It was not business as usual at the Saint Lucia Football Association (SLFA) Inc Headquarters in La Clery, Castries this week as word got out that Saint Lucia will not participate in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers.
Past and present national players protested outside the SLFA headquarters Wednesday seeking answers to this latest state of affairs plaguing the football association.
The protesters were armed with placards calling for the SLFA President Lyndon Cooper to vacate the position.
But Cooper, though apologetic that the SLFA found itself in such a position under his watch, is not succumbing to those calling for his head.
“I would have to explain as to how we found ourselves where we are today. I have to take you as far back as 2018, so therefore you the members of the media will show a greater appreciation to what has transpired,” Cooper told reporters yesterday.
He said it was a lack of communication between the Technical Director – Ces Podd, Head Coach- Jamaal Shabazz and General Secretary – Victor Reid and the media which resulted in the uproar this week.
“If anything said or not said from my General Secretary, my Technical Director and Head Coach and me as President that offended anybody including, the media, players, fans, the government of Saint Lucia, please accept our sincere apologies,” Cooper said.
Cooper noted that Saint Lucia’s participation in World Cup 2022 qualifiers was decided after Russia hosted the World Cup in 2018. Further, Saint Lucia participated in a new format called CONCACAF Nation’s League in 2018/2019. The SLFA, Cooper said, “had de-emphasized the structure of the composition of teams, because at that time it felt that our teams were getting no results.”
“So the SLFA made a policy decision to redefine/ modernize domestic football in order to achieved greater results as a country. When the format of the competition was established, Saint Lucia played both games away, the results of that format was put into the following year where Saint Lucia was grouped in a format for relegation and promotion in CONCACAF. Saint Lucia was placed in the second division and was playing for one slot in CONCACAF in 2019.
“The SLFA spent almost $1 million dollars, in that format and we are still paying those debts today,” Cooper said, adding that at a meeting of CONCACAF Presidents, CONCACAF made a decision to re-do the format, which put most countries back in, but seeded the top teams like Mexico, Canada and the USA. At no point the SLFA consented to playing in any world cup qualifier in 2021.
“Our journey to Qatar ended when we moved from second division to third division, there was absolutely nothing on the table,” Cooper said.
“I want to make it abundantly clear, the SLFA did not ask the Government of Saint Lucia for any permission for its team to play that was never on the table,” Cooper said.
The SLFA President gave several other reasons why Saint Lucia could not field a team for the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers stating that at no time the SLFA conveyed the impression that a national team was in training.
“So if that was communicated badly, please accept on behalf of Jamaal Shabazz, Ces Podd, Victor Reid and myself our sincerest apologies for an apparent lack of communication, we are sorry,” Cooper said.
Up to press time yesterday, the governing body for world football FIFA has made no pronouncements on Saint Lucia’s withdrawal from the qualifying round of the North and Central America and Caribbean qualifiers.
Saint Lucia was down to play Nicaragua in Group E earlier this week.
The other teams in the group are Haiti and Belize. The group winner faces a team from Group B – Canada, Aruba, Bermuda, Cayman Islands or Suriname in a two-match playoff for a berth in the eight-nation regional final round that starts in September and will produce three qualifiers.
Meanwhile, the government of Saint Lucia have expressed disappointment with the decision to withdraw the country’s participation in FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
According to a statement from the office of the Prime Minister, the SLFA took the decision without first consulting with the Ministry for Youth Development and Sports.
“Despite the fact that the high contact sports are not allowed under the current Covid19 protocols, due to high risk, the government has made special provisions for national athletes and this reflected in the legislation. The Government of Saint Lucia through the Ministry of Health, recently facilitated training for Platinum FC from Vieux Fort South who are due to travel in April for a tournament in Curacao,” noted the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.