Sport Minister says ‘women’s football won’

The curtain came down on the inaugural Women's Premier League (WPL) last Thursday at the St James Barracks. The fiery closing act from the Boom Champions Fuego concluded a month of extremely competitive women's football across the country.

The Minister of Sport Brent Sancho was overall very satisfied with his administration's first crack at a women's professional league. "Women's football has been neglected for a very long time," the minister told the Express. "When I became sports minister, I felt I had to make sure that women's sports would get the kind of attention it needs."

According to the minister, he wanted to reach out and create an outlet for the premier women's footballers in Trinidad and Tobago.

There had been concerns however after Sancho's announcement of the WPL in March. The league itself was met with a lot of scepticism, particularly amongst the media in the build up to the opening day of action. The minister acknowledged the setbacks, citing the fact that they were inevitable seeing that the league was the first of its kind in T&T.

Many critics of the league were waving the red flag at the plausibility of the league being a state-run entity, therefore wasting tax dollars in the process. Sancho ensured that there was no such issue once the league kicked off.

"The majority of this league was sponsored by corporate T&T," he said. "The various teams took franchises and it boded well with the concept of the league." The minister also indicated that the private-sector sponsorship has ensured the longevity of the league. "What it has done is it has made sure the league has a projection, and we have already had calls from future suitors that want to be involved with the league for next year," he added.

Sancho also indicated that the players involved with the franchise teams were duly compensated for their endeavours. "We went along with most leagues around the world in terms of payment. We tried to do a tier system, and I think the main thing is that we tried to make players comfortable," said the minister.

According to Sancho, coach Karla Aleman praised the league as well, saying that she has yet to see the effort made for the league done anywhere else. "On this side of the world, I don't think there's any other women's league except the US that gives the players that type of financial opportunity," emphasised Sancho.

The Women's League Football (WoLF) was also a talking point, however. Many felt that the league which served as the premier women's competition in T&T since 2009, would have been overshadowed by its brand new successor. Sancho reiterated that the intention was never to push WoLF out. "This league is not in competition with the WoLF at all," he said. "It is actually meant to enhance it... in terms of the development of the league (WPL) we hope that the WoLF would play an even bigger part."

Attention inevitably has shifted away from the WoLF however. The St Ann's Rangers team, who were the defending champions, had to pull out entirely as most of their first eleven were drafted into the WPL.

The league itself had matches featured in tandem with the WPL on two different match days. Currently it seems the competition has taken a bit of a lull before its knockout phase, as even coaches are unsure as to when their next match will be played. The minister was unable elaborate on any perceived organisational issues that the competition was having.

But Sancho is already looking ahead to the future despite the WPL's recent conclusion. "This has been cabinet approved for three years," he said. "The first year would always be a challenge, but we're very happy to see that it turned out as it did. From an awareness standpoint, women's sport was really the winner from this."

Sancho hopes to see a tier system being used as a part of women's football in T&T, with the idea being that a girl's career could start at the secondary level, then move up to the WoLF, with the WPL being the top level of women's football available in T&T.