Tue, Mar

Photo: T&T Maestros midfielder Ocean Lindsay (centre) tries to pirouette past a FC Santa Rosa opponent during the RBNYL Under-13 final at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 1 July 2017. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

The Youth Pro League (YPL) pulled the plug on its 2020 competition today while the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (Sportt) officially closed all government-run facilities to minors, which will immediately impact on youth sport over a wide range of disciplines.

However, not only will Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith again hold the Commissioner’s Cup Football Tournament—but he suggested that he might have an expanded competition, which includes YPL teams.

The Commissioner’s Cup usually plays on community fields and should not be particularly inconvenienced by Sportt’s move to deny access to youth activities.

The YPL competition involves 12 teams competing in three age groups: under-14, under-16 and under-18. Last year, the Commissioner’s Cup had 46 teams in as many categories.

It means that, even without inviting YPL teams to join, the Commissioner’s Cup is likely to encourage well over 2,000 children to get on to the football field.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram urged organisers of youth competition to wait until September before engaging in any activity—his stance was supported by Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh and relayed by Sportt official Justin Latapy-George to national sporting organisations.

Griffith is sticking to his guns, though, and expressed his disappointment with Sportt’s position.

“Unlike the Sport Company—I don’t know who they work on behalf of—but I work on policy, regulation and law,” Griffith told Wired868, “and the Minister of National Security [Stuart Young] made it clear that there is no law that stops young people from taking part in team sport. However the Sport Company has now seen it fit to make a decision based on the perception of one person.

“[…] The CMO apparently has no problem with hundreds of young people being on top of each other at a water park; but he has a problem with a 17 year old who can do 14 [laps] in a beep test being engaged in physical activity.”

Yesterday, Dr Parasram held firm on his view that youth activity should be put on hold, so as to avoid a potential spike in Covid-19 infections—although Trinidad and Tobago has not had a local case in two months.

Dr Parasram and Deyalsingh conceded that there is no rule that prohibits youth sport. But the minister of health urged parents not to take any chances.

“We cannot legislate for everything—there comes a time when parents have to make a decision,” said Deyalsingh. “These are your children [and] with the evidence of the changing epidemiology and how children under five are now dying, […] are you prepared to take that risk with your child?”

Not for the first time, Griffith suggested that the view of the medical experts was adversely affected by a supposed lack of information about local youth sport.

The commissioner of police pointed out that YPL matches have few patrons at the sidelines, so there is virtually no chance of large congregations in contravention of Covid-19 regulations. And he reiterated his belief that the nation’s young men and women are better off doing outdoor activities.

Most important, as far as Griffith is concerned, is the fact that the government officially lifted restrictions on team sport since last month.

“Unlike the Sport Company I don’t work on personal opinion, I adhere to the law,” said Griffith. “It is unfortunate that the Sport Company has chosen to ban youth players from all across the country from being involved in physical activity, which can lift their resistance—so they can fit off potential illness and even serve as a deterrent for crime.

“I am seriously considering speaking to clubs from the Youth Pro League and inviting them to take part in the Commissioner’s Cup this year. There are thousands of young people who want to play sport now after being cooped up for months; and now they are frustrated because one individual gives his personal opinion and the Sport Company decides to act on it and deprives teams of the chance to play.”

Griffith also rebutted claims from an international website, Inside World Football, which has spent the last year attacking critics of former Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams—a list that includes current president William Wallace, TTFA technical committee chairman Keith Look Loy and Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick.

Last week, the site claimed that money meant to provide scholarships for local talent to Sunderland University had gone missing. Griffith said it was nonsense.

“We are trying to get best young talent in the country to take up possible scholarships in the United Kingdom,” said Griffith. “And despite those mischievous comments, in fact not one cent has been allocated for that purpose yet. What we are trying to do is get the private sector involved to help fund it.

“The spaces are there waiting for us at Sunderland University.”

The Commissioner’s Cup has not yet given an official kick off date but, according to Griffith, should start in early August.