NINE professional TT footballers, who play in the Hero I-League in India, say they are eager to return home. They say being away from their families has “taken a toll” on them “psychologically, emotionally and financially.”
The players include Churchill Brothers FC defenders Radanfah Abu Bakr and Robert Primus, and striker Willis Plaza; Gokulam Kerala players Marcus Joseph (forward), Nathaniel Garcia (midfield) and defender Andre Ettienne; Neroca FC defender Taryk Sampson and goalkeeper Marvin Phillip; and Mohun Bagan AC defender Daneil Cyrus.
All players have represented TT at the international level. Sampson, however, played at the Under-20 level while the others played at the senior level.
On March 13, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) had initially suspended the league until March 31 owing to the covid19 pandemic. But as lockdown measures began being implemented in the country, the remaining league matches were cancelled and table-toppers Mohun Bagan were crowned champions.
Speaking with Newsday on Saturday morning, Abu Bakr said while he is somewhat worried, he has not been panicking. He said the situation in his city – Goa – is not as bad as others. Up to press time, there were 725 confirmed cases of covid19 in Goa, with 118 recoveries and no deaths. The city’s population is approximately 1.5 million.
“There’s no reason to panic but I’m generally cautious about what I’m doing. Unfortunately, in the bigger cities, it’s getting worse,” he said.
The clubs all implemented a force majeure clause because of the pandemic, which means players were not paid for the final month of their contracts.
Asked what the general mood has been for the players, he said, “It’s one of frustration more than anything else, anxiety to get home…Even if the league was going on, it would have been finished by now and we would have been back with our families. (There are) guys who have kids and that kinda thing, so everyone is just eager to get home.
“We’re here, we’re bleeding money and a lot of us have families to take care of and what not. Technically, you’re double-spending ‘cause you’re not even supposed to be here. But time – you could get back money but your actual time with your family and what you would have planned, missing your kids’ birthdays, anniversaries…that supersedes whatever money you may be losing over here as well.”
On March 21, he met with his club’s officials and was granted permission to return home. TT’s borders, however, were declared closed the following day.
Abu Bakr has written to the Ministry of National Security on behalf of the group but he said it feels like he has “reached a dead end.” He said he understands that their situation, compared to that of other nationals who have been granted exemptions, is a bit more tricky owing to the distance and flight arrangements.
In the e-mail, he suggested what he called a “possible route home.” He said the Indian government was providing repatriation flights for its nationals stuck in the Caribbean.
The e-mail said, “That, of course, would require a level of diplomatic coordination that we are not able to access. We therefore humbly request the relevant authority’s assistance in this regard. Because of our lack of proximity and the limitations and complications (health risks, connections) of commercial travel, this may represent our only feasible way home for the foreseeable future.”
He said their proximity may be working against them since they would have to first fly to other countries to get a flight to directly reach to TT. But without an official exemption from the Ministry, venturing to these places may be pointless.
“That’s risky business…That’s not very clever, I think,” he said. “We have a very complicated trip home.”
The only communication from the Ministry thus far has been a reiteration that TT’s borders are closed and to “shelter in place”.
But the players are hoping an arrangement can be worked out so they can soon be reunited with their families.