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The Trinidad and Tobago national football team had hoped for a better Christmas season.


Six weeks ago, the self-titled "Soca Warriors" created history by qualifying for their first senior FIFA World Cup tournament and, in the process, became the smallest country ever to play at such a high level.

But there was nothing in team captain Dwight Yorke and his teammates' stockings on Christmas Day. Not so much as a "Happy Christmas" card.

Bonuses and tangible signs of appreciation might still be on their way to the national football team. But, on the evidence of the past month, the visual picture of the country's sporting heroes has become blurred.

On November 16, the Trinidad and Tobago footballers beat Bahrain1-0 to snatch a spot in the 2006 World Cup tournament in Germany. Yet, it is FIFA vice-president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) special adviser Jack Warner and his cohorts who appear to be making the lucrative lap of honour..

Warner stands to considerably enhance his personal wealth from the success of the country's football team even before a fitting tribute is paid to the players. It goes against the principle of sport administration, which is catered towards serving the athlete.

The manner in which contracts were passed out-and, in particular, a deal authorising Simpaul Travel to act as the T&TFF's official ticket distributor-without public tender is particularly disturbing.

Eyebrows were sure to be raised when the T&TFF handed such a plum contract exclusively to Simpaul, which is owned by Warner and his wife, Maureen, and sons, Daryan and Darryl.

The Trinidad and Tobago public needed convincing that Simpaul was indeed the best organisation to distribute tickets and the interests of football fans were sacrosanct.

Instead, Warner announced Simpaul's coup at a press conference without once mentioning that he was a company director while Simpaul official Gerald Baptiste and T&TFF president Oliver Camps also pleaded ignorance of the fact.

And worse, fans interested in purchasing World Cup tickets at a street value ranging between $780 and $2,254 were told to pay $30,000.

For Warner and the Trinidad and Tobago public, it is the continuation of a love-hate relationship that stretches back almost two decades.

In 1989, Warner-as he later admitted in his biography-printed 16,500 additional tickets for the country's crucial 1990 World Cup qualifying match against the United States despite repeated claims to the contrary at the time. It created a potentially dangerous situation at Port of Spain's National Stadium which was overfilled while thousands of fans with paid tickets were unable to get inside.

Warner claimed he was not trying to cash in on the success of the football team, who were then referred to as the "Strike Squad".

The team then comprised of mostly local-based amateur players who went unpaid.

A promise of housing for players by the ruling NAR party went unfulfilled as did a deal for a share of gate receipts in the aftermath of the failed 1990 campaign. At present, retired magistrate George Hislop, whose son Shaka is a current national player, claims that the Strike Squad is still owed $100,000 from the local organising body.

Four years ago, Trinidad and Tobago was again dizzy from World Cup fever as the country staged the 2001 FIFA Under-17 Youth Championship.

Warner was a key member of T&T's bidding committee to host the tournament, which brought talented young players like Florent Sinama Pongolle (Liverpool/France), Carlos Tevez (Corinthians/Argentina) and Fernando Torres (Atletico Madrid/Spain) to local shores.

Again, controversy swirled around his family businesses such as Simpaul Travel, De Coal Pot and the Emerald Plaza Hotel which copped lucrative deals while his son, Darryl, landed a handsome IT contract supplying internet kiosks to all five stadia.

Warner, the deputy chairman of FIFA's Finance Committee, is known internationally for his wheeling and dealings as well.

From 1984 to 1998, under ex-FIFA president Joao Havelange, Warner received television rights for the Caribbean region for just $1 which he sold on to regional television stations.

Warner stands to earn much more from Trinidad and Tobago's participation in Germany. His right to make a living for himself and his family is unquestioned.

Yet surely, Warner's position within FIFA and the T&TFF should make him especially careful not to give the impression of someone abusing his influence for personal gain.

The average Trinidad and Tobago football fan is caught in the crossroads.

Trinidad and Tobago's focus on the 2006 World Cup has shifted from two dozen talented, determined players and an expectant nation to an administrator. Fans might be more concerned about Simpaul than England's Steven Gerrard.

The powers-that-be should ensure that T&T's World Cup dream does not become a nightmare long before the first ball is kicked.