T&T Pro League (PL) interim Chief Executive Officer, Julia Baptiste, stands confident a three-day UEFA ASSIST-Trinidad workshop hosted at the National Cycling Centre in Balmain, Couva, a week ago could see T&T football reap enormous benefits.
Baptiste however cautioned that this can only be possible if recommendations from UEFA are implemented by clubs and the PL’s administration.
“In this (UEFA ASSIST) scenario, board members were able to come together, and someone was able to say to them listen this is what you need to do, and with us in T&T it’s always where the information comes from that is important,” Baptiste said.
The UEFA ASSIST workshop, which ran from April 4-6 and was attended by club owners and administrators, was made possible through CONCACAF following a request by T&T Football Association (TTFA) president David-John Williams for assistance to the beleaguered T&T Pro League.
Eva Pasquier, head of international relations at UEFA, headed a team of UEFA ASSIST officials that included Kenny MacLeod, who specialises in commercial, media, digital marketing and match day knowledge, and Efraim Barak, a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) Arbitrator and practicing lawyer in Sport Law for almost three decades, while CONCACAF was represented by Howard McIntosh.
“UEFA ASSIST was asked by CONCACAF to come here to discuss the Pro League particularly” said MacLeod.
“But what is very important to us is that we don’t just concentrate on the Pro League and that we look at football as a whole in T&T.
“And we have met with a number of stakeholders—clubs, boards and the media—to really get a full understanding of the situation of the football in the country.”
The UEFA ASSIST team recommended that clubs formalise youth development, engage key stakeholders such as the fans, media and government and that the PL updates its strategic plan. Clubs were also reminded of the importance and benefits of fulfilling compliance regulations of CONCACAF and the TTFA following discussions that included club licensing, good governance in the federation, the league and the clubs as well as marketing and communications.
Baptiste said the UEFA-ASSIST workshop helped cement a lot that was continuously said over the 16 years of the PL’s existence.
“Now there is a cohesion, people understand. And we hope that in the understanding we could now move forward as a league and see how we can [grow] the brand and take it to another level.
“There is now an understanding that football is not only about the game, it’s a business and how do we make the business of football work for us. That is what the board will now sit down and plan to see how we can go forward.”
MacLeod highlighted that T&T’s situation was not unique in the challenges faced financially and otherwise. And that the League and clubs should find innovative ways in realising their potential.
He said T&T is seen as aspirational within the region and “we (UEFA ASSIST) want to keep you in that place”.
MacLeod said, “What we have learned is that football is well-established here—the fact that there is already a professional league in place—and you have a number of situations where players aspired and gone on to play at the top leagues [around] the world.
“The base is here but what we are trying to understand is how to professionalise it and how to take it to the next level.
“We looked at both positives and the challenges just to make a point that there is a long way to go. We are trying to benchmark here.
“And we are not trying to say we are benchmarking against the best league in Europe, but through our experience we understand where football in T&T should be.”
MacLeod said over the three days focus was placed on planning and structures “but more than anything else”, putting the fans and the players at the centre of the strategy.
“(What) we really wanted to get across was that if the fans and players can be part of the future and build in the future then I think that would be much better for football (in T&T).”
Pasquier meanwhile called for all stakeholders involved in T&T football including the lower level leagues and schools leagues to sit together and discuss “clear responsibilities, clear roles, clear system of competitions and who is responsible for what”.
Pasquier echoed MacLeod’s sentiments that the PL and its clubs must focus on growing professionally and also told club owners and officials to put more importance on youth development through academies.