Moment of truth for T&T Pro League

July 4, 2012   ·   0 Comments

Jamaal Shabazz

A league is only as strong as its clubs.

That saying rings true for many sports and local football is no different. The T&T Pro League teetered to and fro with clubs coming and going in recent years, 2012 included.

The League started the 2011-2012 season with just six clubs in its ranks, albeit due to the absence of Defence Force and Police due to last year’s State of Emergency.

The professional clubs have struggled to make ends meet, most notably San Juan Jabloteh, which announced on Monday it has suspended all football, save for some youth activities, contingent upon their financial situation.

Jabloteh, like other community clubs in the League, had been dependent on a subvention from the Sport Company of T&T (SPORTT), which Jabloteh claimed was withdrawn in January “without notice and rationale”.

Caledonia AIA, St Ann’s Rangers and North East Stars all depend on such funding to varying degrees.

Apart from having enough funds to run a pro team, clubs in the T&T Pro League must also have a youth programme to develop young players and compete in the youth leagues.

Perhaps chief among the issues ailing many of the clubs, apart from insufficient sponsorship, is the lack of home grounds. Clubs have complained for sometime about having to play home matches in the various stadiums and the inability of the Pro League to consistently attract fans and bolster gate receipts.

To many of them, having a home ground within their respective communities is key to financial viability, or at least a step in the right direction.

North East Stars for years have clamoured for the upgrade of the Sangre Grande Recreation Ground. According to former Stars’ CEO Brent Sancho, the home support is much better than when they play at distant venues like Couva’s Ato Boldon Stadium and Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar.

Rangers’ owner Richard Fakoory has also been hoping to regain the use of President’s Ground, St Ann’s for their league matches, while Caledonia AIA boss Jamaal Shabazz has repeatedly criticised previous governments for promising, but never delivering, on a ground in the Morvant/Laventille area for his team.

Fakoory sympathised with Jabloteh and feels that it is hard for some Pro League teams to continue to be financially viable without a home ground.

“If you are not getting us games in [our] required area, how can we [make money from gate receipts]? We would have people coming out (if we had a home venue). It doesn’t give me incentive with [the] Ato [Boldon Stadium] as my home game. The league will continue (without Jabloteh), but I wished they had stayed in and fight it through.”

T&TEC, which started the Pro League so brightly last year only to fade late, are also in danger of not campaigning in the next Pro League season. The electricity company has pulled its sponsorship of the sports club, which has since resubmitted alternative proposals in hope of getting enough support to keep their League and particularly their youth programmes running.

“It’s a lot of youths (that) have benefitted because team T&TEC was based in South,” T&TEC general manager Peter Mohan told the Express in a recent interview. “We were able to attract nearly 75 youths from a lot of depressed areas, where youths wouldn’t have the opportunity to showcase themselves.”

W Connection’s David John-Williams feels the Pro League will miss Jabloteh, although he has not written off a return should they gain the requisite sponsorship before next season.

“They have a rich history,” John-Williams said. “Both our clubs share a healthy rivalry, people see it as a derby game; it will be disappointing (if they can’t play in the League).”

He stated that W Connection have maintained their Pro League presence based on shrewd financial decisions, with the aim of becoming profitable in coming years.

“We took the bold step to build a young team, which cut our budget,” John-Williams explained. “It’s no different from any other team globally, but we have set targets to ensure that the finances [are stable], so that the expenditure and income can both balance.”

Veteran sports journalist Ashford Jackman, in an article last month in the T&T Review, feels the return to a semi-professional state might be the best approach for Trinidad and Tobago football, if at least in the short term.

T&T Pro League CEO Dexter Skeene, though, sees the Pro League glass as half full. Although concerned about Jabloteh’s financial state, he looks at it as a chance for them to rebuild.

“It’s an opportunity for us and Jabloteh in particular to look at their business process, the people they have involved, their plan, their execution, and come back even stronger,” he told the Express.

“We are optimistic that we have a product that is marketable and sustainable,” Skeene added.

He pointed out that professional football in Trinidad is still “young” and admitted that it could continue to go through that difficult “teething” stage for some time to come.

Skeene said that the Pro League is bent on tackling the venue issues and is currently in talks with SPORTT in an effort to have community grounds refurbished.

He said the Pro League will try to assist clubs and hoped that Jabloteh can soon return to the fold.

Skeene also revealed that a number of clubs have stated their interest in joining the Pro League, including MaPau Sports Club, which opted out in 2010, again due to financial strain.

That may bring some hope to football fans that the Pro League is able to continue in the face of a difficult economic environment, with T&T football floundering, most worryingly, at the national level.

But for now, in its current position, local football appears to be at the crossroads.




Source: Kern de Freitas, Trinidad Express


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