By TERENCE HILTON CLARKE
(THE HILTON CLARKE COLUMN)
This is the only way to
describe the events leading up to the October 8 slaughter in Mexico
City, now that we have heard the official explanations. Unfortunately
for the excuse makers, what they had to say only served to unleash an
even more volatile fusillade of public condemnation.
And rightly so. To begin
with there was always the notion that Trinidad and Tobago's 7-0 loss
was rooted in a lack of seriousness on the part of the relevant football
authorities. It seemed that Trinidad and Tobago's qualification for
the final round of action - confirmed in early September - induced a
lackadaisical approach to the last fixture.
Now, it appears that ignorance,
lack of expertise and parsimoniousness were also part of the deal. It
was in the following Wednesday's Trinidad Express that national team
manager, Neville Chance admitted that his contingent had operated according
to a "24-hour plan" whereby the national team would be in and out of
Mexico in as short a time as possible. This despite concerns over the
high-altitude conditions of Mexico City, located 2350 metres above sea
level. However, Chance defended the decision to arrive in the city so
soon before the game on three main criteria: the academic significance
of the game, the advice of "experts in sports medicine" and, most scandalously,
the desire to minimize hotel costs.
As pointed out in last week's
column, the first reason was never in much doubt; Trinidad and Tobago's
early qualification for the final phase was always going to increase
the chance that this match was not going to be approached with any sense
of urgency. Thus, some football officials adopted the view that there
was no need to do any significant for such an insignificant game - even
if revolved around the health of the players.
Which brings us to the "advice"
received from the "experts." The fact that, after participating in three
multi-sport events (1968 Olympic Games, 1975 Pan American Games and
1990 CAC Games) and following numerous single-sport tournaments over
the decades, we cannot get any single group of "experts in sport medicine"
to agree on when is the best time to go to Mexico City before a major
sports event, does not augur too well for us. Furthermore, it was comical
that the TTFF chose ignore those who recommended arriving "17 or ten
days" prior to the game, and went with those who suggested a mere 24
But, of course, the TTFF
were helped by the desire to be more "cost-effective" and to not waste
any valuable resources on this game - especially with the final round
looming. Hence, it was cheaper to have the team stay in a local hotel
room for one night, rather than spend a couple of days trying to acclimatize
to the rarefied conditions, which was the professional thing to do.
It is certain that dozens of similarly small football-playing countries,
around the world would have chosen to have their team arrive at such
a venue, days in advance, simply because it is the medically sensible
thing to do and to give their team the best chance possible - no matter
what the status of the game. However, the TTFF once again proved itself
to be very unprofessional - to the point that it chose to forfeit any
chance for a respectable result from this match.
Keith Smith of the Express
was right when he suggested that "people now wondering what the cavalier
approach to the game tells us about the men at the helm and what they
are likely to do or not to do as we travel down the long winding road
to Korea/Japan." In other words, will local football officials, in some
form or fashion, really mess up somewhere, to the point that it affects
this country's qualification for the 2002 World Cup?
We certainly hope not. But
one thing is for certain: while there may be some wonderful things happening
out there on the field, it seems that local football administration
is still a long way from the point of reliability.