Michael Awai a stakeholder in local football and the former AC Port of Spain Business Development Manager agrees with the decision by Minister of Health, Dr Terrence Deyalsingh to blank permission to the Ascension Football Tournament organisers for the start of their ten-club competition at this time.
This is despite Awai being the owner of one of the teams expected to be involved in the competition, AC Port-of-Spain.
On May 1, the Ascension Football Tournament Director Kieron Edwards wrote to the Ministry of Health proposing a tournament to be played at La Horquetta Recreation Ground which would have featured only fully vaccinated players, staff and officials.
Among the other clubs who were set to compete in the first local football tournament since March 2020 were 2019 Ascension and Pro League champions Defence Force, Police FC, Cunupia FC, West Forte FC, Terminix La Horquetta Rangers FC, Malabar FC, Central FC,
Central Soccer World FC and Deportivo PF.
As an added safety measure, the tournament organisers also hinted that only fully-vaccinated fans were to be allowed as they intended to apply strict Covid-19 protocols with the help of the La Horquetta Police.
Overall, the request was supported by a list of some 30 COVID-19 guidelines to be followed by all, to ensure the safety and protection of all involved, either taking part in the games, officiating, or supporting.
However on May 3, in reply to the request to the tournament financed by former T&TFA presidential candidate Richard Ferguson, Minister Terrence Deyalsingh informed Edwards that an exemption had been denied.
Minister Deyalsingh in his reply said: As you may be aware, the Emergency Powers (No.2) Regulations, 2021 (“the Regulations”), as amended by the Emergency Powers (Variation of Curfew Times No.5) Order, 2021 and the Ministry of Health’s Media Release (Statement No.12), provide inter alia:
3. (1) During the period of public emergency between the hours of 5.01 am to 9.59 pm. Every day, a person shall not –
(a) gather in any public place unless the gathering –
(i) for the purpose of the services is specified in sub-regulation (10);
(ii) does not exceed ten persons at a time
(m) participate in any team sports,
(o) operate any sports clubs, including cycling, running, hiking, swimming, golf, tennis, football, rugby, and hockey clubs except where authorised by the Minister.
I have received your request for an exemption pursuant to the Regulations, to commence the Ascension Football Tournament of T&T and as further delineated in your letter.
However, due to the community spread of the Delta Variant of Covid-19, I am unable to authorize the conduct of said Tournament at this time.
Notwithstanding, due consideration may be given to your request in the future, ended Minister Deyalsingh’s reply which was copied to the Minister of Sport and Community Development, Shamfa Cudjoe.
And commenting on the decision made, Awai first noted that the approach used by the organisers maybe been a problem.
He said, “I think that Richard Ferguson in his wisdom, I thought that he should have had a joint effort with the T&TFA approaching government.
“I believe he approached the government on his own and copied the T&TFA from what I read in the newspapers but he has every right to ask for what he is asking for as there is every reason why he wants the football to be played.”
“He is concerned about the young people in the country and I think that is very noble but at the same time we do have a pandemic, we do have a Delta Variant and 71 people died in a week albeit older people but the fact of the matter is that people are dying and unless and until the country gets to a point of where they can have what is call herd immunity then I don’t think any sport will play.”
“Yes, they will have a national team training in the Home of Football secluded, yes they will bring a team from Panama and play and stay in one place with no visitors etc, but once you start to say that okay we can play football every Tom, Dick and Harry will play football in the savannah, on the streets and it will be uncontrolled and then we can have spikes there and then we may have a problem again nationally, and I think that’s the reason why the Ministry of Health has been very very careful and very methodical and thoughtful in their whole approach in this whole mess as we call the covid pandemic .”
I think the indiscipline of the people in the country as well has played its role in the decision as could you imagine if they open the beaches this weekend what is going to happen, and football is not as bad as the beach, but just kind of get a que from that kind of excitement and you will get to understand what it is.
Every piece of green grass in this country would be covered with people playing football, no masks, people just playing and we could just have people getting ill all over again and we will have a big spike and then we will all be in a mess again.”
he added, "So I do think it’s a good thing not to start the football now and quite frankly I think January is not a bad time to start because generally, it has never been our practice to play football in December, and November is almost done.
“So I think they can wait, plan and monitor and review and then after a while they can say okay we can start to play football January 1.
In response to Minister Deyalsing’s decision, a group of players, coaches and other football officials are expected to the streets of Port-of-Spain, including at the office of Minister of Sports and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe on Thursday morning, to air their concerns on why football is not being played.
The group is being led by Michael De Four, coach of Cunupia FC and others, calling themselves concerned citizens of football.
According to a Guardian Media Sports report on Wednesday due to the limitations to protest or march, the group has printed jerseys they believe will help convey their message.
De Four insisted that his members are not into the business of breaking the laws, hence why they’re not playing football although the sport is allegedly going on at different locations across the country.
"You said, 'vaccinate to operate', that was a government slogan, but here it is an entity, is saying hey, everybody has been vaccinated and we’re ready to go, and you’re telling them no. So, we have a little issue with that, because the less we play football, the more the industry crumbles and crumbles, making it more difficult to recover from where we were, or attain the goals we would like to attain.”
De Four pleaded, “I would like the Minister of Health and the Sports Minister to show some compassion towards the sports fraternity and work with us as sports enthusiasts, at least to overcome this hurdle".