BELIZE CITY–The jury is still out, so to speak, on the Ruperto Vicente led FFB administration.
There was no great fan-fare with the recent National “A” Team’s preparation for the UNCAF Central American Cup tournament. With a full financial report still pending for the last Gold Cup competition in the U.S., donors could hardly be expected to go overboard in support of the new initiative. As a result, our squad barely had a month in camp, and there were no international friendlies to help get our team in the best form possible. The explanation given was the missing FFB Vice-President, Rawell Pelayo, still being held in the U.S. by DEA authorities. Pelayo reportedly was fully in charge of the national team management at that time, and thus the FFB is unable to give account of all the monies. At the least, such a situation spells a shortcoming in the financial arrangements of the FFB, where transparency and accountability are concerned.
But there is more on the home front that raises serious concerns for anyone who was involved in any way with “liberating” our football from the previous “strong man” administration of Dr. Bertie Chimilio. Now, like the frustrating political cycle, Vicente and his General Secretary Michael Blease are facing accusations of trying to undermine the authority of the Premier League, following in the footsteps, as it were, of their predecessor.
The highest authority of the FFB rests in its Congress, comprised of member leagues and associations, who elect, and have the power to remove, the Executive, according to the FFB Statutes. At the FFB Congress, a significant bloc of votes rests in the Premier League of Belize (PLB). Of the 20 official delegates comprising the FFB Congress, as presently constituted, the PLB has 6 delegates, and each of the 7 football district associations has 2 delegates.
As the people who invest the most money in Belize football, and provide jobs to the top players in the country, thus providing quality players for the national team to draw from, PLB owners feel justified in maintaining a proportional influence in the decisions of the FFB. There is a fear among PLB members that a move is afoot to reduce their voting power in the FFB. More than that, they strongly suspect the FFB heads are attempting to take over the running of the PLB.
When PLB President Myito Perdomo unilaterally “turned over” the league to the FFB before the start of the last PLB Closing Season on February 25, 2014, the FFB President and General Secretary fully complied, without consulting other PLB executive members; and with the agreement of member clubs, installed a “caretaker committee… to administrate this second tournament of the 2013-2014 season.” That committee consisted of Ian Jones (representing team owners), Nolbert Moss, General Secretary Michael Blease, and FFB Vice-President Sergio Chuc. In essence, General Secretary Michael Blease took control of the running of the PLB Closing Season tournament.
Another point agreed at the meeting with club owners, according to the FFB release on February 27, was that, “The Federation promises to invite FIFA to assist with the restructuring of the League before the start of the next season scheduled for the month of August 2014.”
Well, the last season was ended on May 17, FIFA and CONCACAF representatives have come and gone, and the start of the new season has been postponed, tentatively until the end of September; and PLB owners are reportedly not eager to enter a new season with their league still under the direct control of the FFB Executive. But there are now stumbling blocks to the PLB quest for a return to autonomy. “Restructuring” now seems to be taking the form of “co-opting.”
There are procedures that take weeks, even months, according to the FFB and PLB Statutes, toward an election process, if it is that the FFB was insisting that FIFA had mandated a re-constituting of the PLB Executive. Meanwhile, PLB owners were refusing to start any new season under the same “caretaker committee.” Something had to be done in the interim, to satisfy their desire for autonomy, while complying with the league Statutes.
There may also be a money issue in this apparent squabble. FIFA has reportedly earmarked a significant amount of cash to assist with the “top league development.” (Some sources say over $100,000.00.) If the FFB still “controls” the PLB, then the FFB General Secretary will handle all the cash disbursements directly, as opposed to passing the lump sum on to the PLB Executive to manage. It is a question of who is to be trusted with managing and accounting for the FIFA cash. If it is earmarked to the PLB, then some owners and executive members believe they have a right to manage their own affairs.
At a meeting with PLB owners on August 26, FFB President Ruperto Vicente is said to have agreed to allow the owners “to nominate members to serve on the interim Management Committee of the PLB,” presumably until new elections can be held later this year. The league owners proceeded to make their nominations, which included a number of former PLB Executive members, and submitted their list to the FFB for approval. It seemed that football was moving forward, with the PLB and the FFB once more in a fruitful partnership.
Well, the road becomes rocky again.
In a stern letter to the PLB owners’ representative dated Friday, September 5, FFB General Secretary Michael Blease pretty much threw down the gauntlet, letting the owners know that, notwithstanding their nomination of an Interim Management Committee of the PLB, his President “had taken a position on the League which remains in the hands of the Football Federation of Belize.” He went on to state that he would recommend “only one member from the Premier League of Belize Executive,” and that FFB Vice-President “Mr. Chuc will oversee the functions of the League and all steps of the League must go through the Federation.” If that is not a slap in the face of the PLB owners, it is close enough to it.
The letter has moved one angry PLB owner to comment: “This clearly shows that the president of FFB has lied to the guys from FIFA as well to the football family. He stated that the league will go back to the owners.”
And a leaked response letter to the General Secretary on September 8 from the owners’ representative was equally harsh, declaring: “… it is clear that the Owners, to be polite, are gravely concern over this position of the FFB;” and that he had been instructed by the owners to tell the Gen. Sec. that “It is clear that the FFB is heading down a road that was once traveled by former FFB President…” And that is saying a mouthful, indeed.
Once more to the breach, gentlemen.