Fruta Conquerors Secretary and member of the Guyana Football Federation (GFF) Finance Committee Daniel Thomas, recently conducted an extensive interview with Stabroek Sport on the issues currently affecting the local football fraternity.
- 1. Given the struggles of 2017, what are your expectations for 2018 as an administrator and football enthusiast?
“Well thanks once again for granting me this opportunity to share with you my thoughts on many issues relative to football. My expectations for 2018 as a football administrator and enthusiast are that I have set the bar pretty low, if great things do materialize then I would be extremely happy, but at the moment I’ve set the bar low.
“Yes, no doubt the Guyana Football Federation would have their plans, and yes they would have the necessary financial resources (when those do become available) to implement a number of their plans and initiatives, but with the exception of the stop-start Elite League and all of the negative issues surrounding it, when you look at the larger landscape for a club that has over one hundred and twenty junior players [ranging] from under 9 to under 20 there has been almost nothing for these younger boys and girls to compete for.
“The largest association, the Georgetown Football Association [GFA] has been almost dormant for the last two years. Where it not for the privately run junior schools’ competitions, the junior players from the clubs in Georgetown would have not played a single competition, and to me that reflects poorly both on the part of the GFA and GFF. So, unless, football is once again played at every level, and the children are happy to be playing well, then there is not much to feel excited about.”
- What will be the focus of the club in 2018, both on and off the field of play?
“Well, firstly we do hope to finally have our delayed elections held during the last week of February. Our club really does need committed and dedicated executive members. From what I have found, thus far from my short sojourn in the work of football administration, almost all the work done is voluntary and people do come with all good intentions and purpose, but they soon become very despondent and overwhelmed by the magnitude of work that is required to be done, and the emotional toll of the environment, and then they give up after only being elected for a few months.
“One of the great things for us as a club is that we were able to once again secure and renew our sponsorship with the Guyana Beverage Company for another year, and we do say a big thank you to the management of the GBI and the SM Jaleel Family for showing that continued confidence in every successive executive committee of the club.
“We are obligated to host several grass roots programs and we shall be trying to have those organized and held throughout different regions of Guyana. We shall also try to once again be host to at least three  junior competitions. We shall also be engaged in many social activities within the community.”
“This year is the twentieth [20th] year since the GBI has been sponsoring and supporting Fruta, and many years ago they used to host a major KO competition, and we shall be pushing them to support such a competition again to commemorate this wonderful and fruitful partnership. It is unprecedented in the annals of our local football and maybe even in the Caribbean, and what makes it even sweeter it is a Trinidadian-based company who has supported us and shown confidence in the game even after all the turmoil and the controversies surrounding the sport.”
- Football for many fans and pundits, is seemingly in the doldrums. Are you satisfied with quality of administration by the GFF?
“I beg to differ, I do not think that the sport is in any doldrums. For me, what we have, sadly, is the lack of competitive soccer being played regularly across associations and this has been happening for way too long. I think that the current GFF administration has done a remarkable job, bearing in mind the hand that they were dealt, and now coupled with the numerous checks and balances that FIFA has now implemented making it almost impossible to ever get monies released on a timely basis.
“The effect of this is that it has affected a number of the GFF programs, and this is does pose a very great challenge, but I think that they are working in overdrive mode to really rectify this situation, and I do foresee much improved administrative prudence in the next few years. To me the executive committee has been very professional when dealing with the many numerous issues they have been faced with, and the number of unwarranted criticisms levelled their way, but they have shown great restraint.”
- 4. It is known that the GFF owes the clubs millions of dollars, how much of an impact is this having on the development of Fruta Conquerors?
“Well yes, they do currently owe the club and players millions of dollars, and as such, we have been unable to do much work at our venue now or even assist our players with much need cleats for preseason training. As such, many of them are unable to train now due to the unavailability of boots. We have also had to reschedule a few activities that we had planned such as some out of town games, because we do not have sufficient funds to cover the associated transportation costs.”
- Given that you are a member of the GFF Finance Committee, why is that federation continues to traverse a path that cannot be financially sustained with its Elite League?
“That’s a catch twenty-two question – damn if you, do damn if you don’t. I personally think that the elite league is great for Guyana. However, the original concept that was inherited from the NC [Normalisation Committee] was flawed, and done without the necessary funding requirements in place. There was no sustainability plan, and no one knew where the revenues would have been generated from to fund the league. What was discovered was that the sponsorship monies could not even cover a fraction of the league expenses. What the current executive has been able to do was to work out a model for funding of the league through FIFA.
“However, I am not sure whether FIFA will agree to fund such a league every year, as nothing is a given with FIFA. I think that eventually we shall need to have some stakeholders meeting to brainstorm what would be the best model for Guyana. However, what we do know now is that Guyana’s football does cry out for our players to adopt a more professional approach and attitude towards their game; with them being able to do that would only serve to benefit the standard of play at the national level and in the Elite League.”
- What methods can be utilized to aid in dragging the sport out of the current situation, especially the Elite League which has been a commercial failure to the tune of tens of millions?
“The current economic climate doesn’t augur well for the Elite League. The focus must be on getting the fans back out to the games, and to me not until the fans start to support the game again shall we be heading anywhere. The current model of the league I do not think is workable, even if the GFF does acquire its own transportation to alleviate some of that cost. Guyana is unique to the rest of the Caribbean with regards to its geographical space and coupled with that, the lack of a cheap mode of transportation does pose its challenges to the Federation and teams.
“I can leave this with you. In the two and half seasons thus far of the Elite League, not one game has been broadcast live on local radio, not one was pre-recorded and shown at a later date [on local television]. I can recall a few years ago during the Courts/Banks Malta Pee Wee Schools Under 11 competition, the then radio broadcaster Mr. Isaiah Chappell came a few Saturdays and did commentary on a few of the games, now compare that to the Elite League. Sadly, much more needs to be done, but it does require the trust of the GFF to employ and have those persons onboard who have the requisite skills and experience to get such things done. Some crafts are for book worms and others are for those who have had the experience.”
- What are your thoughts on Street Football? Do you believe that it is genuinely hurting the image and quality of field football, or is it being made to look like the scapegoat by administrators for their lack of vision and investment into the club game?
“Street football has always been played in Guyana, and almost all our players would have played such, at some point in time. However, what we would have never had was it being played for commercial benefit. Now one can earn prize money from playing in a street competition. Street football and field football are two separate and distinct creatures both of which are supposed to provide entertainment and fun for the spectators from the level of skills being exhibited by the players.
“Not all players who play street football are registered members of clubs and that is a fact. Can there be some level of regulation and structure being brought to bear? Yes, there can be! However, I do not see FIFA supporting street football, so I do not think that this brand of football comes under that regulatory body. Yes, there is Futsal and Beach, and Field football, but not Street football. How can you regulate what is not regulated and recognized internationally by FIFA? The GFF constitution gives them control to regulate football, but I don’t think Street football falls under that category. I may be wrong but it’s just my thought on the issue.”
- Do you believe the time is right for Guyana to secure the services of a foreign coach for the senior national program?
“I am not one who believes that all things foreign solves our problems. However, the Federation has already said that there shall be a transparent process where the position would be advertised far and wide, and all are free to apply, and an independent panel shall make that decision when they are ready.
“However, I personally think that Guyana really needs an influx of coaches from the diaspora to work with our local coaches. If I was in authority or had the power, I would have offered many of them short term contracts to work with associations, and even the elite clubs. We do have many excellent and highly qualified coaches working in the USA, Canada and in the UK. I think that it would be great for Guyana if we were to implement such a strategy. Sadly, there is much more to coaching than is currently being exhibited by our local coaches.”
- The composition of the national team especially at the senior level has always generated debate. Do you believe that the failure of the current administrators to structure league football has failed local players from making the national team on a regular basis? And in the process, justifying the selection of foreign born and based players?
“We must appreciate the fact that the Elite League is just one ‘cog’ in the entire scheme of things. We still do have a large pool of very talented players who are not a part of the Elite League, but cannot play any football because either there are no competitions, or it is only one KO competition for an entire year, and in some associations, this is exactly what is happening.
“We cannot keep blaming the GFF, but should also call out those dysfunctional associations. I also think what is needed is a documented selection criterion, and why I am advocating for this is that because on no grounds should any player who has not been playing any football whatsoever be allowed to walk into any national team, and that has happened before. Players must know that they must be actively playing the game to be selected…that happens all over the world…that’s why players clamor to be on their team’s first eleven, playing time matters…well maybe, with the exception of Guyana.”
Stabroek Sport: Thank you for sharing your time and your thoughts, Daniel.