By Santokie Nagulendran
Last week, FIFA Head of Member Associations, Primo Corvaro, and Director of Legal Affairs, Marco Leal, boarded a plane
to Guyana with a sole mission in mind: to solve the turmoil which has engulfed the leadership of Guyana’s football administration for the past 18 months. Their decision was ultimately swift and clinical: by Monday evening FIFA (via the GFF) had announced that Christopher Matthias has been relieved of his duties as GFF President and that a normalisation committee, made up of five members, would now govern the Guyana Football Federation on behalf of FIFA until September 2015.
Thus, we have now arrived in a sad position whereby Guyana cannot be trusted by FIFA to handle its own affairs, and as such FIFA has intervened to put things right and give hope once again that Guyana can make game progress.
The committee’s role will be to reform the constitution, oversee the daily affairs of the federation and ensure that everything is in order for a free and fair transparent election next September. In order to ensure the fairness of the committee, none of the five members can stand for office elections next year. Christopher Matthias and the one remaining executive he had in office will play no part in the committee after a turbulent year which has seen them engage in bitter disputes with fellow members of the football fraternity in Guyana, leading to arguably the worst period in Guyana’s National football history.
Firstly, the GFF under Matthias took the unprecedented step of imposing bans on members of the Upper Demerara Football Association (UDFA), including GFF Vice-President Collie Hercules, for staging the GT Beer Knock Out final on January 1st 2014, a date allocated “exclusively’’ for the Georgetown Football Association (GFA) Banks Beer Final. Last years’ Banks tournament finished with massive debts, and crippled Georgetown football: current GFA league games are being played without the league being able to afford basics like water for the players or a medical officer at games in case of injury. The whole sorry saga led to the resignation of fellow GFF Vice-President Rawlston Adams, with colleague Ivan Persaud penning a letter asking for Matthias to step down.
This planted the seeds for a no-confidence motion to be filed, leading to a GFF Extraordinary Congress being held on 9th August after months of deliberation, and chaotically, it ended with no resolution, members failing to reach an agreement and representatives of various federations staging a walk-out. CONCACAF and FIFA members were in attendance, and reported back on the issue to FIFA headquarters, which ultimately led to the recent events occurring.
Christopher Matthias had appeared on NCN Television to validate his position as leader on 16th July 2014, yet stirred more controversy as he claimed he did not believe “foreign’’ players, i.e. overseas-born, should represent the Guyana National Team. Matthias went on to claim that football in Guyana was improving, as well as stating that certain National Players cannot identify their own name, something which has never been proven. The remarks created headlines not only in Guyana, but globally, with Matthias and the sorry state of Guyanese football featuring in October’s World Soccer Magazine, a prestigious publication read by millions across the world.
Amidst all the drama under Matthias’s reign, football has been neglected and is paying a price as a result. The Under-17 Girls team lost all three games in the World Cup Qualifiers they played last year, conceding 40 goals in the process, including a 17-0 loss to the Dominican Republic. The Under-17 Boys team were eliminated from the first round of World Cup Qualifiers in July 2014, after the team was hastily assembled and sent to take part in Dominican Republic with little training. Finally the Men’s senior team, the flagship of the nation, were eliminated from the Caribbean Cup in the first round of qualifiers for the first time in twenty years, with no goals being scored in the process.
The financial audit of the GFF’s current debt was never revealed by Matthias, yet it is clear to see that the debt, partly inherited from the previous administration under Colin Klass, is crippling the development of football in Guyana. However, FIFA pays Guyana $250,000 per year, and this year increased that figure to $750,000 as a result of it being a World Cup year, yet there has been no indication on where that money is being spent on, and no effort to generate funds from sponsors or fan support by scheduling games.
With claims being made that the Under-17 Boys team were sent to the Dominican Republic with no spending allowance, and that referees in a recent Heritage Football Tournament have not been paid by the GFF, one has to wonder where the FIFA money was going and why it was not being spent on basic requirements. It is also alleged that one of Matthias’s first initiatives in power was to increase the GFF payroll by nearly 300%!
The GFF Super League has not been given a start date this season and still owes teams like Western Tigers their prize money from the last tournament. Without any top senior domestic football being played for months now, the footballing development of young men across the country is being hampered, and this will naturally have repercussions on the future quality of the National Team. The 32-team Mayor’s Cup has been postponed to November 1st and will now become the first domestic competition to begin under the watch of the normalisation committee.
The tasks which the committee will have to swiftly address are massive: the Senior Men and Women’s National Teams will have to be assembled virtually from scratch, overseas-based players will need to be persuaded to re-join the programme after years of neglect, International teams will need to be communicated with and convinced that it’s worthwhile to play Guyana in friendly matches. With 2018 World Cup qualifiers beginning in a few months for Guyana due to their decline down the world rankings under Matthias, the National Team needs to be prepared and the normalisation committee needs to ensure football takes precedent. Financial irregularities of past administrations will also need to be dealt with, as well as overseeing major domestic events such as the Mayor’s Cup and GFF Super League, all within a relatively short space of time.
However, the biggest challenge facing the committee is how to unite the Guyana football fraternity? For too long Guyanese football has been plagued by personal politics and scandal, if there is ever to be real progress and development in the game, the only way to achieve it is by everybody working together as unit, communicating openly, and trusting each other to help reach the long-term objective of putting Guyana back on the footballing map.
Once unity has been achieved, the other tasks facing the committee will seem slightly less daunting to conquer.
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