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Friday, September 16, 2011


It's full steam ahead for the Belize national team in the second stage of qualification for the 2014 World Cup, following not only their 3:1 win in the second leg of their CONCACAF preliminary round joust with Montserrat in July, but also after the Belizean government - represented by the NSC (National Sports Council) - and the BFF (Belize Football Federation) sat down, thrashed out a few things and settled their differences last month, thanks in no small part to a little prodding from FIFA.

Those who regularly read this blog will remember that there has been an ongoing power-struggle of sorts for control of local football in the small Central American country for some time now, which came to a head in the run-up to the first leg of the tie against Montserrat, which took place in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago in mid-June. The Jaguars beat their counterparts from Montserrat in that game by 5 goals to 2.

The Belizean team arrived back home, happy as a bunch of sand-boys, on 17/6/11, only to find that FIFA had slapped a suspension on the national governing body due to there being "severe governmental interference" in the running of the game in Belize. According to the country's Minister of Sports, the FFB was not being democratically run, and it had consistently failed to supply details of its annual financial comings and goings to Belize's National Sports Council.

The Belizean government had informed FIFA that, due to the above charges, local police would not be deployed to provide security for the second leg, which was due to have been played in Belmopan on 19/6/11. There then folowed the FIFA suspension, which was due to expire on 30/6/11, and a request from FIFA for the game to be played before 10/7/11. The deadlines came and went, and FIFA's patience was starting to wear a little thin; they twice sent representatives to Belize to mediate on the dispute.

However, FIFA saw enough progress being made on the ground to provisionally lift the suspension on 7/7/11; the suspension was put back until 15/8/11 in order for the second-leg of the Belize : Montserrat tie to be played, which, as was stated at the beginning of this article, was played in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on 17/7/11 and resulted in a 3:1 win for Belize (the nominal "home" team) and an 8:3 aggregate scoreline in favour of the Central American nation.

Daniel Jímenez put the Belizeans in front after 23 minutes, but Jay Lee Hodgson, who had scored twice in the first-leg, briefly gave Montserrat a glimmer of hope with an equaliser after 58 minutes. That glimmer of hope was extinguished barely a minute later by Deon McCauley, Belize's hat-trick hero in the first leg, and Lúis Mendez effectively ended the game, and the tie, as a contest in the 61st minute.

A couple of days before the game in Honduras, the FFB and the NSC were battling it out in court, as the FFB wanted the Belize Supreme Court to impose an interim injunction on the NSC, forbidding them from denying the FFB access to NCS-owned facilities and stadiums in Belize until the court-case regarding the continuing non-recognition by the national government and the NSC of the FFB as football's lawmasters in the country commenced. The FFB's bid to lift the NCS ban was not upheld.

The day after the game in San Pedro Sula, FIFA officials met their NSC counterparts in Belize to try and find a way forward in the dispute between the government and the FFB. The discussions were apparently "fruitful and productive." FIFA troubleshooters were back in the country at the start of August, and met at the Ministry of Sports offices. Also in attendance were the Minister of Sports himself, John Saldivar, UNCAF president Rafael Tinoco and FFB senior vice-president Bernaldino Pech.

FIFA decided to throw its weight behind the NCS and the Ministry of Sports; the FIFA representatives at the meeting personally handed over a letter to Pech outlining the world governing body's decision to go against the FFB. Local TV station 7 News said of the FIFA decision that it couldn't "even be called a slap in the face; it's more like a kick in the rear end."

Belize's Minister of Sports, John Saldivar, announced details of the meeting to the press, saying that a FFB constitution would have to be changed and that its electoral code be aligned to that of FIFA. (The question is: In the light of all the shenanagans af FIFA HQ at the start of the summer, is that really such a good idea?) The FFB, he continued, would also have to hold an extraordinary congress by the end of September, which would meet to approve not only a new constitution and the new electoral code, but also to elect an independent electoral committee which oversee FFB elections, which are required to be held no later than 10/12/11.

Finally, on 17/8/11, FIFA officially lifted the threatened suspension once and for all after issuing a statement in which it had said that the Belize Sports Ministry had stated its intent to show its "unconditional support for the national team in the upcoming World Cup qualifiers." In an article published in the local Amandala newspaper the day before, it was stated that FIFA had received, a couple of days previously, a letter from Saldivar, in which he pledged his "Government's commitment to support the Belize Selection's participation in the second round of the World Cup qualifiers."

The FFB also announced that president Dr. Bertie Chimillo and other high-ranking officials in the organisation would face re-election in a process which would be concluded no later that 10/12/11. Saldivar's letter also contained a promise to "alow the FFB to carry out its activities unimpeded during the process leading up to the..elections."

According to the article in Amandala, Chimillo and the NSC's Acting Director, Patrick Henry, signed a Memorandum of Understanding which included the following points:

"1 There will be full disclosure of all clubs registered with FFB by August 18, 2011;

"2 The National Sports Council must have observer status to the District Association Elections and the FFB General Elections;

"3 The Electoral Commission of the FFB must include persons of high moral standing and integrity, and must have no real or perceived affiliation with the current FFB Executive;

"4 The FFB will submit its new statutes and Electoral Code for approval of the NSC and for the completion of the registration process by October 14, 2011; and

"5 During the period leading up to the December 10, 2011, deadline for elections, the FFB and its affiliates will have full access to the facilities of the National Sports Council."

But what of the football itself, or more specifically, the country's World Cup campaign? Well, in the draw for the round-robin series in the second round of CONCACAF qualifying, Belize found itself drawn in Group E, together with Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines..and neighbour Guatemala, with which Belize has a long-running border dispute which shows no sign of being resolved.

Another case of football and politics, politics and football, maybe, but the two countries played each other in Belmopan on Tuesday of last week, with Guatemala running out rather fortuitous winners by the odd goal in three, leading 2:0 going into the last 15 minutes through goals from Gustavo Cabrera and Mynor Lopez before Deon McCauley ensured an uncomfortable last quarter of an hour for the visitors with his seventh goal of the qualifying campaign so far. He also opened the scoring for Belize in their group opener, a fine 3:0 win away to Grenada in St. George's on 2/9/11; Harrison Roches and Elroy Smith finished the job off in what was, in the eyes of many observers, a surprise victory.

Guatemala are strong favourites to win the group and qualify for the third round of qualifying, where the usual suspects - Mexico, USA, Honduras and Costa Rica - await the winners of the six second-round groups. Even so, Belize have got off to an encouraging start in Group E, and would hope to defeat Grenada at home in their next group match early next month before facing the Guatemalans again a few days later, this time away. Belize will round off their group games, and (it must be said) most likely, their World Cup campaign, in mid-November with home and away games against Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Domestically, the BPFL (Belize Professional Football League) is the FFB-sanctioned local league competition, which this season consisted of a total of eight clubs: Belize Defence Force (winners of the 2010-11 opening championship), FC Belize, San Pedro Barcelona, Toledo Ambassadors, Griga United, Hankook Verdes, Belmopan Blaze and San Pedro Sea Dogs.

The closing season, aka the BPFL Cup, featured four clubs from the opening season: Belize Defence Force, FC Belize, San Felipe Barcelona, Hankook Verdes. The championship was abandoned in May when the BPFL withdrew from the FFB.

There is another nationwide competition in Belize, the Super League of Belize, which is not affiliated to the FFB, and this year's competition saw eight clubs in action, and it saw Placencia Assassin defeat Raymond Gentle-City Boys United in a two-leg play-off final. The other participating clubs were Orange Walk United, Paradise/Freedom Fighters, Griga Knights, Third World FC, Hattieville Monarch and Cayo South United.

Interestingly, the league's president is one Michael Blease, who, you may recall, was nominated as president of the recently-founded and NSC-suported NFAB  (National Football Association of Belize) earlier this year, during the climate of uncertainty and confusion. The NFAB were being touted as the successor to the FFB, but the latter is not yet dead, and the NFAB has retreated into the shadows. However, with the FFB elections coming up (admittedly on an as yet unspecified date), Blease may yet surface and throw his hat into the ring for election as president.

Your correspondent's take on things regarding the forthcoming election - should it go ahead - and its aftermath goes like this; if the good doctor, Bertie Chimillo, remains as president as the FFB, then there will be no change in the situation as it now stands - he will remain in power, though he may well find that his power-base will be severely diminished, his popularity will decrease still further, as might the standing of the FFB, both in Belize and further afield.

Now that Chimillo's alleged backer and protector, the Honourable Jack Walker (stop laughing, that man at the back wearing the black coat; this surely isn't the first time that the word honourable has been used in the same sentence together with the name Jack Walker now, is it? - surely not?), has disappeared into the shadows of the footballing nether-world and has instead been concentrating on toying with Trinidad and Tobago's transport network and sorting out the local sewage-systems (also not the first time that Jack Walker's name and something relating to excrement has appeared in print in the same sentence, if Trinidadian and international web forums are anything to go by), there has been nobody covering his back for the past few months as the local press have - for a lot longer than just a few months - been gunning for him and his time as FFB president may well be up.

If Blease decides to run for election and wins, he may well turn out to be a unifying force for Belizean football - he is already head of the NFAB - and a victory for him and his supporters could see the formation of a unified, twelve-team national league, while leading to the disbandment of the FFB as it stands. It is possible that a new régime might not only keep the government happy, but it might keep FIFA onside, as well as pacifying large swathes of the local media, as long as everybody decides to sing from the same song-sheet. Who knows, there might even be a role for Bertie in the new organisation.

Or then again, there might not. There may be other FFB or NFAB people willing to have a shot for the post of president, and who may well turn out to be a compromise candidate of sorts, who could conceivably leave both Chimillo and Blease sitting on the sidelines. 

As usual, it's all whys and wherefores, maybes and maybe nots, just conjecture..and any (or none) of the above scenarios could yet come to pass. Whatever the eventual outcome, at least both sides have put their differences aside and are concentrating on sorting out the mess that is Belize football's body politic, whilst (at least publicly) showing their support for Belize's international team, who are doing their bit where, at the end of the day, it all matters - on the pitch - and that can surely be nothing but a source of blessed relief for Belize's long-suffering football fans. 

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