The improved performances of our national football team, popularly known as the Soca Warriors, have given local sport fans reasons to hope again.
On Saturday night into early Sunday morning, the T&T team, ranked 103rd in the world, came up against the world’s 11th ranked team and number one ranked Concacaf team, Mexico and held them to a goalless draw in the opening game of the 2021 Gold Cup.
On the heels of two qualifying games against Montserrat and French Guiana, the Soca Warriors would have come into the game less rested than the Central American powerhouse in a tournament in which Mexico are the defending champions. They held their own against relentless attacking football.
Goalkeeper Marvin Phillip stood out exceptionally with several critical saves that earned him the Man of the Match title, and a sterling performance from Radanfah Abu Bakr in defense also helped keep the Mexicans at bay. But it was the overall team performance that we applaud.
Newly-appointed coach Angus Eve’s game plan of absorbing the pressure and seeking to launch counter-attacks when possible certainly worked to give T&T equal points in the game and brought back memories of the nil-nil draw against Sweden in the 2006 World Cup.
But while the performance brought satisfaction to many, the game was marred by the ugliness of racism.
On two occasions, referee Ricardo Montero was forced to stop the game because of discriminatory chants from the crowd at the AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. It was the first stage of procedures to be followed when racism is present in football games. The next stage would have been game abandonment, which, in this case, did not occur.
The comments, directed at the T&T players, later spilt over into social media posts. Not only were the T&T players called by the most derogatory racist terms, but were also described as “animals” who ought to be kept “locked up” on their island instead of participating in an international tournament.
Some posted monkeys often used as a racist projection of people of African descent.
Those who chose not to use racist terms were equally as nasty in their descriptions. One post described T&T nationals as “a bunch of dirty street coconut kickers”, another as “cavemen” and a third felt the players ought to be kept in jail and starved.
This is the very ugliness of the “beautiful game” that FIFA and regional football bodies have been fighting to eliminate.
Racism simply has no place in sport.
Following the outrage over the killing of George Floyd and the rise of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, the English Premier League and other European leagues would pause before the kickoff of games, to allow players to go down on one knee as a sign that they oppose racism in all forms.
That it was allowed to happen on Saturday night to the extent that the game had to be stopped twice, is disappointing, hurtful and disrespectful to all those fighting for the elimination of discrimination. It cannot go unaddressed.
As of yesterday, Concacaf, the regional body in charge of the tournament, made no statement on the matter.
This is not good enough.
For the sake of our players and for the good of the game, Concacaf has a duty to show that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated under its umbrella and until it does, it too must be held accountable for the action of the fans on Saturday night.
To bypass the procedures and penalties usually associated with this type of behaviour is a sign of weakness from Concacaf and an added shame to the nations it represents.
We look forward to their action in this regard, as done in other international football associations. We deserve nothing less.
Meanwhile, we trust that our boys out there will not be deterred by this as they do their best to continue to lift the hopes of the nation at a time when we need it most.
As the saying goes, when they go low, we go high.