I further explore the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) potentially separating from CONCACAF, gathering opinions from those heavily involved in the Caribbean game…
While it’s worth stressing that nothing is set in stone, early discussions and debate have begun between fans on social media/forums and recently officials. Sports News Correspondent for the BBC, Richard Conway, this week reported that Gordon Derrick – head of the CFU – intends to look at a ‘road-map’ towards splitting from CONCACAF, taking sporting and legal implications into account.
The idea – and that’s all it is at the moment – is still raw but the seed has been planted. Derrick told the Jamaica Observer that he would support a Caribbean breakaway but doesn’t think now is the time for it to happen. A former FIFA Development Officer for the Caribbean, Howard McIntosh, said the atmosphere is ideal for initial discussions to take place. He believes ‘there would be advantages and disadvantages in any situation‘.
Earlier this month, I published a guest piece from Athlone, who predominantly focused on the possible benefits to World Cup qualifying that a Caribbean split could have. On the whole, it was a pretty pro-independence take. For this post, four influential people connected to the Caribbean game offer their opinions on this topic, some of which are less pro-independence.
Former Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Caledonia AIA head coach, Jamaal Shabazz, believes the Caribbean must demonstrate that their member associations are serious about their football development and they’re more than just a voting bloc if a breakaway was to take place.
“Any positive move that would improve the lives of the Caribbean people is welcomed,” says Shabazz. “However, for us to achieve confederation status more Caribbean member associations must demonstrate a willingness to be serious about their own football development and not just be a reference for a vote when major elections come around. The Caribbean administrators have for decades used our numbers to be an electoral threat while neglecting our football of the field. Apart from Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago very few have sought to have a year-round programme. St Kitts & Nevis have started to and look at how they are starting to climb. Too much emphasis is placed on our numbers as a voting bloc when despite having had two presidents who headed a confederation we have made little headway in coaching development, women’s football and even refereeing. Only when individual member associations show more ambition to advance and become more competitive then can I say, yes, let’s take that next step.”
Executive member of the St Kitts & Nevis FA , Keith Pemberton, believes there is potential for a Caribbean breakaway to happen but finances and infighting are particularly big obstacles to overcome.
“I like the idea of a CFU split as it appears the North and Central American countries are doing their best to make Caribbean countries irrelevant in decisions making,” says Pemberton. “One major hurdle, though, is finances as the CFU do not generate enough funds to support themselves. Another setback is the CFU countries are not together, too much infighting amongst members…most if not all members look out for themselves. A lot more work is needed within the CFU and the members need to be on the same page.”
Pemberton brings up the Caribbean irrelevance point. What the Caribbean has, in theory, is political clout – something that the infamous Jack Warner took advantage of by encouraging the CFU to vote as a bloc during his time in office as CONCACAF and CFU president. Indeed, the CFU makes up 31 of the 41 CONCACAF members so they exude significant political influence at various meetings, congresses and elections.
There appears to be a growing feeling from some quarters, however, that CONCACAF are taking more and more control of Caribbean matters and affairs. The fact that CONCACAF have taken charge of the CFU Club Championship – as well as there being talk that the Caribbean Cup might be held in the USA for 2017 – would add weight to such an argument. Inside World Football this week ran an article going into this idea ‘that the Caribbean has been increasingly marginalised by a politically aggressive CONCACAF’ a little more.
Grenada FA president and CFU first vice-president, Cheney Joseph, opposes the idea at this moment in time and believes Grenada are better off staying in CONCACAF.
“Now is not a time for any such discussion: we in the Caribbean have nothing to gain from any further division of the confederation,” says Joseph. “I believe the CFU must first find time to focus on our governance structure at the member associations level, improve our on the field performance in CONCACAF competitions and provide the thousands of Caribbean footballers with a platform to display their talent and make a living from the game. Grenada is not ready for such a discussion, our focus is on returning higher up the FIFA rankings and providing opportunities for our players to secure professional contracts and/or scholarships. We want to produce at least one homegrown player every two years that will be in Europe and North America while we await a Caribbean professional league. Such a league can be from the existing Caribbean Club Championship or anything that is of a higher level. We are focusing on educating our coaches so we can produce better players. From a Grenada perspective we are not keen on any breakaway or inference of the same. We wish to see a united FIFA and by extension that means a united CONCACAF and CFU. Those who are promoting this are probably thinking ahead of us but until the likes of Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, Cuba, Suriname and Curacao can consistently be in the top 50 of world football, we might just be dreaming a bit too big at this time. I will be the first to support increased technical and financial allocation from both FIFA and CONCACAF to help us step up to the likes of the USA, Mexico and Canada. What the Caribbean needs now is a solution to our current crisis such as air travel, lack of enough qualified coaches and improved club structure, leagues and tournaments.”
Former Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper Kelvin Jack, who played against Paraguay in the 2006 World Cup, believes the CFU should stay attached to CONCACAF and the pair should meet to share dialogue on how Caribbean football can grow as part of the confederation.
“To be honest with you, I think the best scenario would be for the CFU and CONCACAF to have constructive talks, for them to come together so both parties could find a solution,” says Jack. “The CFU needs to convince CONCACAF that football in the Caribbean needs more money and development. Caribbean countries are behind in terms of infrastructure and professionalism. Obviously the USA have MLS, Costa Rica have their own professional league, Mexico have their own professional league. So if I was Gordon Derrick, I would have talks with Victor Montagliani and explain that we need football in the Caribbean to improve. We need the infrastructure to improve, we need the funding to improve. The CFU have to go to CONCACAF with a plan: get back that funding [CONCACAF suspended payments to the CFU in July 2016, seven years following the inauguration of the ‘Win in CONCACAF with CONCACAF’ initiative] and give the reasons why it’s needed. If the majority within the CFU want to breakaway, then obviously they should do it. But if not, they should be talking to CONCACAF and sorting out the issues at hand, especially the funding issue. The North American and Central American countries, particularly North American, are light-years ahead of us and we have to be on par. So I would encourage dialogue with CONCACAF. If that happens, as a whole the CFU and CONCACAF would be stronger.”
In terms of the World Cup expansion and how that could impact upon the Caribbean, Jack admits that he thinks the expansion is the wrong decision and some Caribbean sides could face heavy defeats should they qualify for 2026.
“It’s very difficult for Caribbean countries to qualify for the World Cup and it’s because we don’t have the economic power. With the World Cup expansion to 48 teams, you don’t want a Caribbean team going in there and embarrassing themselves. Let’s say Barbados qualify and play Germany – it could be a very lopsided score. What people don’t realise with Trinidad & Tobago in 2006 is that almost every member of our squad played at a decent level. I was playing in Scotland, so was Russell Latapy, Dwight Yorke was in Australia, Stern John was in England and so on. We had a decent team – really experienced players who played week in week out at their clubs. So, of course, we were able to give England a game or Sweden a game.”
Jack also questions how strong the Caribbean would be from a purely footballing point of view – mentioning a professional league as something which should be high on the agenda – if a breakaway was to happen.
“How strong, really, in a footballing sense would the CFU be? Unless, they have really grand plans in terms of developing football throughout the Caribbean. If they have serious plans, say starting their own professional league for example, I think we could be looking at something magnificent. A professional league is definitely doable and the Caribbean is in a wonderful position to do it but are they [the administrators] really serious about doing it? How serious are they? That is the question that they must ask themselves. You need that vision, that ambition. If we moved away, though, are we really going to develop? Or, as I said, should we have talks with CONCACAF to express our grievances, that we have been neglected from a footballing standpoint and work together.”
By Nathan Carr
You can follow the interviewees for this piece on social media below. Many thanks to Jamaal, Keith, Cheney and Kelvin for their time and opinions.