The national selection that played and defeated Montserrat, 5-2, at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, returned to the Philip Goldson International Airport in Ladyville this morning to less than a hero’s welcome.
And it now appears that they will not – yet – get the opportunity to play a first “true” home qualifier on Belizean soil for the 2014 World Cup to be held in Brazil, because they came back to news that the world governing body of football, the International Association of Football Federations (FIFA, in its French initials), had, effective immediately and as of this morning, suspended the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) and postponed the return match against Montserrat until the house of football in Belize is in order.
“The FIFA Emergency Committee decided today, 17 June 2011, to suspend the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) with immediate effect on account of severe governmental interference. The suspension means that the return leg of the qualifying tie for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, due to be played in Belize on 19 June between the home team and Montserrat, has been postponed…” reads the first paragraph of the release announcing the suspension on FIFA’s website, posted today, Friday. (Zurich, Switzerland, the site of FIFA’s headquarters, is eight hours ahead of Belize time.)
What had been dreaded by some, welcomed by others, became a reality this morning after FIFA got an unwelcome communication from Minister of Sports John Saldivar yesterday, Thursday.
FIFA and Minister Saldivar had previously corresponded after the National Sports Council (NSC) withdrew recognition of the FFB as Belize’s national governing body of football last Tuesday, June 7.
Two days later, FIFA wrote separately to the Minister and to the FFB, informing the former that Belize was risking suspension under Article 13 (1) (g) of the FIFA statutes regarding governmental interference in a member organization’s affairs, and FFB that it had until June 30 to see the dispute settled, or else it would be referred to the FIFA Emergency Committee and face suspension.
The FFB had defied Government’s pronouncement that the team it sent to Trinidad earlier this week, captained by goalkeeper Shane Moody-Orio, was not representing Belize and that the FFB was not authorized to represent Belizean football in any capacity, and on Thursday GOB, writing through the Minister of Sports, told the FFB that the Police Department would not provide security at the FFB field in Belmopan, the venue for the June 19 match, with respect to the visiting Montserrat team and FIFA’s match officials.
FIFA responded even more quickly this time. According to its deputy secretary general, Markus Kattner, it referred the matter to its Emergency Committee today, and it was decided to postpone the Belize vs. Montserrat match to a later date, providing that the situation is “back to normal,” but the match must be played before July 10, 2011. Interestingly, FIFA says that the suspension lasts “until the Government of Belize reverses its decision,” and warns that it will not recognize any action taken by Government against the office-bearers of the FFB.
At the Belize Biltmore Plaza today during a press conference, FFB senior vice president Bernaldino Pech, addressing a gathering of media personnel and the disconsolate returning players, opined that he could not imagine that the Government would “purposefully seek to derail the dreams and aspirations of a nation.” He said that the suspension also affects Belize’s participation in any event under FIFA and its subsidiaries, CONCACAF and UNCAF regulation.
For instance, assistant referee Ricardo Ake, who was scheduled to participate in the FIFA Under-17 World Championship in Mexico as a referee, cannot now do so.
Pech told his audience that the FFB is prepared to sit down with Government to discuss a solution. However, the federation maintains that it has registered with the NSC according to regulations under the Sports Act, including presenting the Minister personally with an updated constitution, and that the Government has progressively demanded more and more from them, demands with which they said they have complied.
According to Pech, the FFB field in Belmopan met FIFA standards for a World Cup qualifier, the only stadium in the country to do so at present.
Complicating matters further, match officials and the Montserrat team were already in Belize and waiting to hear if the match would go on. Since it did not, the team left for their homeland later in the day.
FFB president Bertie Chimilio was at the Supreme Court this afternoon with attorney for the Federation, Dr. Elson Kaseke, seeking an injunction against the Sports Council, Minister Saldivar and the Commissioner of Police to force them to reverse their decision on security for the game.
However, they were unsuccessful, since according to Justice Minnet Hafiz-Bertram, the match had already been postponed and would not go off on Sunday as planned.
Chimilio told reporters, including Amandala, after court proceedings ended this afternoon, that the suspension was not entirely unexpected, and that he had managed to acquire the services of 50 police officers who would be off-duty this weekend, but the plan was scuttled with the suspension.
The application for judicial review will be heard as initially scheduled before Madam Justice Bertram on June 27, 2011, after Government attorneys Magali Perdomo and Nigel Hawke requested more time to go over the affidavits and other evidence submitted by Dr. Kaseke.