While staying clear of picking sides in the ongoing dispute between the Minister of Sport Brent Sancho and Raymond Tim Kee led T&T Football Association (T&TFA), its general secretary Sheldon Phillips has come in for some harsh criticism from T&T Olympic Committee boss, Brian Lewis.
In fact, Lewis, not one to mix his words, has labelled Phillips, the son of former national goalkeeper Lincoln “Tiger” Phillips” as being disrespectful in his handling of recent issues with regards to the national Under-23 footballers, both men and women, who are currently at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada.
The Women Soca Warriors, captained by Maylee Attin-Johnson exited the tournament after ending with two points from their round-robin group, a 1-1 draw with Argentina and 2-2 deadlock with Colombia, before losing 3-1 to Mexico in a must win match.
On the other hand, the Under-23 men’s team led by Alvin Jones were ousted from their tournament after losing big to Uruguay (4-0) and Paraguay (5-1) ahead of what was expected to be their final round-robin match at the Hamilton Soccer Stadium last night.
But that match was in jeopardy of not coming off as the Under-23s had threatened to boycott the match over what they say was unpaid match fees of US$500 promised to them by the T&TFA via its general secretary Phillip.
The Women Soca Warriors had also threatened to boycott the tournament but was advised to go to Canada by Minister Sancho, while his Ministry and the T&TFA worked on resolving the matter.
But after almost two weeks in North America and no confirmation of payments coming from the T&TFA, it was said the national Under-23 players let their feelings be known to team officials.
In addition to match fees and stipend for the two teams and officials in Canada, monies owed to the national Olympic (under-23) team and technical staff are also outstanding, with no confirmation of when and how it will be paid.
Contacted for comment, Phillip first defended the right of the players to make a request for match fees saying that prior to past teams, majority of the footballers were now professionals at clubs and needed to provide for their families.
“The entire dynamics have changed from us having a mainly amateur national team to a professional unit.
“So I don’t think it was an unfair sum, but what we have to do now is look at the system and see what can be done to ensure we get the necessary funding in a timely manner to satisfy the players and management needs to avoid any problems”, ended Phillips.
Reached here in Trinidad, Lewis said that having spoken to the T&TOC management team in Canada, in chef de mission Dianne Henderson and secretary general Annette Knott, he was confident that everything would be sorted out.
“We have a very strong and experienced T&T Olympic Committee management team in Toronto, and they have worked together with all the team managers for months in preparation for the Toronto 2015 Games, that’s how the T&TOC has always operated. As an athlete centred and focused organisation we focus a lot on creating the environment that will support the athletes, we have a history of doing that.
“Travel, accommodation and meals are all provided for in the ambit of the Pan American Games as well as medical. As a matter of fact, the senior women’s football team, which competed at the Pan American Games, currently has a few injury issues which are being addressed by the T&TOC medical team in Toronto.
“The women’s football team made a request of the T&OC for the team to stay and do some preparation ahead of their Concacaf Women’s Olympic qualifiers and we acceded to that request.
So the T&TOC has always sought to work closely with all the stakeholders to ensure that at the end of the day, the athletes best interest is served, but at the same time we operate within our means. And as I have said on previous occasions, this is the first Games we are focusing on performance based medal bonuses going forward. All of our corporate partners’ discussions now include athlete welfare aspects of it, in the context of ten or more Olympic Gold medals by the year 2024. So we have taken over the last two years a particular strategic focus and initiative and that’s why we we’re able to introduce the medal bonuses.
“But we have always found it when we have done the arithmetic and the numbers that it is not sustainable in terms of match fees and per diems and stipends and therefore it is not a policy perspective of the T&TOC at this point in time. So that while we have not received any official word to this date, the T&TTOC has not had the courtesy or the respect from the general secretary of the T&TFA Sheldon Phillips.”
He added: “Statements have been made pertinent to the Pan Am Games which is under the auspices of the T&TOC without any discussion with the T&TOC. We (T&TOC) respect the autonomy of its member organisation, but what we expect in turn is a certain modicum of respect and courtesy with games under us.
“We are hearing all sorts of things, but not a word from them (T&TFA).”
He reiterated: “I have not received an official word, not even as a point of courtesy from the general secretary of the T&TFA who continues, from what I have been hearing, to make statements relevant to the Pan Am Games that is outside of his remit.”
Asked if he has spoken with T&TFA president Raymond Tim Kee about the ongoing issue, Lewis replied, “I have ongoing conversations with the president of the T&TFA, as a matter of fact, just two weeks ago, I was in the presence of both the general secretary and the president because I served on the independent reform Commission of the T&TFA and this is why the lack of courtesy and respect in this particular matter is very disappointing.
“Because when the general secretary of the T&TFA needs to contact me for other things, he is quite ready and able to do so.
“And therefore I can form no other conclusion that a lot of the problems being created surrounding this Pan Am Games which is unprecedented have to land squarely in the lap of the T&TFA general secretary, in the absence of any official communication.”
“So what is happening is that the T&TOC is hearing things, then having to address things in the absence of official notification.
“This is happening even though there is a level of courtesy in communication that one expects and as I said this is unprecedented because we don’t have this problem I can say with any other national sporting organisation, especially the ones that are accustomed travelling with the T&TOC.”