Feast of Finger Pointing For Champion’s League Foul Up
The CONCACAF Champions League is the most prestigious event for top football clubs in North, Central American and the Caribbean. But every year, the Belize Premier League’s top football Club has to sit it out because there’s no FIFA certified field in Belize. But, this year was supposed to be different – because of the two million dollars spent to renovate the FFB Stadium in Belmopan. But, the project failed to meet the standards set by FIFA inspectors, and so Belize now faces the embarrassment of being replaced by a Costa Rican Team in the Champion’s League.
The decision came down yesterday, and the team to take the place of the Belmopan Bandits will be Herediano, which participated in the tournament for the last 4 years. They’re making their fifth appearance, while the Bandits must brood over another missed opportunity.
So what went wrong? And who is to blame? That’s what we tried to find out today at a press conference held by the Football Federation of Belize. Daniel Ortiz reports:
"The FFB stadium it's been under major renovation since the end of March principally to be ready in time for Belize to finally participate in the CONCACAF Champion's League. At 1.5 million dollars and over 5 months of major works, it should be a sport and facility that the country is proud to own. But right now it's not, it currently serves as a reminder that for the 2nd year in a row, they dually chosen Belmopan Bandits, the 2014 winners of the PLB, will once again not be allowed to play in the Champion's League. All that work and all that money spent on the stadium, and Belize got pull out of the tournament last minute. Why? Well if you ask the FFB president, he sums up the disqualification as an astetic issue, simply the grass isn't green enough."
Ruperto Vicente - President, FFB
"That's it, simple because the brown spot. the field cannot be played on because as you all know, it is the television companies that runs the Champions League. They will not televise on a field that has brown spots on it."
"So for just beautification purposes, we won't participate?"
"That's what Champion's League is about.”
"We're not so sure the quality of the grass is the only, because a trod across to field reviles some unevenness, but that's for the experts. What we do know is that CONCACAF gave Belize over 2 months pass the deadline to meets standards required for Champion's League."
"CONCACAF came on the 10th of August and did inspections and certainly they were not happy with what they say because there is a lof of brown spots on the pitch. Too many brown spots and the brown spots are not good for television because the Champion's League is all about television and they want the grass to be green."
"And shortly after that, CONCACAF executives delivered the bad news, Belize was out."
"Tuesday at 4 PM that was yesterday, CONCACAF sent us the official decision. That the bandits football team has been withdrawn from the Champion's League because we don't have an adequate football field to play on."
"For the landscaping aspect of the stadium's renovation, Marvin Ottley was the contractor, with a budget of 152,000 U.S dollars to bring the pitch up to international standards.
Today the FFB president reiterated once again that his federation had no influence on for the contract between Ottley and FIFA for the pitch's upgrade.”
“Let me inform you that the Football Federation of Belize never signed a contract. The contractor and FIFA signed the contract where the recipient of a product that should have been delivered by the contractor and the federation is the recipient. So the contractor and FIFA signed the contract and so the contract is between those two entities.“
“He did admit that the works fell behind schedule because on the contractor’s delays”
"The contractor started on time. There were some delays with the moneys coming front to the contractor because the money doesn't come to the federation and that needs to be understood. Because people have the perception that the monies is given tot he federation and the federation give the monies to the contractor, no. The monies goes directly from FIFA to the contractor's account, so we don't have any thing to do with the monies. There was a delay, about 4 weeks delay but even with that to continue the work, we work with the contractor. Myself along with the Honourable John Saldivar spoke to his bank and the bank gave him an overdraft facility to continue the work.”
That crisis was eventually averted but once again the observers from FFB noted things about the contractor that concerned then.”
“We have always, almost every week make complains to the contractor, we have made complains to the contractor and the consultant. Telling him that we are not satisfied with the work being done and that this work needs to be fast forwarded, it needs to be done as quickly as possible because Belmopan Bandits participating in Champion's League depends on it and maybe at stake.”
"If you listened carefully, you might have caught that the federation was concerned that the deadline was in jeopardy. The Belmopan Bandit's ability to participate in the Champion's League was riding on a timely completion of the entire stadium. Today the president took all questions on the criticism that the landscape contractor failed to deliver on time"
“Would you categorise this as a form of an act of nepotism since we understand that the contractor who received this contract to do the field is relative of one of the executives of FFB?”
"Not really, due process was taken, all the contractors were called in with their envelopes and estimates were open right in front of them because they had to submit the envelopes sealed with their stamps on it. So when the FIFA official came in, those envelopes were opened in front of the contractors, and so due process was given to those bids.”
"So if we look at the track record for this contractor would he have other projects that he had fulfilled, did he had to submit his track record also?”
“That was no required by FIFA, but one of the things I can say though is that the contractor had been sent to Panama for training by FIFA on how to prepare a pitch and how to maintain a pitch.“
“So he was well qualified?”
“He is in our estimation, yes he had some training.”
We've also receive information that executive member of yours table a motion that you should consider rescinding the contract to Mr. Ottley. Why was that decision not made earlier on?”
“That's because the contract was going to take time and for FIFA to look at that and the rescind that contract, it would have taken a long long time. The contract is not with us, the contract is between the contractor and FIFA. It is important for political reasons to give an opportunity to Belizean companies as well. It would have not have been good for the federation to have only foreigners working in this country, so that was one of the things. Secondly, he's presentation was one of the best presentation. I also want to dispel because I heard that on the media that the contractor is giving me monies out of his contract, let me dispel that. I have taken monies from the federation, right now I have spent, which I should have not done because there is a contract. And now I'm taking federation's money to the sum of 40,000 dollars and I'd ask the general secretary and the accountant to give me that figure this morning. The tune of 40,000 dollars to assist the contractor, so we could have gotten this field ready, but it is still not ready, I have done my part, I have done it and I will not take blame for this pitch.”
“And while there will be finger pointing and bitter recrimination for football fans, there is only one grim reality. Another year without the Champion's League Cup in Belize, reporting for 7 news, I am Daniel Ortiz.”
Vicente has since written a letter to Jeffery Webb, the President of CONCACAF, requesting that his executive team reconsider the position to remove Belize.
He’s letter reads, quote, “This decision (to withdraw the Belmopan Bandits)… should not have been at this late stage.” End Quote.
Later on in the letter, he adds, “The spirit of fair play demands that such a decision be revisited”.
But, realistically it doesn’t appear likely that CONCACAF will revisit it’s decision, since it was not a decision lightly taken. But, if there is a reversal, Vicente claims that the final preparations for the field could be made by as early as Friday. The tournament was to have started Next Week Thursday, August 21.
Sports Minister Blames FFB
Vicente said he would implore every high office to intercede on the FFB’s behalf – including the Prime Minister. But, he won’t have much luck going to the Minister of State with responsibility for Sports, Herman Longsworth. Today, Longsworth told us squarely that the FFB is to blame:..
Hon. Herman Longsworth
"I am extremely concerned, I am very very disappointed. We were all told that the field would be ready. FFB told us that they would have had this field ready. We were expecting that it would be ready and i'm disappointed that it is not, i'm very disappointed."
"Does the blame fall on the FFB?"
Hon. Herman Longsworth
"It has to, it's their field, the ownus was on them to complete it. It was their monies, monies they got from FIFA that they were to use to complete the field. I have no idea why it was not completed, they kept saying it would be complete. I saw a letter saying it would be complete, I don't know what happened."
He did say, however, that while the stadium won’t be ready for 2014, it will most definitely be ready by next season. We’ll wait and see.
FFB President Vicente On Defensive
And while Sports Minister Herman Longsworth is putting the blame on the FFB - President Ruperto Vicente is not having it.
We put this question directly to him today, but he deflected, saying that it’s his efforts, which have brought Belize closer to the Champions League than ever before:
“I've never shied away from responsibily, I take responsibility in this case is to ensure that we have a facility that is adequate enough and ready for our teams to participate in Champion's League. I have done my best. I have taken the monies that FIFA give to Belize, and I have said to FIFA we need a good stadium, we need good lighting, we have lights right now. We need good locker rooms, we have air conditioned locker rooms, we have twelve showers, five bathrooms. We need good bleachers, well numbered, properly numbered, we have that. We need a good pitch and we presented all of that to FIFA. I have done my part, I have done what I believe would have gotten us into Champion's League and i've fought with CONCACAF. When CONCACAF said in May Belize would not participate, I stood up and I said to CONCACAF, if you don't give us the opportunity, I will not participate in any other tournaments this year. And that is how Bandits were given the opportunity and invited to the draw in Miami. I have done my part. The field, if I was an expert in grass, i'd done it myself, but I am not an expect in that field. And so we contracted a person that have the ability to do the job, was given the contract and the contractor did not come through for us. It is not my fault, I have done my part and I believed I have done it well.”
Today, we tried to contact Minister John Saldivar, the owner of the Belmopan Bandits Football Club for comment, but he didn’t respond.
Via Facebook he posted comment saying, quote,
“It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness as the owner of the Belmopan Bandits FC that I must accept the decision of CONCACAF to remove my Club from the Champions League Tournament due to an inadequate FFB Stadium. I believe that my Club, its players, and I would be justified in our indignation towards the FFB and its officials who are responsible for this sad state of affairs. However, the blame game will only cause more disappointments as we prepare to defend our national pride in the Nations' Cup in three weeks. I will therefore hold my fury and instead offer to assist in whatever way I can in our preparations for the Nations' Cup.” End Quote.
As we’ve told you, this will make it the second time that the Bandits have qualified for the Champions League and then been prevented from participating.
Today, FFB President Vicente suggested that his administration will try to get the Bandits into the tournament next year, but owners of other semi-pro challenged that pronouncement, because the statutes require that the winner of the Premier League in any given year is the team that gets to represent the country in the tournament.
President of FFB says Bandits will play in Champions League next year
Earlier we told you about the disappointing rejection of the FFB field in Belmopan by FIFA officials. And while the entire country is perhaps disappointed, even more so are the Belmopan Bandits who have lost an opportunity of a lifetime. But whether it was a slip of the tongue or he intentionally said it, President Ruperto Vicente made a bold statement when he promised that Belmopan Bandits will play in the Champions League next year.
Ruperto Vicente – President FFB
“If we do not play, if Bandits don’t get to play in Champions League this year, then we must assure the Belmopan Bandits Football Team that they will participate in the Champions League next year.”
It is customary that the local champions of each country represent their country at the Champions league, however, Vicente maintained that he will at the least recommend Bandits’ participation at next year’s Champions League.
“I’m going to recommend to the executive of the Federation, as well as the owners of the League, to have Belmopan Bandits participate next year. We will find something else for the team for this year’s tournament.”