PtG Article 20.11.2012

Players launch attack on Caribbean football leaders

With allegations of incompetence, Guyana’s national football team has rebelled against its own federation and refused to play. Steve Menary reports on the fights for better governance in several Caribbean federations after last year’s bribery scandal that scattered the world of football.

Guyana’s national team has gone on strike and refused to play after issuing an astonishing attack on the country’s federation, which describes the general secretary and his deputy as “leeches” and calls for the duo to stand down immediately.

The latest dispute in Caribbean football has led to increasing concerns that, while the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) may have been reconfigured as an administrative body since last year’s bribery allegations that led to bans from FIFA on many of its executives, governance in some individual CFU members remains lacking.

The broadside on the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) included specific concerns over poor governance and claims that the players are owed "numerous amount of moneys (sic)." The protest has been made after a strong run of form on the pitch from the national team came to a surprising end in this weekend’s Caribbean Cup qualifiers in Grenada.

In the statement released to the media, the players say: “As players who have made tremendous sacrifices to represent Guyana we feel that the time has come for changes in the executive of the Guyana Football Federation. Two paid personnel [general secretary] Noel Adonis and [deputy secretary] George Rutherford are responsible for the stagnation of the game in Guyana.”

“They are totally disconnected from the modern game and the administrative needs of modern football and are like leeches on the GFF not to mention the huge sums of money they receive for being incompetent.”

Adonis was banned from all football by FIFA for 30 days after allegations of bribery at the now infamous CFU meeting in Trinidad last year, but he has since returned to his duties at the GFF. The GFF’s then president Colin Klass was also served with a 26-month ban from the game by FIFA and remains exiled.

Since Klass left the GFF, a number of disaffected players and former coach Jamaal Shabazz have returned to produce a turnaround in the national team’s fortunes. Against expectations, Guyana knocked 2006 World Cup participant finalists Trinidad & Tobago out of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. The team looked to have a good chance of qualifying for the 2012 Caribbean Cup finals until this opportunity was undermined by relations between the players and the GFF finally breaking down completely.

The GFF only has an acting president because of a dispute with the local football association in the capital Georgetown, which has prevented elections. Some locals fear this is being drawn out on purpose to allow Klass to return unopposed to his old post in the New Year, and then purge anyone seen as opposing his return.

Clubs blocked from influence

Klass is still banned from working in football and faces some opposition to his return, but Raymond Guishard returned without objections to his post as president of the Anguilla Football Association (AFA) and has not even discussed his 45-day ban and 300 Swiss franc fine with the clubs in the AFA, half of whom are not even eligible to vote in association affairs.

Three of the six senior male clubs in the British colony of Anguilla are unable to join the AFA. They claim the AFA will not allow them to affiliate because their playing rosters do not include sufficient ‘belongers’ – players classed as Anguillan. As a result, Strikers, Kicks and Docs United are denied a vote at AFA meetings and have not seen detailed AFA financial accounts since 2009.

In a statement about their affiliation with the AFA, the three disenfranchised clubs said: “Mr Guishard has yet to make any statement, written or in general meetings, regarding his FIFA ban to the general body. No [new] clubs have been admitted within the AFA so membership consists of three male clubs and five female clubs; in effect female clubs can determine the executive. We still await the full set of financial accounts that the AFA agreed to deliver to its membership during its last general meeting.”

This situation was pointed out to FIFA six months ago, but the world body has taken no action and Guishard was given a place on the organising committee on the recent U-17 female world cup in Azerbaijan.

Widespread concerns over governance

Anguilla is not the only tiny Caribbean island where concerns over governance linger in the wake of the Port of Spain affair.

Although Montserrat only has a population of around 6,000 people, the British colony is – like Anguilla – a full FIFA member and receives U$D 250,000 a year from the world body’s financial assistance programme. Yet the Montserrat Football Association (MFA) is accused of owing two former coaches more than £100,000 in unpaid wages in a dispute dating back nearly seven years.

Scott Cooper and Ruel Fox, the latter a former star player for Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United in England, signed contracts to coach Montserrat. Both claim to remain largely unpaid for their time in their posts and insist they are owed more than UK£50,000 each by the MFA.

Long-standing MFA president Vince Cassell, who was banned from football for 60 days and fined 300 Swiss francs by FIFA for his involvement in the Port of Spain affair, ignored these claims. So Cooper and Fox took their case to FIFA.

Cooper says: “Ruel and I had a contract, we performed the contract. FIFA led us on a merry dance for years and even go as far as asking if we took up any other employment during the contract period in football, which suggested they were looking to reduce the overall debt. FIFA prefer to call me the former technical director and not coach. Under Article 15, FIFA say they are not competent – and I won’t argue with that – to hear my case as I was not coach.”

FIFA recently rejected their latest claim and the world body’s response is, says Cooper, indicative of an unwillingness to tackle problems more directly in the region. Cooper has also coached the Anguilla national team but as a result of his treatment in Montserrat and by FIFA refuses to ever work in the Caribbean again.

Closer links between Dutch-speaking federations

These concerns are echoed by one of the key whistle-blowers in the Port of Spain affair. Louis Giskus, president of the Surinam association, reported an offer of U$D 40,000 in cash to FIFA’s Ethics Committee, which subsequently took action against more than 30 Caribbean football executives. Giskus says: “I feel that within the CFU governance has been improved, I don’t know if that’s also happened in the individual countries.”

Neither Giskus nor any officials from Surinam or the other two Dutch-speaking CFU members, Aruba and Curacao, were charged with any impropriety by FIFA over the bribery allegations. Most of those Caribbean executives who were charged came from English-speaking CFU members.

A consequence of the Port of Spain affair has been closer links between the Dutch associations. In 2010, the now annual ABCS Cup was held for the first time featuring Aruba, Curacao, Surinam and Bonaire, which is not a member of the CFU. Bonaire’s association did apply to join the CFU last year, but an application sent to then CONCACAF and CFU President Jack Warner went missing.

“The main reason to establish the ABCS tournament was to strengthen the relationship between the Dutch speaking countries in the Caribbean,” adds Giskus, suggesting that divisions remain within the reconstituted CFU.

The Guyana Football Federation, Anguilla Football Association and Montserrat Football Association did not respond to requests for a comment.

Read the entire statement by the Guyana players