Football’s precarious predicament

During the current week the international governing body for the sport of Football, (FIFA) sent a consultancy team through the Caribbean on an investigative visit to the respective affiliates relative to assessing their current administrative and technical statuses.
While here the consultants met with the Football Federation as well as several stakeholders to garner information in respect of their mandate.
Clearly FIFA is taking the lead in ensuring that its affiliates around the world more to a higher level of professionalism that would redound unto the benefit of the international organisation and boost interest in and support for the game at the global level.
St Vincent and the Grenadines football is therefore being well positioned by FIFA, administratively and technically.
The local Federation is however confronted at this time by many critical challenges that would seriously put the organisation’s leadership to the test over the next few months. There are many plans on the table but their implementation will require herculean efforts on their part.
Interestingly, the visit comes at a time when the Football Federation is itself advertising for an Executive Secretary to lead its operations while at the same time preparing several teams for regional competitions.
NLA Club Championships
The senior segment of the National Lotteries Authority National Club Championships has concluded with Avenues United Football Club taking top honours. According to the Federation’s plans the Under 17 segment should have concluded yesterday, 18 February.
The Club Championships has been something of a mixed bag. The Federation nonetheless must be commended for having taken the challenge of having the event amidst all of the difficulties in respect of accessing playing fields that were suited to the standard at which the organisation wanted.
The standard of the competition was perhaps not what was expected but there may well be reason to believe that some very talented youths are playing the game and this augurs well for the future of the sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
One of the most disappointing features of the competition was the absence of crowds of the order to which we have grown accustomed overt the years.
Football, the nation’s most popular sport, has apparently been smitten by the same malady that has plagued other sports in the recent past – the absence of crowds at competitions.
There may well be several reasons for the decline in spectators at football matches. There may be some truth that the advertisements were not sufficiently effective in drawing people to the games in large numbers.
The public relations of the Federation may well have taken it for granted that the coverage of the matches would materialise on its own. This did not happen. The coverage was generally weak in so far as many Vincentians do not have faces to attach to some of the more outstanding players. This latter fact may well have been the reason why even when we are involved in a friendly encounter with a visiting team the diehard football supporters have not bothered themselves to attend.
Another reason for the declining attendance may well have to do with the venues of many of the games played. The rural areas of St Vincent and the Grenadines still adhere to our traditions, one of which is keen involvement in sport. One does not however get the impression that the Federation examined the option of hosting some of the games in rural communities to benefit from the interest that is ever alive there.
There seems an urgent need for the Federation to deliberately examine the cause of the decline in attendance at football matches around the country and seek to redress at the earliest opportunity.

Avenues and System 3
Following the conclusion of the NLA National Club Championships Avenues United and System 3 became eligible to contest the Caribbean Football Union’s (CFU) Club Championships. Sincere congratulations are in order for the aforementioned teams and we all wish them well in their upcoming ventures.
This is a major undertaking especially since it involves playing home and away.
Already Avenues has crunched the numbers and the total cost of participation in only the first round of the competition is $60,000. The anticipated cost for System 3 is $30,000. This poses a massive burden on the clubs, especially in the economic guava season currently holding sway over this country and where businesses are experiencing great hardships.
With public servants being awarded 3% instead of the promised 5% increase in salary for this ear, raising funds will be particularly difficult.
Of course, should any of the teams go past the first round then the financial burden increases.
Fundraising efforts have already begun but there is much that needs to be done to reach the first round requirements.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has not participated in this particular CFU competition for some time and one can only hope that this year’s participation will be successful. It is important that we all see the teams as representing St Vincent and the Grenadines and not just themselves. In a very real sense we are all in this together.
It is therefore imperative that the teams bring themselves to the forefront of St Vincent and the Grenadines, allow Vincentians to see and know who the players are and their commitment to giving good account of this country in their respective encounters.
In the absence of a clearly delineated sports tourism policy in St Vincent and the Grenadines it is really left up to the Football Federation and the participating teams to make an impact in this regard.
The Football Federation does not have its own home. The prospect of a national stadium seems evermore remote in the current political dispensation. Even the Committee appears to have been left useless. The current predicament of the Football Federation certainly strengthens the case for such a facility in St Vincent and the Grenadines, sooner rather than later.
While it is true that FIFA does offer affiliates its innovative ‘GOAL Project’ to assist with infrastructural developments by their affiliates a national stadium does not feature in this. To procure such a facility there would have to be massive inflows from other sources which may not now be readily available to the Federation.
The Federation itself is hard-pressed to meet its existing commitments let alone find financial resources to assist the two clubs going forward.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines this is also the season for Cricket and Track and Field Athletics.
The dry weather, inadequate available equipment and inadequate planning seems to have colluded to leave us in a situation where there are several playing fields currently under rehabilitative work while others are just not available for football to be played. At present the respective national teams in training seem to be playing a sort of musical chairs in terms of where they would be training on any given day.
At the time of writing this Column the Federation has the national senior Men and Women teams in training and the National Under 17 team will also start in the near future. This places heavy demands in terms of access to playing fields.
In light of the foregoing therefore System 3 and Avenues United are caught up in the same quandary in relation to availability of appropriate playing surfaces on which to adequately prepare themselves for their respective CFU encounters.
The National Sports Council has been under tremendous pressure to meet the heavy demands at this particular time for access to playing fields by the football fraternity. Indeed even some of the nation’s schools have been shifted around in respect of where they can have their respective annual school sports given the state of some of the existing facilities.
Arnos Vale # 1, the nation’s premier outdoor sporting arena, has been out of bounds to football since the start of the year. International Cricket competitions have been scheduled for March and there is a window of opportunity before the start of regional competitions being hosted here. The Ministry of Education has already taken up that window for the Inter Secondary Track and Field Championships. Girls’ Heats are scheduled for 18 March, the Boys’ Heats come off on the following day, 19 March, while the Finals are set for 25 March. Following this the field is once more in preparation for Cricket competitions.
Soon too, the Victoria Park, itself recently under rehabilitative work, will be given over to the Carnival Development Corporation (CDC) to prepare for the year’s carnival celebrations. This puts access to this facility out of the reach of our footballers.
As the Football Federation seeks to acquire the services of an Executive Secretary the challenges have already stacked up. The Football Federation would have to step up its performance in all aspects if it is to face up to the many challenges.
Given that FIFA insists on a full time Executive Secretary and Technical Director, it is expected that these two individuals will take the lead role in helping to change the face of the sport from that which currently obtains.
Football will inevitably have to break free from the political machinations that has characterised it in the recent past and move ahead with a broader nationwide focus incorporating all of St Vincent and the Grenadines.