Caribbean football fans continue to debate CONCACAF's recent decision to seed the top six FIFA-ranked countries into a six-team pool which will play next year for the top three automatic 2022 World Cup spots available to the region. This will see the top three teams going to Qatar while the region’s other teams, among them the 29 Caribbean countries, for the right to play for a remaining half spot, with the winner still facing a country from another region in a final playoff to earn a berth on the world’s biggest football stage.
Many have argued this is elitist and will be the death of Caribbean footballing nations.
Guardian Media Sports Desk investigations have already revealed that CFU members seemed unaware that this format, put forward some two years ago as a proposal, had actually been agreed to and finalised before it was announced by CONCACAF last month. CFU members may also possibly soon lobby for a review of the decision if TTFA president David John-Williams, who reportedly was against the move, can convincd them to do so.
Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith, an avid football fan whose son also plays at the natonal level, has added his voice to the discussion. Today, Guardian Media presents his argument.
CONCACAF dream killers would destroy the spirit of what World Cup Football stands for, if not stopped.
The decision by a handful of individuals in CONCACAF to virtually manipulate the system by using their position to alter the qualifying format for the 2022 World Cup CONCACAF qualifier must be exposed and stopped, with the immediate involvement of FIFA, if good sense does not prevail at CONCACAF level.
The clandestine decision, mainly by those who hold posts in CONCACAF to jettison their own countries into a safe zone and bypass the rigors of qualifying through initial preliminary rounds, is nothing short of abuse of power, and is in total contrast to all that World Cup Football stands for, which is for small nations to dream big.
This ridiculous format being decided upon, by a handful of CONCACAF members is virtually killing the aspiration of small nations to dream big, hence destroying all that World Cup Football is about, as it is more than just football, but also allowing millions of citizens from 29 other countries to simply try, hope and to believe.
This baseless and biased format intends to destroy just that.
To put it into a simple perspective, the format highlighted below has been used for decades by the other Regions in World Cup Football qualification, with these Regions all having experienced far greater success than our CONCACAF Region, via results, and some having even fewer teams than CONCACAF. However, they are mature enough to understand the value of a level playing field, something which seems beyond the understanding of those who make decisions on behalf of CONCACAF.
The format used for decades is still to be used in 2022 by the following Regions for qualifying in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa, which involves everyone being on a virtual level playing field from the start of qualifying, as this is what World Cup Football stands for; everyone having an equal opportunity and not as CONCACAF officials apparently see it, with some being more equal than others.
The format of a level playing field also engineers a structure to ensure development and growth by so-called weaker countries, hence, the gap is closing on a regular basis between great teams and weaker teams in all other regions, thus making the development of football in those regions more effective.
It may appear that certain CONCACAF officials, seem worried about this and are intent on using this new biased format to destroy such a possibility.
The contrast is glaring:
Europe - [UEFA] - 54 teams, with the greatest success in World Cup, and also the largest margin of rankings, but a level playing field is provided from Day One in qualifying, as all 54 teams are placed in 9 groups of 6 teams each, with Belgium ranked Number One in the world, being placed in qualifying along the same level as San Marino, ranked 211th, the lowest in the world. UEFA understands the value of this, not just for the weaker teams, but for the overall development of football in their region.
South America [CONMEBOL] - Likewise, with enormous World Cup success, but with only certain nations. However, like Europe, there is no easy passage to slip into the World Cup Finals, based on past track record. All 10 countries start on a level playing field, from Brazil, ranked 2nd in the world, vying for a spot from Day One in qualifying, with the lowest-ranked team in this region, being Bolivia ranked 73rd.
Asia [AFC] - No ludicrous format like CONCACAF, of teams, getting a safe passage to the final round, but every country fighting from day one in Qualifiers, with 40 teams being divided into 8 groups of 5 teams, inclusive of the highest-ranked Japan,[ 28th], being on par with Sri Lanka, ranked 201st.
Africa- [ CAF] - A Region comprising 54 teams, with the lowest-ranked 28 teams playing a home and away, and the 14 winners immediately being placed in a level playing field with the other 26 teams, hence Senegal, ranked 20th, could be alongside Chad, ranked 175th, from the second round.
CONCACAF- Now compare this to what can only be described as a backroom decision made by CONCACAF, because it is inconceivable that 29 countries out of the 35, would agree to such a biased decision, by deciding that the 6 highest ranked teams, none ever having even reached a World Cup semifinal, would now be just jettisoned into a final round without playing a single world cup qualifying game, and getting 3 automatic spots out of 6 teams, and leaving the 29 remaining countries to fight for one lone spot to play the 4th placed team in the self-appointed elite group of 6 for a playoff spot, to then participate in another playoff game, against another country from another Region for a spot in the World Cup Finals.
So a team that is ranked 6th in CONCACAF, presently being El Salvador, that is ranked 68th in the world rankings, can get an easy passage to a group of 6 teams with 3 automatic spots for a World Cup Final qualification; while a team ranked just below the 6th ranked team, in 7th or 8th ranked Panama, [ranked 74th in the world], or Canada, [ranked 78th], now having to fight with 29 teams for half a spot.
What makes it even more ludicrous, is that such a decision should have been told to National team coaches and Administrations in advance. As some coaches, not knowing that there would be a ranking system to get a fast pass into the final hexagon round, have been using friendly games and Tournaments against much stronger opponents, not as a competitive nature or even being too concerned of the result, but using it as a trial and error format to find the right mix of players in preparation for qualification. By not letting them know in advance that even friendly games would now be an avenue to World Cup qualification via ranking is blatantly unfair and can be seen as football ambushing.
Whereas some have been attempting to virtually bully their way for decades in this football region, this decision, however, is the last straw, whereby the 29 countries, not just from the Caribbean but also other CONCACAF nations such as Canada, Guatemala, Belize and Nicaragua, need to stand up to put an end to this draconian rule by a few, that is affecting football development in the region. One wonders if this is a fear factor by so-called big countries, after a small country knocked one of them out of the World Cup in 2018, and they are doing what they can, outside the field of play, to prevent a repeat.
And to any Caribbean country that decides to jump on this bandwagon now because of where they may be ranked at this time, I humbly ask them to remember that this ranking is very fluid, as "today might be for you and tomorrow for me", which is not what World Cup football stands for, and how one should have an easier passage to such a prestigious tournament.
Some may ask what is my concern and involvement in this, as a Police Commissioner from Trinidad and Tobago.
I would not venture into stating that sport, through proper development, can assist in crime reduction, or that I was part of the Technical Staff of the National Team in the 2018 World Cup Qualification campaign, or that I saw what qualifying for the World Cup Final did for my country in 2006.
Instead, I would say that I am a simple supporter, who is just as concerned as the tens of millions of citizens/supporters from dozens of Caribbean countries seeing a grave injustice being done, to destroy dreams of nations, due to the tunnel-visioned thinking of a handful of persons who presently hold the office.
It is hoped that the vast majority of CONCACAF, be it, football officials and supporters, stand up to this football bullying, and to advise these so-called stronger nations to stop being cowards and come up and fight for their spot in the World Cup Finals like anyone else.
Do not let one elimination by a small country, cause you to lose focus on what is right for football.
To the few who may claim that this biased format is justified because their team is better than us, they may even be correct, but show that superiority not via having representatives in a boardroom, who would use a world ranking to bypass possible embarrassment.
If you want to make your country great again, (in football), then do not do so, via a boardroom decision.
Do it on the football field, where the playing field is level.