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Photo: TTFA president and W Connection owner David John-Williams (centre) greets players (from right) Hughtun Hector, Alvin Jones and Maurice Forde before kick off against Police FC in the TTFA FA Trophy final at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 8 December 2017. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)
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Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams announced a US$2 (TT$13.5) million cash injection for the local Pro League and Super League competitions on Monday morning, in what is likely to be the last major initiative of his four year term.

But there is a catch. Roughly half of the money was already promised to the Pro League—as the figure includes the TT$6.3 million that the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago vowed to hand over to the local top flight competition in 2019 and 2020.

And much of the remainder will come from the local football body’s annual allotment of US$1.5 million (US$10.1 million) from FIFA and US$175,000 (TT$1.2 million) from Concacaf.

“The Sport Company has already committed funding for three years [to the Pro League and] there are two years that are remaining,” said One Concacaf and Caribbean Projects senior manager Howard McIntosh. “And our proposal that is on the table is that the TTFA—through the FIFA Forward Programme—use a portion of those monies specifically dedicated to projects, to support professional football.

“In addition to that, the TTFA will look at the support it receives from Concacaf as well to assign funds [to the Pro League]. So the total amount of funds is approximately US$2 million over the period of the two years.

“The general idea is to use that period to put in place a solid foundation to ensure the stability of professional football in Trinidad and Tobago.”

McIntosh and John-Williams shared the head table at the Hyatt Regency hotel with the UEFA trio of international relations head Eva Pasquier, football operations specialist Robert Pongracz and international relations project specialist Chris Milnes.

But, as Pasquier stressed, UEFA was not here to give money—only advice and expertise.

It added up to a bold final roll of the dice by John-Williams, who is up for re-election in November. Thus far, the football president’s sole self-declared achievement is the construction of the TTFA’s Home of Football in Couva, which is plagued by rumours of conflict of interest and non-transparent use of funds—whispers that he refused to put to bed by opening the accounting books for the project to board scrutiny.

At least there was a greater show of transparency yesterday. Whether there was less self-interest is debatable.

John-Williams, after all, is the owner of Pro League outfit, W Connection, which stand to benefit—along with the other top flight and second tier clubs—from the diversion of FIFA and Concacaf money into the top two local competitions.

Whether the TTFA’s six cash-strapped zonal bodies, for instance, can be won over—as well as the football body’s many creditors, including past and present coaches and technical directors—is another story.

The Pro League and Super League are the two biggest stakeholders under the TTFA’s umbrella with 10 and eight delegates respectively. However, combined, they account for just 28 of the football body’s 48 voting members.

Remarkably, the entire plan to so use TTFA finances was hatched, discussed and unveiled to the media without any input from the body mandated to run the local game, which is the football body’s board of directors.

Wired868 understands that the UEFA and Concacaf delegates were already holding meetings in Trinidad before any attempt was made to sit with the TTFA board. Nearly half of the directors snubbed the belated overtures as a result.

“The lack of proper protocol was glaring,” said TTSL president Keith Look Loy. “The UEFA/Concacaf delegation entered TTFA and held several meetings before it attempted to meet members of the board—in two groups. That failed because ninety percent of the board members refused to attend or were out of the country.

“I voiced my objection to all of this when they met the Super League on Saturday. I made the point that the TTFA board has no institutional knowledge of the mission [of the visitors] or its objective.

“They accepted that criticism and assured all that a final report and proposal would be submitted to the TTFA board.”

McIntosh admitted the lapse.

“The TTFA is in charge of protocol and should have done better; but we are working [on that],” McIntosh told Wired868. “Keith raised this point with me. The board should always be informed… The communication must be improved.”

McIntosh and Pasquier stressed that they were genuinely enthusiastic about the project, though. And although neither Concacaf nor UEFA dipped into their own wallets to help bankroll the respective leagues, the proposal hammered out after four days of meetings was an appealing one.

Last year, the Sport Company distributed TT$4.8 million to the Pro League, which was shared between eight clubs that pocketed TT$600,000 each. At the end of the season, four teams had not even paid their TT$130,000 registration fee to offset the Pro League’s administrative cost and to pay for referees.

The TTFA’s foreign guests proposed a more progressive split of money for 2019, which sees all 10 Pro League clubs—inclusive of Defence Force and Police FC—collect US$50,000  (TT$338,000) for the year and US$10,000 (TT$67,000) each for the 12 TTSL teams for that same period. The combined guaranteed payout to clubs in both divisions is US$620,000 (TT$4.2 million).

Ultimately, the two leagues will determine how many clubs get to feed from the trough; and the Pro League generally denies subventions to Defence Force and Police on the grounds that they already enjoy state funding.

“We have not decided yet [the number of teams in the Pro League],” said Pongracz, “because the more teams you play, the more you have to share and the less a club gets. So you have to decide.”

There will also be performance-based incentives. The top five Pro League clubs will bank US$50,000 (TT$338,000), US$40,000 (TT$271,000), US$30,000 ($203,000), US$10,000 (TT$67,000) and US$5,000 (TT$34,000) respectively.

In the TTSL, the top six teams stand to pocket prize money of US$20,000 (TT$135,000), US$15,000 (TT$101,000), US$10,000 (TT$67,000), US$5,000 (TT$34,000), US$3,000 (TT$20,000) and US$2,000 (TT$13,000) respectively.

The combined prize money for both competitions is US$380,000 (US$2.6 million), which, added to the guaranteed payments of US$620,000 (TT$4.2 million), creates an even US$1 million (TT$6.8 million). The format will be repeated in 2020 when another US$1 million would be spent.

Clubs will no longer be required to pay a registration fee—which should simplify the introduction of a promotion and relegation between the two competitions—and the suggestion is both competitions should be run by a centralised body under the TTFA, which will add a marketing manager and sponsorship manager to its staff.

McIntosh suggested that improving the commercial arm of the local football competitions—and teams too, through the FIFA’s club licensing programme—should bear long term fruit.

“Even if you go back [to the government for support in the future], you don’t go back for as much,” said McIntosh.

Look Loy was impressed too, although he expressed concern about the competitions being run by the TTFA. In four years under John-Williams, the local body has not even activated a single standing committee: be it disciplinary, finance, marketing or otherwise.

The TTSL never received the full US$125,000 (US$845,000) promised in 2017 and Look Loy does not look forward to having to chase the TTFA for promised money this year.

“This intervention by UEFA/Concacaf could be a good boost to our club football if properly managed,” said Look Loy. “The mechanisms of league governance and distribution and control of the finance are central to that and must suit our reality.

“What it should not be is a ‘buy out’ of our club football in order to return it to the grossly incapable hands of the TTFA, which lacks transparency and was left behind twenty years ago by both the TTPL and the Super League (NSL and TTSL).

“Ultimately, I expect the TTFA board will have to approve all of this, and the UEFA/Concacaf delegates on this mission have assured us of that.”

McIntosh and Pasquier stressed that the final decisions lie with local football stakeholders.

“I repeat, emphasise, [this is a] proposal,” said McIntosh. “We did not come here to dictate or implement or tell anybody they are obligated to accept anything that we have presented.”

McIntosh, a Jamaican, was not shy to suggest that the initiative was an attempt to return the feel-good factor to Trinidad and Tobago’s football.

“Trinidad and Tobago [football] finds itself in a very fortunate position,” said the Concacaf official. “You have the best football infrastructure in the region. You have easily one of—if not the most supportive—government in the region, in relation to football development and contribution to the game. You have significant support from the parent bodies in football: Fifa, Concacaf, UEFA and the CFU.

“[…] You have an overly passionate president that sometimes wears his passion on his sleeve which causes its own issues, sometimes…”

I95.5Fm reporter Tony Lee, whose company continues to benefit from a secret contract from the football president, tried to wring a more effusive soundbite from McIntosh on John-Williams.

“You have spent the last week observing the operations of football in Trinidad and Tobago, how do you rate the standard of football in Trinidad and Tobago?” asked Lee. “And are you pleased with the governing body of Trinidad and Tobago?”

McIntosh took a long deliberate pause before responding.

“Well, there’s a whole lot of work to be done; a whole lot of work to be done,” he said. “On behalf of the TTFA: lots of passionate people, dedicated, committed, strong president; but needs improvement and structures, needs improvement in terms of management of certain areas.

“[…] Are there challenges? Absolutely. Are there major challenges? Yes. But as Eva mentioned earlier, where the TTFA finds itself in terms of its basic level of infrastructure in terms of technical centre, head office, home of football, you have an opportunity now with some tweaking and hard work to take immediate advantage.

“[…] We are very optimistic but it is going to take a lot of work and, to be fair to the president, I think he has been very open to the criticisms levelled and the recommendations made and has an understanding of what is required.”

John-Williams was not especially surefooted on Monday morning, either.

“I will introduce to my immediate right—he is no stranger to Trinidad and Tobago—Mr Howard McIntosh from Concacaf,” said John-Williams, as he opened the press conference.

It was then pointed out to the TTFA president that he was, in fact, seated at the extreme right of the head table and everyone else—including McIntosh—was to his left.

“I will only use the first names of the other two gentlemen (Robert and Chris),” John-Williams continued, “out of fear of not pronouncing their names properly…”

It is uncertain whether Pongracz (pronounced ‘Pon-grass’) and Milnes (not an uncommon name in Trinidad) were pleased with the fact that, after four days, the TTFA president had not bothered to learn how to pronounce their surnames.

Wired868 took the opportunity to ask John-Williams about the lack of transparency related to the Home of Football; and technical director Anton Corneal’s decision to down tools due to unpaid salaries—two issues he has studiously avoided in recent months.

Wired868: Can the football president tell us how those two issues will be dealt with?

John-Williams: Lasana, you will just have to wait and see. Okay? There is a plan in place and when there is a conversation and information on that, it will be made available.

Wired868: So the technical director has said that he has walked off the job and you’re saying we should just wait and see what happens?

John-Williams: That matter is being addressed and when that issue has been resolved, we will address it.

Wired868: And similarly what about that information [on the Home of Football] requested by board member Keith Look Loy?

John-Williams: I am sure that information requested has been presented to the general meeting; and the general meeting was very happy with the information received… Those issues have been presented to the general membership.

The TTFA president’s claim that the general membership were satisfied with the information provided on the Home of Football flew in the face of letters by several board members and stakeholders in support of Look Loy’s petition. But it was all he was prepared to say.

McIntosh tried to break the ice.

“I think we agree that football has been through a tremendous amount of turmoil in the last few years,” said the Concacaf official. “But the conversation has changed at the FIFA level, the conversation has changed at the Concacaf level; now we are talking about football.

“We want similar things to occur here in Trinidad and Tobago; a change in the conversation away from people and personality and more focus on the football.”

For now, the talk is likely to revolve around financial figures as stakeholders discuss the money proposed for the Pro League and TTSL and what it might mean for local football’s other projects and creditors.

Curiously, when asked to give more information on the funding available for the management of the Home of Football, Pasquier pointed to the FIFA grants of US$1 million for operating expenses and US$500,000 for capital projects.

Did that mean that John-Williams might have used money meant for the day to day operation of local football for the construction of the Home of Football? And, worse, without even disclosing to his board the contractors used and financial decisions made for the project?

And, if the Home of Football was built using funds that might have gone elsewhere, what did that mean for his claims that its construction did not impact on the finances of the cash-strapped local football body?

It is unlikely that all stakeholders would be prepared to avert their gaze from the controversial TTFA president until such questions are answered conclusively.