send their team to St Vincent.
“How much money did they really receive from Concacaf?”
Sancho said the Ministry of Sport will do its best to ensure that football does not suffer as a result of his soured relations with Tim Kee. However, he suggested that the process of supporting national football teams might be slowed as a result.
“I think he is trying to provoke a fight but I am going to continue to pay the athletes and the staff,” Sancho told Wired868. “I will pay the Gold Cup team and Pan Am teams as we said we would. And then we want to see how they spent (their Gold Cup money).
“I was hoping we could have some mature discussion but, if he refuses to meet with me, I don’t see how we can move forward. It is hard to tell what happens now as we were trying to meet to put forward some sort of resolution and direction.”
The “Women Soca Warriors” begin their 2016 Olympic qualifying campaign next month while the Men’s Senior Team plays Mexico in an international friendly on September 4 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
It is uncertain if the funding for either event will be jeopardised by the TTFA’s apparent position at present. Or if, like with the Women’s Under-20 Team, the football body proves that it can be resourceful when necessary.
The September 7 general elections and the TTFA’s internal elections, tentatively carded for November, are likely to have an important bearing on the future administrative relationship between the two bodies.