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POLITICAL FOOTBALL

POLITICAL FOOTBALL

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PM, LEACOCK CLASH OVER SOCCER FUNDS

Next week Tuesday, August 10, the 25-member Vincentian contingent returns home from its sojourn in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines plays its first Second Round match against Trinidad and Tobago August 18 at Arnos Vale.{{more}}
There is however a showdown evident between the government and the local Football Federation.
Signs of the differences surfaced in recent weeks, but now the matter has degenerated into open conflict between the Government and the opposition New Democratic Party that played out on the national stage during this week’s Parliamentary debate.
On the one side, the opposition New Democratic Party has been pulled into the fray by virtue of the dual role of its appointed Senator St. Claire Leacock, who happens also to be the President of the Football Federation. On the opposite side of the issue are no less than the Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves and his Government.
The controversy has spilled over into confrontation and sparks flew during Tuesday’s debate when Senator Leacock raised the issue with a question posed in the House of Assembly last Tuesday.
Senator Leacock asked: “Would there be greater opportunity for the Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines to assist other sports in particular Team SVG’s participation in the semifinal round of the World Cup?”
Leacock asked the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance to “detail the extent of the material and financial assistance that will be forthcoming to the Football Federation in furtherance of World Cup 2006 – Team SVG?”
This prompted a near hour long painstaking and detailed response by Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves who sought to justify his Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration’s position on sport and in particular its relations with the local Football Federation.
Dr. Gonsalves’ answer forced the arbitration of Speaker of the House Hendrick Alexander as at times, an angry Senator Leacock rose to clear issues raised by Dr. Gonsalves.
Dr. Gonsalves was adamant that the Football Federation should provide details on their income and expenses. The Prime Minister said he was not satisfied that enough information was coming from the Federation.
He said he considered it “glaring” that there was no income statement on the recent match played against Nicaragua here.
“There is clearly an inadequacy of process in the collection of tickets,” Dr. Gonsalves pointed out.
The Prime Minister mentioned that he was at the Nicaragua match and, at the lowest price per ticket sold, he estimated that no less than $100,000 ought to have been collected from ticket sales.
Senator Leacock and Dr. Gonsalves were at one on that issue, the former admitting that ticket sales should have netted $100,000. He pointed out that the boxes with tickets were lodged with the police.
Tickets were collected by a contingent from the Lions Club South at the game, and one member of that organisation explained to SEARCHLIGHT Wednesday that they placed tickets into boxes that were locked. After the game, the boxes were handed over to Football Federation officials, however they were not responsible for the counting of monies from gate receipts.
Leacock questioned the seating capacity at Arnos Vale and pointed out that his character was at stake with the Prime Minister’s claims.
Dr. Gonsalves, for his part, insisted on a detailed “break down.”
The Prime Minister further questioned the US$75, 000 requested by the Football Federation for the camp in Brazil.
Dr. Gonsalves argued that the Prime Minister ought not to be subjected to such abuse as proffered by the Federation.
The Football Federation President had last week circulated a document where, after stating his Federation’s position and outlining a chronology of missves sent to the Minister of Sports Mike Browne claimed that the response by Government had been “a Press conference to villify” the Federation’s success. He charged that the governing side had called “the travel agents to confirm that the President travelled 1st class” which he pointed out was not true.
The Federation’s statement which was signed by its president concluded with the statement that “as President of the Federation [he] will respect the office of the Prime Minister, but [he] will not genuflect [and] will therefore not make any further approach to the Government.”
But the response by the Prime Minister in Parliament this week that:”I want to help, but you have to give me something.”
He alluded to the entire scenario and suggested: “Where there is dissonance, I have to bring the dissonance to an end.”
Dr. Gonsalves pointed out: “They have in me an honest and willing partner. Let us respect the principles of honesty and accountability.”
Dr. Gonsalves pointed out that he expected the Football Federation to treat the Ministry, the government and the Prime Minister differently.
“I want the Federation to join with the government in an honest way forward to see how far we can reach in this World Cup campaign. This is not about victory. This is about participating well,” Dr. Gonsalves added.
The Prime Minister, in office since March 28, 2001, pledged that the government would provide resources and exert his influence on fund-raising ventures of the Football Federation. But he emphasized: “Let us be transparent and accountable.”
Even after the Prime Minister’s lengthy answer, Senator Leacock had a supplementary question. The Opposition Senator was satisfied that “any government that wanted to help, would have called in the Federation for cross-the-table discussion. And he asked the Prime Minister “Am I not accountable?”
Dr. Gonsalves however echoed his support for football, and stated that he was not accusing Senator Leacock.
He repeated that his offer to assist the Football Federation stood but he pointed out: “I do not respond to letters that come to me as copy.”
He went on, as the by-play persisted with Senator Leacock: “Not only have I opened a window, a double door is opened. There is a clear basis on which we can move forward.”

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