Under-preparation and not the unavailability of funds for the country's Olympic men's team prevented it from contesting the Qualifiers, Shamfa Cudjoe, Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs said at a press conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair on Monday.
Only last week Richard Quan Chan, a member of the Board of Directors of the T&T Football Association said it was unlikely that the team would go to the qualifiers due to no funding. However, Cudjoe revealed that in a meeting with the embattled football association last Friday, she was told the teams could not go because they were just not prepared.
"We would have met with the TTFA last week Friday, the Ministry of Sports, along with SporTT and in our discussions with the TTFA president David John-Williams we were told that even if we had the money to go, we would not have sent them because they were not ready, so that request was not made to us to provide funding because TTFA would have taken that decision that the team was not ready."
She added, "They would have explained that in order for a team to be well prepared for that kind of undertaking, that training and investment should have come at least four years ago, so even if we threw all the money at them now, they don't have sufficient time, sufficient resources and the capability to be ready."
Her comments come on the heels of a release by the TTFA, explaining the Under-23 men's football team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games had regrettably been withdrawn from this year’s CONCACAF Men’s Under-23 Olympic Qualifiers, as a decision was taken to focus its resources on other competitions for the rest of 2019.
The T&T team was drawn in Pool B of the 16-team competition against minnows Barbados, and US Virgin Islands and Cuba with the initial round of qualifying in the Caribbean phase taking place from July 17-21 across four different venues.
The release stated the financial difficulties of the local association have been no secret to the public with a debt of over US$ 5 million (TT$34M) and most recently, the freezing of the bank accounts.
"Despite these turbulent times, the TTFA with the support of the Government of T&T has managed to successfully field teams in all of the competitions thus far for the 2019 competitions calendar. With the limited funding available, and 11 national teams to service, the T&TFA has taken the decision that in moving forward we must not increase the debt of the association and thus we must prioritize which tournaments are a 'must' to participate in."
With regards to putting the status of local football under the microscope of a FIFA ban, the T&TFA release noted that according to FIFA Statues, member associations are mandated to participate in a maximum of two competitions for a period of four consecutive years to keep its FIFA membership status.
But Cudjoe said they will be heading to France today and will attempt to sort out issues with the FIFA, "We have to keep in mind that TTFA has 11 national teams under its remit and it receives the same kind of subventions from the FIFA, like any other country that has five national teams, two national teams or one national team. So as we proceed to France tomorrow to have discussions with FIFA, we are going to be speaking about equity rather than equality, as it relates to funding in football development in the Caribbean region and the lesser developed countries."
The country's women's team, however, will participate at the Olympic qualifiers as the T&TFA said it remains committed to the development of football and thus has pledged its funds to other competitions for the rest of the year, inclusive of their qualifiers as well as the men's CONCACAF Gold Cup 2019; Concacaf Boys Under-15 Championships; 2019 Caribbean Football Union Under-14 Girls Challenge Series; 2019 Caribbean Football Union Under-14 Boys Challenge Series; Concacaf Under-17 Women’s Championships; Concacaf Under-20 Women’s Championships, and Concacaf Nations League.