THE Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) through its FIFA-appointed normalisation committee was too late with a request to the Ministry of Health seeking permission to have its World Cup qualifier against Guyana held here on March 25.
Given 14-day Covid-19 quarantine protocols in place for persons coming into Trinidad and Tobago, Shamfa Cudjoe, Sport and Community Development Minister earlier yesterday suggested that the TTFA had no choice but to play the match at a neutral venue. Seeming to agree with Cudjoe’s position now is TTFA normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad.
“Many countries are playing their World Cup qualifiers at neutral venues,” Hadad told the Sunday Express yesterday, when confirming a TTFA press release which announced that the match will now be played in the Dominican Republic.
Earlier, the TTFA release had stated:“The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) laments the decision of the Ministry of Health (MoH) to not allow the TTFA to host this country’s opening Qatar 2022 World Cup Qualifier versus Guyana in Trinidad, in a hot-bubble environment, on March 25, 2021.
“The TTFA has therefore taken a decision to stage the match at the Pan American Stadium, San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. The date of the match remains March 25. The TTFA will provide further information over the coming days in relation to arrangements for the men’s senior team leading up to this important opening qualifying match.”
Prior to the TTFA statement, Cudjoe had suggested that the TTFA was tardy with its application for permission when addressing the issue at yesterday’s Ministry of Health Covid-19 press conference.
“It is important to know that the request was made on February 2 and provided not too much time for negotiation between the Ministry of Health and the TTFA,” Cudjoe stated.
She said by the time the TTFA applied to the MoH for permission and clearance to have the players come in to play the game in T&T, there were only three options available to health professionals. The first was to bring the players in time to undergo a 14-day quarantine; the second was to set the game back to a later time, allowing the players to come in and properly quarantine; and the third was to move the game to a neutral ground within the Caribbean or anywhere within the Americas which both teams can agree on.
“Today is February 20th, I don’t see option one being possible for the TTFA at this point in time,” Cudjoe said. “So it would be a matter of one, changing the date of the game or agreeing to play on another ground.”
However, Hadad disagreed that the TTFA was tardy. He stated that discussions were being held for a long time with the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago. He said there was little flexibility afforded to the Association due to FIFA rules which give it just a week to fly in footballers and play the game. Given limited options by the health professionals, Hadad felt the only option which allowed for the match to be played at home was via an isolated bubble and any delay came in seeking such approval.
Meanwhile, Cudjoe felt the major concern was keeping T&T citizens safe from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected 111 million and killed over 2.4million persons worldwide.
“We must remember, as passionate as we are about wanting to play at home and home grounds and home advantage, our priority is the ensure that our citizens are safe and that even these same footballers who are coming in are safe because they are coming from places like Denmark, the United Kingdom, the USA, and other places where the other strains of Covid - the South Africa strain, and the UK...are seen and we have to be very careful here in Trinidad and Tobago just like the other countries - Barbados, Suriname, St Vincent and the Grenadines and so on.”
From discussions with Caribbean counterparts, Cudjoe said she is aware of several countries with Covid-19 protocols in place opting to play the World Cup qualifiers at neutral venues based on FIFA advice.
“I know for sure that the Barbados game is being played in the Dominican Republic. Anguilla is playing in Tampa and then playing a second game in the Dominican Republic. Antigua and Montserrat are playing in the US Virgin Islands, St Vincent and the Grenadines (is) playing in Curacao. Barbados is playing in the Dominican Republic, Suriname is playing in the Dominican Republic.”