Ian 'Magic' Hughes
Monday, 21 May 2012 02:30
By Ian Magic Hughes
On November 11, 2011 the Antigua & Barbuda football team, now named the Benna Boyz, qualified for the semis of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with a 1-0 win over Haiti.
That night at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium, substitute Kerry Skepple’s strike late in the encounter drew many different emotions.
Fans hug each other, they shouted, pumped fists, some laughed, others cried and all the emotions of something wonderful were expressed at the place named after the nation’s lone living legend.
During his illustrious career as a cricketer, Sir Vivian drew similar emotions from fans at home and abroad with his defiant performances on the pitch.
The setting at Sir Vivian on 11.11.11 was almost picture perfect Antigua & Barbuda was on its way to the semis of the World Cup for the first time.
Standing in the way is the United States, Jamaica and Guatemala, the three teams in the Benna Boyz group in the semis. So the stage is set.
All Antigua & Barbuda needed to do was, led by the Antigua & Barbuda Football Association (ABFA), prepare properly and give itself the best chance at advancing to Brazil.
The road to Rio was one never before travelled and the ABFA needed all the help it could get to make it there.
Chief among the efforts was raising the necessary funds to get through the semis. The ABFA said that the budget for the semis was EC$9 million.
Next week, the national team will travel to Sarasota, Florida to the IMG training facility to prepare for game one against the USA, the team top of the group.
So what’s the point, the purpose of this piece, one may ask.
Well frankly, I am of the view that the ABFA, the government and most of us in this country are clueless as to what is necessary to complete this historic journey.
It was always going to be a rough ride to Rio, but lack of proper planning has compounded the journey.
Sure the ABFA would be the first to say that they did all that they could to make this happen.
As a matter of fact at a press conference on Friday, president of the ABFA, Everton “Batow” Gonsalves said we will get there by ‘hook or by crook’, using a local term, or by any means necessary.
At the same time though, CEO of the ABFA Gordon “Banks” Derrick stated that they were waiting for the final agreement for monies needed for the first leg of the competition.
For months Derrick and the ABFA have said that there is no money, they are broke and they needed the government to ‘come through for them.’
With less than three weeks to game one, the ABFA is still broke.
If this is going to be a huge financial effort how can the Benna Boyz even compete against teams with purses with seemingly endless bottoms?
The government promised to assist but with its financial constraints, they were unable to make any great contribution.
The ABFA has gone to plan B, a loan from a financial institution endorsed (backed) by the government of Antigua & Barbuda.
That loan was not yet finalized on Friday.
Clearly, the ABFA dropped the ball and some are calling foul.
The main question, notwithstanding that it’s in the government’s best interest to assist, why did the ABFA not hold fund-raising activities to help out.
The ABFA had ample time to raise necessary funds. Remember we qualified in November last year.
It would appear that the ABFA simply sat on its behind waiting for the government to drop millions in its lap.
The ABFA is out of touch if they even believed that that was possible with a broken treasury and a country faced with multiple financial problems.
It’s a known fact that the ABFA owes numerous entities, including persons they contracted to perform necessary duties throughout the year.
The ABFA cannot pay, at least that’s what Derrick has stated for months, yet they are not attempting to raise monies. Why?
It would appear that Derrick and the ABFA expected money from the treasury like so many received to build fences, sidewalks and roads that led to nowhere.
Don’t get me wrong, the government should give because this may be the best marketing tool ever handed to Antigua & Barbuda to beef up its tourism plant.
But the government cannot and should not be the end all in this effort.
On its fund raising efforts as well as its promotion of the team, the ABFA should take this ‘red card’ on a failing grade.
There is no enthusiasm here at home for this historic journey and the ABFA has to take the blame for that. The media is an open door for the ABFA and they have not taken advantage of that.
Almost everything is late including tickets for the first home game against the Reggae Boyz, which should have gone on sale last week.
These tickets cost EC$75, a price brokered by the ABFA on a much more expensive price set by FIFA.
On the first day sale though, the ABFA was offering tickets for EC$60 for adults to attend the Jamaica game.
When that sale was first announced Derrick hoped that all the tickets would go on the first day and that the stadium would be sold out.
On Friday however, there was a change of tune, and only 1500 tickets were been offered for the special price.
I must confess that I was one of those who missed the 1500-ticket offer until going over my notes later that day.
I contend that to sell 10,000 tickets at EC$60 is much better than 3,000 tickets at EC$75.
This must be a concerted effort on the part of the ABFA to squeeze the extra fifteen dollars from fans, which may backfire in the end.
Here is a way the ABFA could perhaps sell out the game: hold some fete the night before the game to raise monies and allow persons to engage.
Fans overseas are hyped about Antigua & Barbuda playing against the USA and from all reports they are expected to flood Tampa from all around the US.
I’m hoping that the ABFA will be able to put on a fund-raising event to raise monies for the team when all these nationals gather together.
It would be sad if persons were able to use this national event to raise monies for themselves especially if they are associated to the Same Company.
The ABFA must benefit most from this endeavor and not leave the country in a financial hole at the end of this, while some go home with fat pockets.
Now from the standpoint of the people of Antigua & Barbuda, they have not gone out and supported the Barracuda, the Benna Boyz developmental team.
Support for the Cudas is support for the national team and I must say, if that’s the support we show we are far from helping this historical national cause.
This is important not just for the ABFA but for the whole of Antigua & Barbuda, those living at home and those abroad.
It seems like we will be throwing away another tremendous opportunity for Antigua & Barbuda.
I hope for this nation’s sake something real positive can come out of this and not another embarrassing financial scandal.