Well, the honeymoon is over.
That's the feeling the David John-Williams will get as he is faced with the news of impending strikes by both the Men's and Women's National Teams. After an aggressive statement just this week demanding the audited statements of the Association he now heads and promising to have the TTFA books organised within ninety days, earning the praise of the present Sport Minister, an equally aggressive statement has been released by the Captain of the T&T Soca Warriors demanding that outstanding payments be made to the players forthwith or they will not be suiting up to play Haiti in a play-off to qualify for the Copa America Centanario. This tournament is carded for next summer in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Copa America and should we qualify the team has the chance to face off against any of the feared Barca forward line Neymar, Messi and Suarez as they represent Brazil, Argentina and Urauguy respectively.
Kenwyne Jones, currently enjoying the most prolific form of his international career, issued a statement on behalf of his "distressed teammates" requesting payment for the recent games vs Nicaragua and the world cup qualifiers against the USA and Guatemala. The USA game was played in front of a sold-out crowd at the national stadium so one would assume that money was made from that game. However, John-Williams in response has stated that when he assumed office, some two weeks after the game, money was still being collected from ticket outlets and some payments had been made with post-dated cheques. It is never all smooth sailing with the TTFA, is it?
The TTFA President in his statement regarding the association's accounts mentioned some $500 000US sitting down in FIFA waiting for T&T to access as well as an additional $600 000 US for specific projects. Perhaps these figures perked the ears of the players as they reflected on empty wallets that would lead to empty christmas stockings and cupboards for the christmas season. Perhaps it was the seeming ease with which former manager and T&T Legend, Russel Latapy, was given his "backpay"prior to the team taking the field against the USA. Whatever the reason, Kenwyne Jones recognised that the decision to not play in the Copa America playoff could potentially disappoint the fans who have recently been giving full backing to the Stephen Hart's team after some inspiring performances. However, he hopes we "understand our [the teams] decision.”
Quickly on the heels of this statement was the revelation that the Women's Team was also considering strike action during a team meeting prior to their game against the USA. The strike action was a result of continued money issues and reportedly revolved around the revenue going to the TTFA from tv rights for the game which was broadcast live on ESPN 2. In contrast to the good form of the male team though, the Women lost 6-0 in the game continuing a run of heavy defeats this week for T&T's women's football after our under-20's conceded six against Jamaica in Concacaf World Cup Qualifying and a women's representative team conceded eleven against Brazil in an invitational tournament prior to this latest setback. The women have been involved in finacial disputes regularly that have often found itself onto social media. Issues include per diem not being available, the coach appealing for handouts on twitter after the team arrived for a tournament with $500 US to share between them as well as issues with flights for players and money for rehab.
In all fairness, the TTFA has made statements regarding clearing debts and putting projects in place going forward. Latapy and others like former General Secretary, Sheldon Phillips, have been seen as being in line for a slice of whatever pie is available. However, there has been little in the media regarding the players themselves and their immediate concerns. These devlopments send a stark reminder that the players are the product that football is trying to sell. As such, it is the most valuable asset in terms of gaining future revenue and should be treated as such, both on the male and female sides.
Our players have decided that enough is enough. Despite the TTFA heading into a new era, mistrust remains from past treatment and it seems that the no-nonsense approach has been used. Thankfully, David John-Williams, recognising the urgency of the situation has not taken the Dave Cameron approach but has called an immediate meeting of his Vice-Presidents in order to address the situation(s). The women's stance has not yet been made official just yet but we can be sure that they would be looking at the men with envy, and as an example, should the strike gambit work.
Trinidad and Tobago is heading into an exciting 2016 in terms of football as both teams have high profile engagements. Both David John-Williams and Minister Smith have been talking a good talk since being in their respective offices. The moves by the players this week signal that time for talk is over. We hope they enjoyed the honeymoon because as most married couples would know, the hard work starts from now for things to be successful.