BELMOPAN–The Football Federation of Belize (FFB) is on the road to recovery – at least that is the indication that embattled FFB President Ruperto Vicente has asserted, after several months of internal flare ups within his executive, which reportedly resulted from allegations of micromanagement and financial mismanagement on his part, forced two successive marathon meetings in which local football executives first reconciled their differences before they sat with CONCACAF representatives, who were called in to adjudicate the dire situation concerning the current welfare of football in the country.
After being kept under wraps for nearly a year due to the fear that the local football community, many of whom are sincerely upset by the recent disqualification of Belize’s Belmopan Bandits from the ongoing Champions League tournament because of a substandard local football pitch, will become even more downhearted by the news, the discord that had been brewing within the FFB management aroused the direct intercession of FIFA and CONCACAF, the international football governing bodies, who stepped in and sent two representatives to the country yesterday to quell the undercurrent of discontent which had been threatening to destabilize the foundation of the fairly new FFB executive, who, like the current UDP administration, was swept into office on a wave of reform two years ago.
This past Monday night, President Vicente, the man now at the center of the fiasco, who had been bestowed with the reigns in hopes of moving past the clouded era of former FFB President, Dr. Bertie Chimilio, emerged from a 3- hour, closed-door session with the entire General FFB Congress, including league delegates from across the country, and told the media that the internal grievances of the Federation had been “aired out” after every adversarial issue was placed on the proverbial table and all the members of the Congress had their say.
With a buoyant look on his face, he said, “We had differences and we had difficulties, so those differences were discussed at the meeting. It was a very productive meeting. All the issues were aired out and, as mature individuals, we were able to say what we had to say, explain what we had to explain, and so we made a pledge to the members of the assembly and the delegates that we will embark on continuing the work for football development in Belize, and that’s where we’re at now.”
The crux of the FFB meeting was incessant internal strife that had reportedly built up from criticism of Vicente’s management style and policy decisions, which ultimately led to a divided FFB executive, with members Sergio Chuc, Marlon Kuylen and Cruz Gamez pitted against President Ruperto Vicente and General Secretary Michael Blease.
When questioned about the matter, he responded by saying, “I am the President of the Federation. Every bad decision has consequence. I have the responsibility for it, and I don’t shy away from responsibilities – [As] the President of the FFB, everything that happens here, even if a football player commits an error, the President must take the heat for it, and I am taking the heat for those decisions that were made, and certainly that will continue to happen because decisions will be made that will certainly not fall right in the eyes of others.”
FFB General Secretary Michael Blease and Senior FFB Vice President Sergio Chuc factor into the debacle because allegations were rampant that they were both suspended from their posts just last week, but in the end, a lot of making up was apparently done, and we understand that they all made a renewed pledge to work in unity for the betterment of Belizean football.
Reliable sources indicated that Chuc was scheduled to be suspended for unknown reasons after a closed-door meeting in Belmopan which was called recently by Vicente and the Federation’s chairpersons; however, that suspension was retracted because the Congress members intervened and declared that it was improperly done.
In the case of Blease, who some football observers have pinpointed as being inefficient in the handling of his duties and have thus called for his removal, we understand that he had written FIFA and complained that he was unceremoniously suspended by Vicente.
That, we are told, is one of the reasons why CONCACAF President Jeffery Webb reacted by sending two Guatemalans, Marco Leal, the Legal Adviser for CONCACAF, and Raphael Salguero, a FIFA representative and executive member of CONCACAF who specializes in statute writing, to meet with the FFB Congress yesterday morning at 7:00 at the FFB Headquarters in Belmopan, in order to help resolve the burning issues within the administration of the well-loved sport.
At the end of that meeting, Vicente, who initially mentioned that he felt compelled to call in CONCACAF to advise them of the kinks, said, “All the things that were affecting us were aired out at this morning’s meeting, and so they [the FIFA representatives] were able to come up with pointers on how we move forward. They have given us a calendar of activities that we are going to be working on as executives and as a Federation, in terms of moving football forward in this country.”
He also outlined FIFA’s plan of action to completely restructure the football league in Belize.
“We have been given recommendation to first of all hold a retreat for the executive members, and then come back for a general meeting to look at what proposal we’ll be presenting to the CONCACAF officials who will be here as well. This is important to bring them in because, as you know, we are a growing Federation and we are still learning, and for this reason, I have invited FIFA to come in and assist us with our strategic plan, and so that is going to be happening in October. They will assist us with our financial positions and put in place a mechanism on how to better manage our finances, and how to better manage the Federation. This is not something unique to Belize; there are many other countries that have gone through, and are going through this sort of phase, and so it was easy for them [FIFA] to recognize where our problem is, and what we can do to rectify them. We realize that we have this weakness, and we don’t have the finance to deal with it, and so the best thing we could have done was to invite FIFA to come in and do that work for us,” he explained.
While critics allege that Vicente is known for backpedalling on his assurances to change his management style before, he maintained that the problem boiled down to “communication, as well as adhering to the statutes.”
According to Vicente, he also spoke to the officials about the issue of the inadequate FFB football pitch which forced the PLB Champions, Belmopan Bandits, to sit out yet another Champions League tournament, after they were yanked from the competition for the second year in a row because the football pitch didn’t meet FIFA’s standards.
He said, “I brought it up with the competition manager for CONCACAF, and certainly CONCACAF does, whichever way, it does make its decision and it is their decision. But understand as well, that in this part of the world, we are playing against teams from Mexico, and those teams from Mexico will not put players on pitches that are not ready to play on, because they invest a lot in their players. We had a Mexican coach here that looked at our pitch, walked on it, and so they got that information that our pitch would not have been ready and was not safe to play on, so they probably got to the television company and said look, we will not play on the Belize field because it will endanger our players, and so we believe that’s the reason the decision was made, because, as we know, the Champions League is all about television, and it is television that controls Champions League.”
Two weeks ago, at an FFB press conference, Vicente had initially mentioned that the brown spots on the field were the main reason for Belize’s ineligibility; however, it turns out that it was more than just brown spots.
At that conference, Vicente also fielded questions from members of the local football community who were concerned about the status of the vacant executive seat that FFB Vice President, Rawell Pelayo, still holds.
Pelayo was the man who previously led the National Team Committee, before being nabbed and held by US D.E.A. authorities last year at the international airport in Miami, Florida when he traveled there as part of the official FFB team representing Belize at its first ever Gold Cup appearance.
We were informed that a motion was made to replace Pelayo in March of this year at the FFB’s Congress, but that was resisted by Orange Walk chairman, Raphael Avila, and Pelayo was given another 6 months to return to occupy his seat.
That grace period expires sometime next month, but with Pelayo still in a New York detention center, and no indication that he will be returning home any time soon, the question came back up again yesterday morning in front of the FIFA representatives, who have promised to review the FFB statutes before making a recommendation on how the national body should proceed.
We also understand that the local Premier League of Belize (PLB) football clubs, with the exception of the Belmopan Bandits, had recently written to President Vicente making certain demands of the Federation that he must fulfill before they play in the upcoming semi-pro football season.
Quite remarkably, our sources said that nothing came up at either meetings about Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar, reportedly leading the National Team Committee, which is one of the matters, we were told, the General Secretary complained about in his letter last week to FIFA.
According to our information, FIFA’s guidelines strictly prohibit the direct involvement of government officials in football affairs.