International women football players began pouring into Trinidad this weekend in anticipation of the inaugural Women’s Premier League (WPL), which is the brainchild of Sport Minister Brent Sancho.
The overseas players, who come from North, South and Central America, the Caribbean and Europe, will all be based at the Lady Chancellor Hotel in St Ann’s. But their arrival precedes even the announcement of WPL clubs and coaches.
Sancho insisted that the WPL is going smoothly though.
“We are still finalising details with franchise holders but there have been gentleman’s handshakes,” Sancho told Wired868. “We have had a lot of interest, which has kept the cost of taxpayers to a minimum…
“The coaches are here and the players are here. It is all sorted out.”
The Sport Minister named former Costa Rica national coach Karla Aleman, Police FC coach Richard Hood and US-based coach Derek Arnaud among the WPL’s confirmed coaches so far.
Sancho said the foreign players already here should begin training tomorrow under one of the WPL coaches-in-waiting while he said there were also various “orientation exercises” for them.
The WPL will hold its Combine on June 10 and 11, which is essentially a screening session for the competition’s international players and and marquee local players. The draft is carded for June 12.
If there are no confirmed teams or coaches, who selected the 40+ foreign players who will compete in the WPL’s debut season?
“The ones we selected are here after a various of contacts recommended them,” said Sancho. “People like Jamaal Shabazz, Anton Corneal, Jinelle James and even Dennis Lawrence and Sheldon Phillips pointed out some players. And Kendall Walkes helped us conduct the trials for the local players… We reached out to various FAs too…
“It was a huge collaborative effort. I think we got the best that we could have gotten.”
Sancho could not say exactly who was responsible for the selection of players or the composition of the WPL organising committee, which he said he does not sit on.
“I don’t know exactly who made the selection and I can’t remember everyone on the board,” he said. “I know the process rather than names. I know that Jinelle James, Keron Serrette and the Permanent Secretary (Richard Oliver) are there…
“I can’t be on the board. I just get updates from time to time.”
Wired868 tried, unsuccessfully, to reach Keron Serrette and James for comment.
The Cabinet approved TT$1.7 million for the WPL. Sancho could not say how much was spent so far but he claimed that the Sport Ministry was doing its best to minimise costs.
“The Lady Chancellor hotel is a sponsor and also Caribbean Airlines, so the costs for airlines tickets and accommodation are heavily subsided,” said Sancho. “Remember the franchises will cover a lot of the costs (and) we have had a lot of corporate interest, which has kept the cost of taxpayers to a minimum… We are still calculating (the cost) but we are working within the perimeter of the Cabinet note.
“We are looking at the benefit of having our women players work for two months in a very professional environment. The value of that alone it is hard to put a price on and the girls are very excited about it.”
United States Virgin Islands midfielder Jessica Adams told the Sport Ministry that she was happy to be in Trinidad.
“We’re really excited to be here for the WPL,” said Adams, in a Sport Ministry release. “We’re enjoying the heat and can’t wait to start training and meeting the local girls.”
While the overseas women players are certain of their accommodation for the next two months, the Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Men’s Team is still awaiting word on funding for pre-Gold Cup training camps.
However, Sancho blamed the “Soca Warriors” problems on the TTFA’s poor budgeting of the TT$9 million provided by the Government and the failure of football president Raymond Tim Kee to raise corporate sponsorship.
“The women’s league has corporate backing and the national football team does not,” said Sancho. “I made it very clear to the TTFA and their coaching staff that we gave them a ($9 million) cabinet note that we are very close to reaching.
“There is only so much we can do as a ministry but we are trying our best to see how we can assist with their current plight. We have done a lot so far and we have to have respect for the other sports who are also under our umbrella and are patiently waiting for their funding.”
Sancho could not say how the Warriors’ Gold Cup budget is almost exhausted if specific figures were set aside for line items like coaches’ salaries and training camps. He promised to give more information soon but suggested that the TTFA might have spent more than anticipated on arrears.
“We paid what they asked us (to pay),” said the Sport Minister. “It is not up to me to keep tabs, that is their budget… We have come very close to using that money.”
Tim Kee, who is also the Port of Spain Mayor and PNM treasurer, will address the TTFA’s funding issues in a press conference at their Hasely Crawford Stadium headquarters from 3 pm on Monday June 8.