Trinidad & Tobago stages the Under 17 Football Championships

Four new FIFA- standard facilities are under construction in Trinidad and Tobago in anticipation of this event come September. We look forward to seeing you

Architecture’s impression of Bacolet Stadium, Tobago. Photograph courtesy LOC 2001

Come September, the eyes of the world’s football fans will be trained on Trinidad and Tobago. From  14–30 September, the country plays host to the future stars of world football in the 8th FIFA Under-17 World Championship. Sixteen teams, including Trinidad and Tobago’s already qualified Team 2001, will vie for the Championship title (football powerhouse Brazil are the defending champions).

Staged biannually since 1985, the FIFA Under-17 Championship was first played in China, earning a place in history as the first international tournament to be held in the People’s Republic. Since then, Canada, Scotland, Italy, Japan, Ecuador, Egypt and New Zealand have hosted this prestigious youth event.

Trinidad and Tobago is the first Caribbean nation to be chosen as a venue, and what happens in September is said to be the acid test not only for the country, but for all aspiring pint-sized host nations. “This is going to be a tremendous challenge not only for Trinidad and Tobago but for the entire Caribbean,” says FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, the man without whom (most agree) the event would not have been possible.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Local Organising Committee, LOC 2001, has been planning the event since 1998, and the government, seeing the long-term benefits, has thrown its support wholeheartedly behind the tournament. As Prime Minister Basdeo Panday said in an appeal to sponsors: “We want Trinidad and Tobago to be a nation of winners. Sports in general, and football in particular, possess the potential to make winners out of people who would otherwise have very limited horizons.”

The Ministry of Sport is committed to the construction of four new FIFA-standard facilities (three in Trinidad, one in Tobago) with a total seating capacity of 37,500. The Hasely Crawford Stadium, the country’s largest sports arena, will also be outfitted with new seating and a flood-proof playing field. Long-term plans for the new facility at Couva in central Trinidad include the development of an on-site athletic academy. Several smaller grounds are being upgraded for use as practice pitches. The five stadia have been sited at strategic locations throughout Trinidad and Tobago, and have given the country the opportunity to pay tribute to five of its outstanding sporting personalities: 1976 Olympic 100m gold medallist Hasely Crawford (National Stadium, Port of Spain), sprinter Ato Boldon (Couva, central Trinidad), West Indies Test cricketer Larry Gomes (Arima, eastern Trinidad), Manny Ramjohn, who brought the country its first gold medal in 1946 (Marabella, south Trinidad), and footballer Dwight Yorke (Bacolet, Tobago).

In preparation for Septem-    ber’s big event, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation will be staging practice matches at each venue to ensure that all systems are in working order. Post-Championship, these first-class facilities will no doubt serve to fuel Trinidad and Tobago’s ever-strengthening football scene. The country now has a thriving Professional League, and the national senior team began 2001 near the top of the zonal rankings in the qualifying rounds for the 2002 World Cup. Trinidad and Tobago has also become a favoured recruitment point for foreign talent scouts, with a number of local players (among them Dwight Yorke, Russell Latapy and Shaka Hislop) currently enjoying lucrative careers in European football.

The event is certainly an opportunity for international exposure. The Egypt Championship in 1997 was seen by an estimated 269 million viewers, and with the boost of the Internet the figure this year is expected to be higher. “In that sense,” says Jack Warner, “Trinidad and Tobago will be hosting not only the 15 competing countries, but the whole world.”

Warner, a Trinidadian, has operated at the highest levels of the FIFA leadership for several years, and is the person largely responsible for the recent boom in local football. He was also instrumental in the establishment of Jamaica’s 1998 World Cup contenders The Reggae Boyz.

The 2001 Under-17 Championship will both open and close with a gala ceremony, which the LOC 2001 team promises will “rival anything seen or done in the Caribbean thus far”. Coming from the country whose annual Carnival dubs itself “The Greatest Show on Earth”, this alone should be something to see.

FIFA Under-17 World Championship, Trinidad and Tobago, September 14–30, 2001. Contact: LOC 2001, Ground Floor H & Z Building, 103d St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Tel: 868 625-5535/868 623-8435/868 627-7843. Fax: 868 627-5972. E-mail: loc2001ceo@tstt.net.tt