Thu, Jun

Who dropped the ball, TTFA? (PHOTO BY - PHELAN M. EBENHACK / AP)

It truly amazes me how everything associated with Trinidad & Tobago’s football has over time become a consistent form of bacchanal. It’s almost as if we sit and wait for the next story in the long-running soap opera entitled - ‘Who did it this time? Football the T&T way’.

Indeed, the Soca Warriors were hammered by the USA a little over three weeks ago 7-0 in the USA. I think, or perhaps I should hope that we all know the reason why the team was humiliated on that infamous night - January 31. With lessons (hopefully) learned, T&T’s football fans were rightfully waiting for a more positive step as their team was about to embark on preparations for their qualification campaign for the 2022 FIFA World Cup on March 25th with a home fixture against Guyana.

Instead, what the optics reveal is a case of who to blame this time? The Ministry Of Health (MOH) got the first lash when they pointed out why the TTFA’s proposal to host the match was not accepted pointing to various concerns relating to the government's response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. After the Ministry explained why they could not give permission for the game to be played in T&T, the TTFA responded by alluding to the supposed fact that they had been in discussions with the MOH, the Sports Company of T&T and other relevant government agencies over the last few months in order to satisfy their FIFA mandate for international competitions.

While that seems reasonable enough to me, if it is true that the TTFA had been in negotiations with the relevant parties over the last few months, surely they would have suggested that the match can be played in a football bubble as is being done with various football leagues around the world. I know however that in certain countries like Germany, in the Champions League, their teams have to give up home advantage and play their games at a neutral venue in Budapest so it is not something new for home advantage to be relinquished.

It is indeed tough for the players to be giving up a home advantage but with no crowds being allowed into the stadium, it really does not make a difference in that aspect. The only major argument is coach Fenwick’s players would know the conditions better than the opposition. This is ultimately a major advantage playing at home and while it may seem difficult to understand, the pressure with no crowds being present can sometimes work in favour of the players.

I don’t know how the USA, for instance, allowed the game against our national team to play and I hope the TTFA when putting forward their argument for the game to be played in T&T used that as an example. It is indeed difficult to argue with decisions that a government makes to protect its citizens from the effects of a global pandemic. Could you imagine the outcry if something was to go wrong had the game been allowed to play here in T&T? Don’t misunderstand me as I more than anyone would welcome the game being played at the Hasely Crawford stadium but if we drop our guard, we may pay the consequences.

Many people are referencing the CPL being played here over a six-week period in the height of the pandemic with 6 teams and players coming from within and outside the region and everything went well. I'm uncertain whether people understand how difficult it was for the relevant parties to host the CPL. The players and officials from the teams other than the Trinbago Knight Riders had to quarantine for 2 weeks before the tournament started; they were confined to their rooms, fed in their rooms and no one other than the teams was allowed in the hotel. It was extremely tough on the players and eventually when they were let out, they were still in a bubble and not a single external person could have interacted with the players. Mentally painful indeed.

Honestly, I do not know if any further dialogue will have any effect on the MOH’s decision. As I have already indicated, their priority is the safety of our people and unfortunately, I am unconvinced that any official in the TTFA can guarantee that. But deep down, I wish someone could come up with a workable solution but that does not seem possible at this stage. Our best bet is to focus on the team’s task at hand. It makes no sense for the national coach to be ranting, raving and going about the town with the blame game.

You just don’t know who to really believe. While the TTFA’s release stated that they have had discussions over the last few months with the relevant stakeholders, the Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe directly contradicted that when she uttered that the TTFA only sought permission in the first week of February. Does that mean the discussions over the last few months focused on pitching marbles? Weren’t the TTFA told to seek permission in writing? Has the TTFA been truthful about having discussions? Why did they only seek permission as we are being told in the first week of February? Can someone please clear the air on these questions or as usual, will it be swept under the carpet without anyone being held responsible or knowing what the truth is?

Terry Fenwick is laying the blame squarely at the feet of the TTFA administrative staff. But surely they are or should be guided by someone and if it is the same people as you are saying and they are not performing, then someone needs to take some form of undertaking so these actions do not repeat themselves. I am sick, fed up and exhausted with the lies, half-truths and innuendos when it comes to T&T football over the many years and it just never seems to get better.

In retrospect, Fenwick must get on with the business of preparing the national team for the encounter against Guyana. Forget about off-the-field antics which you have no control of and concentrate on winning against a tough opponent. As a teammate of mine used to say, “if we have to play them in the sea, we will beat them there as well”. Best of luck to team T&T.

After all, there’s no place to look but up after that disastrous USA performance.

Editor’s note:

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.