By Santokie Nagulendran
Controversy seems to follow football in Guyana at a relentless rate, and despite the intervention of FIFA in the country’s footballing affairs, the recent appointment of Richard Groden as General Secretary of the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) has ignited fierce debate within the football fraternity.
Richard Groden served as General Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) for fifteen years, including organising logistics during the nation’s historic 2006 World Cup qualification. On paper, his career has been excellent, with frequent achievements and accomplishments standing out. However, if that was the end of the story then there would be no controversy regarding his appointment and those in Guyana would be celebrating his arrival.
The problem lies in the fact that Groden was General Secretary for the TTFF under Jack Warner, who was notoriously suspended by FIFA for taking bribes from officials, a case which also led to the suspension of GFF President Colin Klass in 2011. Groden was charged by FIFA for his behaviour on August 11th 2011, yet in September 2011, a month before his disciplinary hearing, he provided a sworn written statement to FIFA that revealed the nature of Warner’s dealings at a CFU meeting which took place earlier that year. The following month, October 2011, FIFA dropped all charges against Groden and let him off with a warning.
Groden was never suspended or even found guilty of any illegal activity, but he did receive a reprimand from FIFA, leading to the question of why FIFA would directly appoint him to be part of the footballing resurrection taking place in Guyana at the moment?
The reason is: experience. The Normalisation Committee leading the GFF have also appointed a young assistant General Secretary in the form of Ms Diedre Davis, and she will take over Mr Groden’s role in September. Yet Ms Davis is relatively inexperienced in the world of football administration and it is clearly felt she would need somebody to train and guide her as she eases into the role. Despite his reprimand, Mr Groden was never suspended by FIFA and they must feel he is as such, a suitable candidate to serve as a mentor.
Acclaimed Trinidadian journalist Lasana Liburd, who knows more about Groden than most, weighed in with his insight into the whole affair: “Richard Groden is a very controversial figure in Trinidad and Tobago for his role in the 2006 World Cup bonus dispute and corrupt nature of the TTFF at the time. However, after Jack Warner exited the stage, Groden briefly ran a bankrupt TTFF and he started the turnaround that sees T&T in the more progressive position it is in now.”
Lasana also felt that Groden’s appointment would be a positive one for football in Guyana: “I think he can help Guyana, every man deserves a chance at redemption and he started that in his final two years in the job (as General Secretary of the TTFF), his experience can be vital in the short term, which seems to be what Guyanese football needs.”
To add fuel to the fire, General Secretary of the Georgetown Football Association, Odinga Lumumba, came out last week and called Groden’s appointment ‘an insult to Guyana’ and highlighted the need for Guyana to appoint more staff from Guyana rather than overseas. Whilst Nationalism is often used to gain support for an argument, it cannot hide the truth, which is that, in football administration, as with any job, you must appoint the best possible candidate available regardless of where they were born, and Groden represents the most experience candidate available to Guyana at this very moment. Clearly the overall vision of the GFF is for Ms Davis, a Guyanese National, to occupy the role for years to come after Groden steps down in September.
So whilst Guyana, a nation where football administration has hindered development for decades, debates the moral nature of the appointment, we must remember that it is an official decision sanctioned by FIFA, and they, as world governing body, would not make such an appointment if they doubted the credibility of Groden.
Groden’s appointment has split opinion, but his vast experience of working as a General Secretary means he must be seen as an advantage for Guyana; if Guyana did not appoint him, a rival Caribbean federation surely would have. The fixed term nature of his appointment also means that he will help a young Guyanese person develop into the role for the long-term, and hopefully in years to come we will view his tenure as General Secretary as one that helped the Golden Jaguars on their long road to success.
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