By Santokie Nagulendran
Soccerex, an organisation aiming to grow football around the world by holding
events with the game’s leading administrators, business leaders and former players, recently staged a high profile forum in Barbados from October 21st-22nd. The ‘’Soccerex Americas Forum’’ looked at helping to develop the game in the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, and featured delegates from around the world in attendance. The event was a milestone and a step in the right direction for the region.
Attending the conference were top European, American, and Brazilian club owners, as well as directors, managers, scouts, equipment manufacturers, marketing executives, and also football agents who were present and available to talk or offer advice. Guest speakers at the forum included CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, and Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber.
A key debate raging at the event was the idea of forming a multi-national Caribbean League featuring the best teams from each respective nation in the region. Caribbean football officials in attendance at the event suggested that there could potentially be a “Caribbean Super League’’ within the next two years, despite the hurdles of launching such a venture. “It is just a question of time,” David John Williams, owner of leading Trinidadian club W Connection said, “I think we have a very unique opportunity – we have sun, sea and sand and if we can marry sports with that, the sky is the limit for us.”
CONCACAF seem to be open to such an idea: in March they setup a taskforce to look into forming such a league, although only one meeting has been held since. CFU President Gordon Derrick took to the stage at the forum to say that such a league was vital for the region: “The task force has to do its job but we definitely need to do this [because] we need a sustainable league so that our future generation of kids will always have something to aspire to and develop their football [through].”
However some officials at the forum felt that a “Caribbean Super League’’, made up of the best teams in the region, would have a damaging effect on local leagues, “The issue for me is going to be the structure of it,” said Oliver McIntosh, CEO of Digicel Sportsmax, the region’s leading sports television network. “The local leagues are already suffering and struggling, if you form a regional competition, taking the best teams or best players out, then what is left at the local level? If you take a lot of the sponsorship money and television money out to a Caribbean league then what is left?”
Jamaican-born Liverpool legend John Barnes questioned the logistics of the proposed league, stating that travelling would mean, “You are going to have fly teams from one country to another, which can be a four or five hour flight from Jamaica to Trinidad. Is that feasible?” Barnes went on to offer a solution, suggesting that development of youngsters in Europe would be more beneficial to the region’s National teams:”the younger you can get Caribbean players to the top teams in Europe, the better that would be, not for the league, but for the national team. Do you want to develop a good league or have a strong national team? I don’t think you can actually do both in developing football countries.” Despite some objections, the general opinion seems to be that a Super League will be a great positive for Caribbean Football, with FIFA in full support.
For GFF Super League champions Alpha United, regular games against other major teams in the Caribbean would be beneficial: having won last season’s Guyanese league with a 100% record, Alpha went on to struggle in the CONCACAF Champions League against highly organised, professional sides that contained world-class players. An initiative like the Caribbean Super League could offer teams such as Alpha the chance to develop by playing more challenging opposition on a weekly basis, and this would help them prepare more sufficiently for tournaments such as the CONCACAF Champions League.
A Caribbean Super League would boost revenue for the region much in the same way the UEFA Champions League has for Europe, and there is the possibility that teams taking part can still be involved in their countries’ own domestic league. There is also the fact that it will attract major sponsors and along with the TV rights (both in the Caribbean and internationally), would generate massive income for the region.
There will also be job opportunities provided from the venture and tourism created by supporting fans following their team across islands. The quality of players attracted to such a league would also improve, and thus all players taking part will benefit from a higher standard of competition. With Jeffrey Webb seemingly behind the idea, it seems like the Caribbean Super League will eventually happen and could be the biggest development to ever happen to Caribbean football.
It is important that the Caribbean has a high profile event such as Soccerex to share and exchange these ideas that could develop the game in the region. I caught up with Faizal Khan, a FIFA licensed agent from Guyana, whilst he was on football business in London, and he has spoken about the importance of the event for the Caribbean after attending Soccerex: “It was a wonderful learning experience for the Caribbean Footballing region to have SoccerEx held here,” he said. “Football is evolving, and Soccerex highlighted what the Caribbean needs to do to catch up with the modern game, the Caribbean football stakeholders that attended the event and took the time to sit in on the presentations and network, left more informed and have a better understanding on how to move their individual clubs, tournaments, associations and federations forward.
The event has helped to show those from the Caribbean how to develop the game of football in a business capacity, and Khan went on to say: “Soccerex is a combination of football and business, and those that attended now understand how Football has become a multibillion dollar international industry. As it was such an informative, engaging and powerful event, my only regret is that more stake holders involved in Caribbean football did not attend the 2 day event endorsed by FIFA.”
With the event now finished, delegates in attendance will go back to their respective nations and share the ideas discussed during the two day forum. For football in the Caribbean, it could mean the beginning of some landmark changes.
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