In the end football won.
The just-concluded elections of the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) which saw the Georgetown Football Association’s (GFA) nominee Christopher Matthis emerging as the new president of the GFF is not only a win for Guyana’s football but a goal scored against dictatorship in sports.
Since coming to power in 1989, former president Colin Klass exerted a stranglehold on the presidency which he clung onto tenuously despite a rejection of his leadership from players of the national team, the Golden Jaguars, one more than one occasion and other football officials, some from the GFA.
During his two decades-old tenure, Klass faced constant criticism over the lack of football development in the country and if there is one example of his failed leadership, it is his inability to have this country acquire the FIFA-funded Goal Project after Guyana was among five countries identified in the initial Pilot Project many moons ago.
Initially Klass was content to take on challengers for the post and he scored a victory over an aspiring president in the late former Commissioner of Police Henry Greene but after narrowly defeating Joe Harmon in the 1999 elections by a mere one vote, Klass was determined not to risk losing the lucrative post again and, probably that is why the GFF withdrew voting rights from its two biggest sub associations, the Upper Demerara Sub Association and the GFA whilst also introducing staggered elections.
Becoming more and more unpopular with every year in office, Klass clung to the GFF presidency as if his very life depended on it. He was not willing to give up the trappings of the post which included all expenses paid trips to FIFA congresses in Zurich, The Bahamas and elsewhere and made himself more indispensable to the sport by, apart from being a qualified accountant, being proficient in another language (Spanish) which qualified him to act as Match Commissioner for several Futsal and other tournaments around the region.
In direct contrast to the stagnation of the sport in Guyana, Klass flourished becoming a vice president of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) and close confidante of FIFA vice-president and boss of CFU and CONCACAF, Jack Warner.
In 2003 Klass, second vice president Franklin Wilson and organizing secretary Aubrey Major were returned unopposed at the staggered elections where only those three posts were contested prompting one observer to declare that Klass’s re-election was like a stake in the heart of football.
At those elections, the then GFA, then known as the Georgetown Football League (GFL) was denied the right to vote while it was claimed that the women’s association, though dysfunctional was allowed to vote (sounds familiar). A protest was made to CFU whose representative Harold Taylor visited Guyana but Klass survived.
The GFF, under Klass had for years been accused of constantly violating its constitution and of showing wanton disregard for due process in its relationship with its sub associations and other stakeholders.
But there were some who felt that Klass was not wholly and solely to blame for Guyana’s football situation but rather the General Council of the GFF which is the highest decision making body in the federation.
Odinga Lumumba, that outspoken president of Alpha United had called the General Council of the GFF “weak” and it seems as if most of the major (no pun intended) players were under Klass’s spell which can probably account for why Klass managed to survive as president of the GFF so long in the face of two decades of football underdevelopment even though the GFF received an annual subvention of US$250,000 for a lengthy period.
Even after Klass was suspended in September 2011 for 26 months and fined 5000 Swiss francs by FIFA’s Ethics Committee for his role in the cash-for-votes scandal which brought down two former FIFA vice president’s Mohammad Bin Hammam and Warner, there seemed to be no genuine efforts by those in authority to heal the divide caused by the GFA taking the GFF to court over their voting rights being taken away.
It was the oft expressed view that acting president Wilson was just holding the fort until Klass’s suspension (due shortly) was up allowing him to slip back into the football family.
It was not until early this year when a joint FIFA/CONCACAF team visited, that the matter was resolved with the GFA’s voting rights being restored and the Court action being withdrawn, paving the way for the first democratic GFF elections in years.
This brings us to new president Matthias.
A former president of the GFA, Matthias has the unenviable job of trying to bring structure to an association and a sports discipline which for years, was ruled by the iron fist of Klass’s despotic regime.
He will also have to try and reduce the debt he inherited from the previous administration reported to be around G$38m which can be done since, unlike cricket, the crowds support local football tournaments especially the end-of-year Kashif and Shanghai and Banks Beer tournaments.
Constitutional reform at both the association and club levels; improving the salaries for national players; having a home for football; trying to complete the Goal Project and being transparent and accountable should also be some of his objectives.
Matthias should also set up a committee to look into financial matters such as how much money the GFF received from switching the Guyana/Mexico World Cup game from the Providence National Stadium to Houston, Texas, USA and what was done with that money.
Stabroek Sport understands that at the AGM, the General Council of the GFF decided that for the years 2011 and 2012 the financial report will be done by the accounting firm Ram and McRae and not the previous auditing firm Jack Alli and Sons.
Guyana’s football, it seems, is heading for even more interesting times.