Sports — 04 June 2013

Football Federation of Belize (FFB) President Ruperto Vicente told Amandala this afternoon that he has been promised a visit to Belize by CONCACAF President Jeffery Webb sometime soon, to help console heartbroken Belize football fans following the recent announcement that Belize’s football champion club will again not be able to participate in this year’s Champions League tournament.

For a number of years under the previous FFB administration, the Belize champion clubs have been denied the opportunity to represent our nation in the CONCACAF Champions League tournament, and it was the general feeling that it was a case of either negligence, incompetence or spite, or a combination of the above, that had caused the repeated disappointment to our football players and fans.

With the change of administration last year, hopes were high that at last things will be done right, and an earnest effort would be made to ensure we are once again participants in the highest level of club competition in CONCACAF, formerly the Champions and sub-Champions tournament, but which since 2008 was changed to the Champions League.

Last Thursday, we received a leak from a source close to the FFB that the FFB Stadium had once again come up short with the inspectors from CONCACAF, and Belize would once more be denied participation in the Champions League. Meanwhile, FFB President Ruperto Vicente and General Secretary Michael Blease were in Mauritius at a FIFA Congress meeting where they were sure to meet with CONCACAF President Jeffery Webb, a Vice-President of FIFA. The FFB had made no official release on the matter, and we had to conclude that Vicente would be making his best “pitch” to CONCACAF to secure Belize’s berth in the Champions League.

As bad as it is, there is one big difference between this year’s heartbreak, and the many previous occasions. Today, unlike the situation in years past, the FFB President spoke freely and candidly to our sports desk about the situation, and his expressed feelings mirrored ours and that of football fans across Belize.

Vicente said he tried desperately up to Friday morning to push Belize’s case to CONCACAF President Jeffrey Webb, a Cayman Islands national, but the reality of the situation was too stark to deny. The requirements for entry into the Champions League are simply too great for many teams, and that is why there are only two Caribbean countries participating in this year’s Champions League.

Despite their efforts with the stadium lights, it was still inadequate, said Vicente. But not only did the stadium need more lights, but the Champions League officials are now saying that a camera stand is a requirement also, as well as a back-up generator for the stadium. Furthermore, the team locker rooms must be air-conditioned (ours are not), and they must have 12 shower stalls each for both teams. Besides that, there must be at least three 5-star hotels within an hour’s drive from the stadium, because each team as well as the game officials must stay at separate hotels. “No way could we meet all those requirements right now,” said Vicente, who revealed that up until quite recently he was under the impression that the lighting was the main concern.

If there is one consolation in all this, Vicente said that President Webb explained that it is for similar reasons that the Caribbean cricket clubs have decided to start their own Caribbean league tournament.

(See article “Caribbean Premier League announces…” elsewhere in this issue.) Vicente says we will be exploring the possibilities for some other regional grouping so that Belize football fans can be entertained with top level international football on the home soil.

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