Jean-heim McFee

FLASHBACK: Trinidad and Tobago national youth footballers Jean-heim McFee, right, and defender Isaiah Garcia, second from right, are met by connections in Egypt on arrival for a trial last month.

LOCAL football agent Joshua Lamb yesterday refuted claims made by Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith that two former national youth footballers he had sent on trial were abandoned and are now stranded in London.

At a media briefing held at the Police Administration Building in Port of Spain yesterday, Commissioner Griffith announced that an effort was being made to repatriate two young former national youth players. Griffith claimed that what happened to the players amounted to human trafficking

“There is a saying that when something is too good to be true, then it is not, and this has now come to Trinidad and Tobago. There is an investigation, I am now getting there, as it pertains to Trinidad and Tobago footballers,” Griffith said. “They were sent to the Middle East and for over a year they still cannot get back home.”

“They have been given the world of promises and now they are stranded in London,” Griffith added.

Commissioner Griffith did not reveal the name of the two footballers. However, last October Trinidad and Tobago youth international standout Jean-heim McFee and defender Isaiah Garcia were sent on trial seeking a first overseas contract by local agent Joshua Lamb and were due to spend two weeks each at two undisclosed clubs with the hope of landing a contract with teams in the Egyptian Premier League.

Contacted by the Trinidad Express on the claims, Lamb said the footballers were never abandoned.

“There is someone trying to tarnish my reputation. If there is an incident where I am accountable for human trafficking of athletes, then why aren’t the parents having an issue,” he declared.

Griffith announced that he had spoken to the footballers recently but advised parents to make sure all is well before allowing agents to send their children overseas on trials.

“I got the details just within a week or so when (I) spoke to the individuals in London. So I am now compiling a document to take to the Ministry of National Security to see what we can do to have them return home.

“When you are getting offers from these so-called agents or scouts or whatever name they may call themselves, please liaise with the normalisation committee of the TTFA. Make sure that the club has accepted them, there are proper logistics in place for their arrival and that they have a return ticket.”

However, Lamb maintained that the players are all right and just sheltering in place until they can pursue opportunities elsewhere.

“Before the interview (briefing) this morning, the Commissioner Gary Griffith and one of his officers, Mr Keon Trim, they contacted one of the players in England, Mr Isaiah Garcia,” Lamb said.

“They contacted him in England and they asked him what the update with him was and if he is okay and everything, and Isaiah told them that he is okay. That he is by family and the borders are closed and that he can’t leave.

“How come the players are in Europe for five months now and their parents have not said a word?” Lamb asked. “These boys have parents and families and nobody in their circles have a problem.”

Lamb said some persons in the football fraternity have a problem because they don’t know what is happening and he is disappointed that Commissioner Griffith did not first contact him before making the claims.

“They were at four different clubs for trial in Egypt,” Lamb said. “Two of the four clubs offered them a contract which they refused because the conditions they offered them were not what they wanted.

“Covid was on the rise in Egypt, so they went back to London where they are staying with family,” Lamb said. “There is a club in Czech Republic interested in both of them coming over but the borders were closed.

“There were actually two clubs interested in Isaiah Garcia, one in Sweden and one in Czech Republic and there were two clubs interested in Jean-heim McFee, one in Slovakia and one in Czech Republic,” Lamb explained.

W Connection coach Earl Jean also confirmed that Garcia was in London and still had not returned from T&T after going on trial. Jean got no indication that anything was amiss when he communicated with Garcia a month ago and was informed by the player that he was in London and awaiting the chance to pursue another opportunity in the Czech Republic.

“From what I know, he’s still outside there. When last I spoke to him sometime last month, he was in England,” said Jean, a former UK-based professional. “He said he was in London, and he was waiting. I told him if he getting problems let me know.”

At yesterday’s briefing, Griffith spoke of the footballers facing dire situations.

“There was nowhere to sleep. They were not getting meals and they were just cast on the streets. They had to hitch a ride to get to London and I am now liaising with them,” Commissioner Griffith stated.

Lamb refuted the claim.

“These players were in hotels and apartments from the time they arrived in Egypt to the time they left. At no time were they on the streets. At no time were they without food or anything like that.”

Griffith said while international football bodies FIFA and CONCACAF have documented similar situations all around the world, it is also the responsibility of parents to not pass the responsibility for their offspring to sweet-talking strangers.

“Yes, it is always good to dream that your son could be a great footballer and get millions of pounds,” Griffith stated. “You have these so-called scouts and agents and if you get a club (you are fine), but if you don’t you have to find your way back home. This can be seen as a form of human trafficking. It is something we need to look at.”

Further, Griffith said he will liaise with the normalisation committee of the T&T football association to ensure that similar incidents are not repeated.

“There must be a system in place so that all young footballers, especially minors getting a possible trial should come through the TTFA/normalisation committee so that they will now be able to check the country, check the club and verify that there will be proper accommodation, proper meals for minors - because the minors on most occasions will travel without their parents - and ensure there is a ticket for them for them to return. If that is not done it can be seen as human trafficking because you are now trying to utilise a human being for their own financial value at the expense of the well-being of that minor.”

Lamb dismissed the Commissioner’s pronouncement when stating: “Rubbish. It does not add up.”

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