FORMER minister of sports Anil Roberts has said that the Government of the day has an obligation to assist football, especially given the lowly state which the local game has reached.
Roberts was speaking on the latest version of the Ascension Football Show hosted by Joel Villafana, during which he discussed Trinidad and Tobago’s early exit from World Cup qualifying and the dire state of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), which is $98 million in debt.
Roberts also said that Government has a duty to help football, since it’s the country’s number one sport.
“We have to return funding in football,” Roberts insisted. “Football alone will need an investment of $25, $30 million a year.”
Roberts, who was a top local swimming coach before assuming the sports minister portfolio during the last UNC administration, said the current sports minister had a responsibility to devise a way of working with the local football leadership to bring recovery to the sport.
“Go to Cabinet and say we are going to assist. We are going to make a plan,” Roberts said. “You have no choice. What you going to do, just leave them out there to sink, and let the sport sink, and let the children sink, and have no opportunity; and let more gunman come out?
“Sport is bigger than just dollar and sense. Sport is an avenue for opportunity. We are in a crime-riddled country; sport creates discipline. Sports fills the gap where parents are falling down, where churches are falling down, where communities and school are falling down.”
Further, Roberts said that given their mostly amateur nature, most local sporting organisations, even the few with professional status, could not survive without Government funding.
“Anybody using the phrase self-sufficiency involving sport in Trinidad and Tobago, does not understand sport,” Roberts declared.
Specifically, he said the T&T Pro League was vital to the successful performance of the national team, since it is where most national players are developed prior to going overseas.
“Government must invest in the TT Pro League,” Roberts said. “When I was there, we were pumping money into it.
“We were giving about $5 million to the administration and then another six to seven million to the clubs,” Roberts noted. “Some clubs were getting $85,000 a month to pay their wages for their players and so on.”
While agreeing that there could be improvement in the management of clubs, Robert dismissed the notion that local Pro league clubs could ever be self-sufficient, given the small market and the country’s culture.
“The TT Pro League hires about 3,650 people. So when you don’t support that or you say they have to be self-sufficient, it is really sad,” he said, “The TT Pro League is more than just football. It’s more than selling tickets. It’s an avenue to fight crime. It’s an opportunity for children who may not be so academically inclined to earn a living.
“To say that the TT Pro League need to be self-sufficient and that they are professional does not understand that we do not have a culture of going to buy tickets,” stated Roberts. “We do not have a culture of support. We can’t get a stadium filled with 20,000 people for a TT Pro League game. The largest crowds come out for the final, like the First Citizens Cup and so on — you may get four or five thousand people.”
Finally, Roberts said a sports minister also has to fight for a greater share of the national budget
“There is a pizza pie and you have to get in there and fight for that (slice of the) pie for sport,” stated Roberts. “I went in there with 32 other ministers and I fight. I raised that MPI vote from $10m to $140m,” he stated.
SOURCE: T&T Express