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Architect of Football failure

Sunday Express - May 13, 2001
By Raffique Shah

THE one benefit that the nation will enjoy as a consequence of Jack Warner's decision to stage the FIFA World Under-17 Championships in this country is the four new stadiums that are being constructed, and the enhancement of the Hasely Crawford Stadium. Because if we cast blind patriotism aside, the reality is that our Under-17 team made the finals only on the basis of this being the host country. And while most "true Trinis" would want the boys to advance at least to the second round of the tournament, when one looks at their performances thus far, the prognosis, as the good doctors would say, is not good. In other words, we seem set to be booted out in the first round (coming up against Brazil, Croatia and Australia).

Now, I can see Jack getting hot under the collar "one time", branding me a prophet of doom and gloom, maybe even the anti-Christ, for writing exactly how I feel about the 'jokey' championships he has foisted on us only to boost his ego. He would argue that I never kicked a lime (true, but I have kicked other things!), so I am in no position to comment on football. But Jack, too, never kicked a lime. Or, to be more specific, he did try playing football (remember Palm Springs from Longdenville, Jack?) and refereeing, but without much success. I knew my limitations and certainly did not relish the thought of "toughies" like brothers Hugo and Blair Francis, Sunil "Boots" Niamath and Norman "Louse" Imamshah breaking my body parts in my teenage years.

But what Jack lacked in talent on the field he made up for at the level of local football administration, and subsequently at CONCACAF and FIFA executive levels. One has to admire the man for his rapid rise in the world of football, and his business acumen that saw him move from a teacher/SRP to a multi-millionaire who virtually funds the TTFF to the tune of millions of dollars. Today, Jack must be worth well over $100 million, and that, in any currency, is not to be treated with lightly. Too, he knows precisely what political buttons to press. There are sporting disciplines that have brought this country fame and glory-cricket and athletics immediately come to mind-but which have never been able to attract substantial government funding.

In the case of the Under-17 Championships, the TTFF got $15 million from government for preparing a team (in four months?) for the tournament. Darryl Brown, who has the potential to chart new zones in sprinting given his record-breaking performances while he's still under 17 years-old, is catching hell to raise a petty $15,000 to attend the IAAF's inaugural World Youth Championships in Hungary. I guess what Brown needs is a Warner in his corner. But $15 million for a team that is unlikely to bring us any joy, and zilch for the youngest world-ranked sprinter, spell out in bold numbers the skewed priorities of those who decide on how taxpayers' money is spent on sports.

Of course, in my heart I hope I'm reading the Under-17 team wrong, that they will surprise us by performing creditably. But what about the senior team that has reached the final few hurdles that, should they scale them successfully, will get them into the World Cup finals in Korea and Japan? At the end of the last round of competition, more so after we had trounced the mighty Mexico (never mind their revenge at Atzec stadium), airline ticket-reservations were all but made to Tokyo and Seoul. Today, with two away losses and one draw at home, we are already hearing excuses for our failures.

The public is being blamed for the team's unimpressive performances because of poor attendance at the Oval match against Mexico. Jack slammed football fans for not wanting to pay for the pricey tickets in order to support the team. They want to see football for free, he charged. And he added, indignantly, that tickets for future matches will be costlier. Now, who are the people who usually fill the stadium for football matches? Except for part-time soccer lovers-you know, the equivalent of Panorama's North Stand "Posse"-who buy every available seat when the team is on the brink of something big, the real supporters are grassroots Afro-Trinis. These are the very people that Jack cursed and ridiculed during the last election campaign, calling them all kinds of nasty names. Maybe he was driven into stupor by the large crowds he addressed in Penal and Pasea, hence his intemperate ranting.

Where are those people now? Why aren't the thousands who applauded his every stutter in the election campaign not filling up the Oval? The answer is very simple. Except for a minority of mainly youths, Indo-Trinidadians do not attend football matches. Cricket, yes. But not football or athletics or cycling. So having bitten the hands that fed football, Jack is now looking for those same people to come out to matches, to put even more money into the coffers of a TTFF that is yet to explain what happened in 1989! Really, he has to be joking. Or maybe he believes that all Black people are "lap dogs", that they absorb insults and run back to "massa" begging for more kicks and curses.

Therein lies the real reason for dedicated fans being unenthusiastic about the World Cup matches. I suspect the same will hold true for the Under-17 Championships in September. And even if Jack and Oliver Camps were to open the gates and allow free entry to all, Jack's boorish behaviour on public platforms and his contempt for Afro-Trinidadians would cost the team dearly. It's a sad situation, really. We have gifted players who deserve our support-Dwight Yorke, Russel Latapy, Stern John and other stars.

Unfortunately for the teams and the country, the main obstacles to them enjoying the support of their fans can be spelt in two words: the TTFF and Jack. Warner ought to have learned by now that not every Trini will bow to his riches or kiss his rear-end for a free ticket. People have pride, you know. And just to prove it, I'm sure that although the West Indies cricket team has lost everything but its pride, fairly large crowds will be at the Oval this weekend, if only to drink and make merry-and hopefully see Brian Lara or some other team member score some runs. Jack may impress grovelling politicians and servile football officials with his pomposity. But for proud Trinis he is seen as the architect of our football failure.

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