While a casual observer will glance at the current conflict between myself and Minister of Sport, Brent Sancho and chalk it up as being a byproduct of a bitter political season, the real reasons behind the clash are far different from what has been offered by those who claim to know. Therefore and for the sake of our football, it is important that supporters of the national football teams and our own national program players and coaches know the reasons behind the current conflict.
Upon Mr. Sancho’s appointment, a multitude of inquiries from people aware of the history between Mr. Sancho and the TTFA/TTFF began to pour in; all asking the same question; how did we feel the new minister would treat the TTFA?
I can say unequivocally, that the TTFA met Mr. Sancho’s appointment with an open mind. Within the first weeks of his appointment, meetings were held with TTFA representatives and the ministry. Presentations were made describing the past, present, and future plans of the TTFA. Pledges of information exchanges and support were made and a spirit of cooperation was established.
However, the collaborative spirit unraveled with a number of unfortunate interviews of the minister that seemed to belie the cooperative tone established in our meetings. It became clear the old conflicts between Mr. Sancho and the TTFA would not be a thing of the past and instead form the basis of his approach toward the TTFA and its national team programs.
Brent Sancho is a current litigant and still has a court matter against the TTFA. Based upon his public comments, he still has not missed a step in his aggression toward the TTFA on the old matter surrounding the 2006 socawarriors bonus action. As a result of the continuing disrespectful, personal attacks, and dishonest public comments Mr. Sancho has made about the TTFA and myself, it is prudent that the TTFA seek other avenues to try to advance our partnership with the Ministry of Sport in the best interests of Trinidad and Tobago football. My direct communication with Mr. Sancho is not a prerequisite for the ministry and TTFA to continue their collaboration.
It is this distinction, not politics, which is at the crux of the conflict with Mr. Sancho.
It is also instructive to know that as recently as a year ago, Mr. Sancho threatened to “close down football” if the remaining payments to the 2006 socawarriors did not commence. This, in spite of the fact that months after coming in to office, I made the decision to pay the 2006 players $10 million dollars after their case languished in the court for over 7 years with no significant benefit gained.
The decision to address the players’ issue was against a backdrop where the choice to declare the then TTFF bankrupt was a real consideration but one that I did not support because it would not be fair to people who gave their services and limited resources to assist football. They would have lost every cent with no recourse!
Unfortunately, Mr. Sancho and his supporters did not seem to share the view that the TTFA exhibited good faith in our efforts to settle with the players and began a series of public campaigns to undermine the TTFA and essentially damage corporate sponsorship prospects that we began to establish in an attempt to reform a heavily damaged organization that had lost the public trust and confidence during the term of the previous administrations.
It is also instructive to know I did not have problems with previous ministers. Whatever differences arose, were worked out and, actually, compliments were made publically from members of the government expressing how I approached my dealings with the government and ministry in an apolitical manner.
The reason for my stance on Mr. Sancho being stated, I would like to share the recent history to explain how and why I arrived at my current position with regard to Mr. Sancho.
I. ORIGIN OF CURRENT PUBLIC CONFLICT
1. In June I met with Mr. Sancho at Parliament to discuss the status of the cabinet note that was passed in November in order to fully support the Gold Cup preparation efforts as promised by the Prime Minister. Mr. Sancho and his staff tried to claim the cabinet note did not clearly define which team would benefit from the funds allotted; this was a disingenuous interpretation since the only team that plays in the Gold Cup is the Men’s Senior Team and was the only team the Prime Minister addressed when the cabinet note was referred to at a press conference in November after the CFU Championship.
2. Also at this meeting, Mr. Sancho said the ministry would pay our national players only 50% of their fees. I strongly objected and said the note accounted for full payment for the players’ fees and if the minister pursued such a course, the media would be told about the change and he would be regarded as the worst sports minister in history. As a former player who fought for payments and fees for himself; it was rather confusing and disappointing to witness the minister try to shortchange players who were once his teammates.
3. Mr. Sancho objected to what he viewed as a threat and said the TTFA should pay the other 50% from gate receipts. I further explained that such a proposal would actually place the players in a worse position as the TTFA usually lose money on matches played at home. He got the cabinet note and tried to ignore the provisions therein. Mr. Sancho would later describe my approach at the Parliament meeting as aggressive and referred to me as a “Raging Bull”. Aside from the political allusion, anyone who knows me will understand that I do not raise my voice and/or act in a manner that is associated with incivility or disrespect.
II. CONTACT WITH THE MINISTRY
1. Mr. Sancho has stated on several occasions that we are "biting the hands that feed us". Aside from the clearly offensive overtones, this is not a truthful statement. We feel the TTFA has a right to offer rebuttal to the spread of misinformation by the minister. Our July 11 press release was in response to several months of public statements from the ministry that were factually incorrect regarding information submitted to the ministry and funds received by the TTFA.
2. Mr. Sancho also continued to perpetuate another untruth by claiming that we have cut off communication with the ministry since our press release. In reality, the TTFA has been in touch with the ministry almost on a daily basis since the aforementioned press release, largely with the Permanent Secretary (PS) and other ministry officials. During the period since the release was sent on July 11, there were at least 10 messages between the TTFA and the ministry. Such communication included the coordination of efforts to provide account information of national team players to the ministry in order to distribute Gold Cup match fees. Surely, this could not have been accomplished had the TTFA cut off our communication to the ministry as alleged by the minister.
3. In short, the TTFA is working directly with the PS in advancing the needs and the interest of football. In our dealings with the Permanent Secretary, the business with the ministry continues and we can still move matters forward pertaining to our national teams.
III. TTFA TRANSPARENCY
1. Early in Mr. Sancho’s tenure, he threatened to withhold funding unless accounts were submitted. Having received such a threat, the TTFA invited our auditor, KPMG, to attend a meeting with the Minister that took place on May 11. It was explained by KPMG the reasons for the non-submission of audited accounts from the TTFF/TTFA since 2008. Yet, Mr. Sancho continues to raise issues about “transparency and accountability” as though the TTFA has not submitted accounts. The fact is with the continued assistance of KPMG, TTFA accounts were submitted and received by the ministry for 2008 and 2009 at the very same May 11 meeting. The accounts from 2010 and 2011 were submitted and delivered to the Minister and the former PS on May 22. Once audited statements are completed through 2014, TTFA will publish the accounts as part of our reform efforts to establish accountability and transparency.
2. In an increasingly desperate attempt to manufacture an issue of contention, Mr. Sancho has claimed funds the TTFA received from CONCACAF were not disclosed and claimed we were not being “forthright”. This despite the fact that we explained in our recent press release and via direct communication with the ministry:
a. How much we have already received from CONCACAF
b. How much we are entitled to receive from CONCACAF
c. The purpose for which the already received funds from CONCACAF were used
d. Permission from CONCACAF to use said funds for the stated purpose.
The TTFA should not be expected to surrender dignity and endure disrespect and defamation because of our dependence on the ministry for support. The fact that Mr. Sancho has used rhetoric to describe the TTFA and other members of the public as being; “ungrateful”, provides a glimpse of someone who does not understand the position and purpose of being a Minister of Sport; which is to provide service on behalf of our taxpayers and facilitate our athletes.
According to reports from players and coaches, Mr. Sancho calls them directly to further spread misinformation about the TTFA and attempt to undermine the administration of the TTFA. Such behavior threatens to destabilize teams and unfairly place our players and coaches into the conflict when they should be only expected to focus on their preparation and matches.
My determination to lead the TTFA into a new era of good governance, accountability, and accomplishment will continue. The forward movement from where the organization was in 2012 shows that we are making significant progress and the best is yet to come. After decades of futile efforts, a new constitution was recently passed and ratified by our members and for the first time in our history all stakeholders in the game, including clubs, will have a say in the governance of football.
Our teams have shown they are a force to be reckoned with once again, and in spite of Mr. Sancho’s dismissive comments, the $6 million (USD) debt I met has been reduced to approximately $2 million (USD) through a carefully constructed approach that included our initial $1.7 million (USD) contribution to the 2006 players settlement and lobbying of the government which eventually led to the payment of the remaining $1.3 million (USD) owed to the 2006 players and $1 million (USD) in arrears owed to senior team coaches and players since 2011. It is my strong belief that the remaining TTFA debt will be eliminated in the not too distant future.
It is now up to Mr. Sancho and his allies to decide whether or not they want to be a constructive element in our efforts to make Trinidad and Tobago an internationally significant football nation. Or, conversely continue on the path that is likely to deny young footballers the same opportunities that were offered and afforded to Mr. Sancho when he was a young footballer in need. I remain hopeful that the better angels of his nature will guide his future decisions.
Creating further debate is certainly not the intent of this writing. Instead, the purpose for my words is to share information with the public so they can be both better informed and positioned to rally around our footballers who fight to represent Trinidad and Tobago in international competition.
Enlisting support for our national footballers is how I will be focusing my time, energy, and efforts, especially as we enter our Road To Russia Campaign. Now is the time to show our footballers and coaches the same level of commitment and teamwork they recently displayed on the field at the Gold Cup. Now is the time we must give our undivided and unequivocal support. Our footballers have earned that respect.
Yours In Football,
Raymond Tim Kee
Trinidad and Tobago Football Association