Sun, Apr

PUT THROUGH THEIR PACES: Members of the Powerful United Football Academy (PUFA) training at the La Horquetta community ground in Phase 6.

No explanation

THE DREAM of playing in Sweden’s Gothia Cup this summer seem to have ended for young footballers of the Powerful United Football Academy (PUFA) after their application for additional funding was denied by the Sport and Culture Fund.

Should a generous corporate sponsor not come forth, or a successful late application to the Ministry of Sport and Community Development not materialise, it looks like the party will not be heading to Europe.

Through numerous barbecues, fund-raising initiatives, and the effort of parents, the Academy had on its own raised a substantial portion of the funding needed, and was anticipating Sport & Culture Fund assistance to get the 46-member party to Sweden, to participate at what is regarded as the biggest youth tournament in the world.

The main disappointment for Academy director Nyron Jones is the manner of the denial, given PUFA’s mandate to create opportunities for children in at-risk communities. “We applied to the Sport and Culture Fund in the Office of the Prime Minister, and our request was denied without explanation,” Jones informed.

At a recent funding ceremony, held at the National Aquatic Centre, Sport and Community Development Minister, Shamfa Cudjoe, announced a commitment to give priority assistance to groups such as PUFA, which operate in at-risk communities.

So, why didn’t PUFA apply to the Sport Ministry then? “As of this morning we will do just that,” stated Jones, who explained that from past experience they would have been directed to the Sport and Culture Fund. “So, we decided to apply directly to them,” he said.

Jones was disappointed, given the work his organisation is doing in the community, which includes offering remedial classes to the youths.

On any given Saturday, and in the early hours when many might still be asleep, young footballers attached to the PUFA Academy are gathering to train at the Phase 6 ground, which is located in the country’s largest housing project of La Horquetta, in East Trinidad.

It was the very same playing field that was highlighted after the Christmas Day murder of 20-year-old Isaiah Commissiong, the related shooting of a female police officer and the subsequent police shooting of a resident, all resulting from a disagreement among young men in the area. Days later, PUFA was back on the same field and working.

Powerful United had hoped to carry three teams to Sweden, with players representing La Horquetta and other Eastern communities, as well as Tobago. On its website, the Swedish organisers are anticipating that Trinidad and Tobago will be represented in the Gothia Cup, between July 16-22.

“Trinidad and Tobago will be represented in Gothia Cup for the very first time. Powerful United Football Academy will bring three teams to Gothia Cup this summer. The players are very excited,” Gothia Cup stated on its website.

Additionally, PUFA manager Jodi Goodridge was quoted as stating: “It feels great for us to have three teams registered as we aim on giving all our players the opportunity to display their talents and the experience to travel.”

A previous Powerful Academy tour to Canada represented the first time most of the young footballers ever went on an airplane or travelled out of T&T and the Caribbean. Jones believes Gothia Cup 2023 was both an opportunity at broadening the horizon of his young charges, offering opportunities for others to look to, and also exposing Trinidad and Tobago’s football talent.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” stated Jones. “Especially as we are providing a pathway for youth to move away from crime.”