BELMOPAN—Football aficionados and fans are in a state of utter disgust after the revelation that the Belize Premier League’s top football club, the Belmopan Bandits, have been shut out from the 2014-2015 CONCACAF Champions League competition due to what Football Federation of Belize (FFB) president, Ruperto Vicente, described as a lack of “beautification” of the FFB’s football pitch, caused by “procrastination” by the contractor.
The unbelievable news came on Tuesday of this week when CONCACAF, the North, Central American and Caribbean football body, wrote to the FFB declaring that the FFB stadium, located near the entrance of Belmopan, had been deemed “unplayable” since the football field failed to meet the standards by not one, but three of the deadlines set by FIFA inspectors. Therefore, Belize has been booted out of the tournament and must endure the humiliation of being substituted by wildcard replacement, Club Sport Herediano of Costa Rica, who will now participate in its fourth consecutive CONCACAF Champions League competition.
The irony of the situation is that approximately BZ$1.9 million has reportedly been spent to renovate the stadium. On May 8 of this year, the FFB president assured CONCACAF officials that by the end of May, Belize’s stadium would be up to international standards, in time for a FIFA inspection which was scheduled for May 28.
However, despite all efforts, including a 3-time extension of the deadline by FIFA, the field was still deemed “unplayable,” and the country will miss its long-awaited opportunity to be represented at one of the most prominent tournaments in North and Central America, as well as the Caribbean.
At a press conference held by the FFB yesterday, Vicente did his best to explain Belize’s embarrassing situation, saying, “CONCACAF has been good to us, and so they extended the date of inspection and agreed to come in on the 19th of June to do the inspection. Sure enough, the inspectors came, looked at the facility, and realized that we needed more time.
“So, with word from the contractor doing the pitch, CONCACAF gave us up to July 2 to complete the pitch, and would come back to do the inspection.
“Well, CONCACAF came on August 10 and did the inspection, and certainly they were not happy with what they saw, because there were a lot of brown spots on the pitch – too many brown spots – and the brown spots are not good for television, because the Champions League is all about television, and they want the grass to be green, so we are not there yet.”
So, why was the field still in an unplayable state after almost $2 million from FIFA was pumped into the facility, and at whose feet should the blame be placed?
Well, Vicente told the media that that’s a question for the contractor, well-known football coach and former star goalkeeper Marvin Ottley, who reportedly received a budget of US$152,000 for the landscaping aspect of the stadium’s renovation, since, according to Vicente, his federation had no influence on the contract between Ottley and FIFA for the pitch’s upgrade.
Vicente stated, “Let me inform you that the Football Federation of Belize never signed a contract. The contractor and FIFA signed the contract [therefore], the product should have been delivered by the contractor with the Federation as the recipient.
“The contractor and FIFA signed the contract, and so the contract is between those two entities. The contractor started on time. There were some delays with the money coming front to the contractor, because the money doesn’t come to the Federation, and that needs to be understood, because people have the perception that the monies were given to the Federation, and the Federation gives the monies to the contractor. No; the monies go directly from FIFA to the contractor’s account, so we don’t have anything to do with the monies.
“There was a delay, about 4 weeks delay, but even with that, we continued the work with the contractor. Myself, along with the Hon. John Saldivar [Bandits’ owner], spoke to his bank, and the bank gave him an overdraft facility to continue the work. So, in this case, I would say that it would be a matter of procrastination [on the contractor’s part] that caused us not to be in Champions League, and for our field not to be prepared.
“As you all know, it is the television companies that run the Champions League, and they would not televise on a field that has brown spots on it.”
Last November, several contracts, amounting to $1.9 million, were signed with FIFA to prepare the facilities for the Champions League competition. Those included upgrades of the FFB headquarters and dormitory; the renovation of the bleachers at US$40,000; the installation of locker rooms and referee rooms at US$98,000; and the retrofitting of the stadium lights at $300,000; among other things, including a VIP Room.
On March 5, 2014, monies were disbursed, including a US$152,000 contract for the pitch, and at present, all the other projects have been completed, except the pitch.
“We have always, almost every week, made complaints to the contractor and the consultant, telling them that we are not satisfied with the work being done, and that this work needs to be fast-forwarded, and needs to be done as quickly as possible, because the Belmopan Bandits’ participation in Champion’s League depends on it and may be at stake,” Vicente continued.
Vicente maintained that nepotism was not involved in the issuance of the contract for the field, and that “due process was taken,” in which all the contractors were called in to tender their estimates to the FIFA official who came in and scrutinized the submission in front of those contractors.
In a move that has been frowned upon by football enthusiasts, Vicente has sought the support of presidents from the Central American Football Federations, as well as UNCAF and the Government of Belize, to intervene in the decision, which he sees as “a great injustice to our Belizean football.”
He pleaded his case in a letter of protest to president of CONCACAF, Jeffery Webb, in which he wrote of the effect the decision has on football in Belize, and asked CONCACAF administrators to revisit the decision.
In the letter in which he expressed his “dissatisfaction” regarding CONCACAF’s decision to withdraw the Bandits from the tournament, the FFB president stated, “this decision, in my strongest opinion, should not have been made at this late stage,” and he added that the decision should have been made “months before now,” and that “the spirit of fair play demands that such a decision be revisited.”
The letter concluded by stating, “Yes, we did not complete the field before the visit of the inspector, but we assured the inspector that the field would have been fully completed and ready for the game on August 21, 2014.”
Yesterday, Vicente said, “I have since then met with the management of Bandits Football Club; I have called the president of CONCACAF and expressed my disappointment and request that CONCACAF revisits its decision. I have also spoken to the president of UNCAF, a smaller regional body which comes under CONCAFAF, and he is not happy with the decision made by CONCACAF.
“And all the presidents of the Central American Football Federations; they are certainly disappointed with the decision that has been taken this late to have the Belmopan Bandits football team removed from Champions League.”
Realistically speaking, there is no indication that CONCACAF will revisit its decision, even though the FFB is seeking the intervention of the Government of Belize (which, according to our information, is not allowed to intercede by FIFA’s stipulations), and other Central American federations such as UNCAF.
The sad truth is that a nation’s hopes have been dashed because Belize has fallen short of FIFA standards yet again, and though President Vicente says there is still a small window of opportunity that the Bandits will play, CONCACAF seems to have moved on.
Amandala understands that while the Champions League tournament has already started, the Belmopan Bandits were scheduled to play their first home game against El Salvador’s Isidro Metapán FC next Thursday, August 21.
It had been advertised on local media, social media and even at some of the stores and restaurants in Belmopan, and had been anticipated by Belizean football fans since it was first announced in May, that our very own Belmopan Bandits would be representing Belize at this year’s CONCACAF Champions League for the first time since Belize was represented by Hankook Verdes in the then CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2008. (The CONCACAF Champions Cup tournament was played from 1962 to 2008, after which it became the CONCACAF Champions League tournament.)
As for now, Vicente told the audience that he has advised Bandits’ owner, Hon. John Saldivar, to document all his expenses, put it in writing and to send it to CONCACAF, UNCAF and FIFA.
If for some unlikely reason there is a reversal, Vicente claimed that the final preparations for the field could be made by as early as this Friday, August 15.
In a Facebook post sent yesterday, the Bandits’ owner denounced the situation and asserted that “the blame game will only cause more disappointments as we prepare to defend our national pride in the Nations’ Cup in three weeks.”
Today, we tried to contact Vicente to find out what would be the repercussions for the contractor’s shortcomings, as well as further details of the FIFA contract; however, we could not reach him at the FFB office or on his personal cellphone.
We also tried to speak with Marvin Ottley, the man in the center of the debacle, to get his side of the story, but our calls went unanswered.