The Ministry of Sport has given its word that it will foot the additional costs incurred by the TT Under-21 men’s hockey team and its support staff, who are stranded in Chile.
The 23-member contingent is being accommodated at UGO Hotel until their flights can be rescheduled.
The group, who recently competed at the Pan Am Hockey Championships in Santiago, Chile, were ordered to disembark from their Copa Airlines flight to Panama on Tuesday. TT authorities told airline officials they would not accept the team’s covid19 PCR test reports written in Spanish.
Ironically, three days earlier, the women's team returned home smoothly with documents in Spanish.
Initially, the men’s team was scheduled to leave Chile at 12.05pm on Tuesday en route to Panama. From Panama, they were expected to depart at 9.10 pm and arrive at Piarco at 1.18 am on Wednesday.
After their removal from the flight, the team was housed at the UGO Hotel and will remain there until a newflight to Panama is confirmed.
TT Hockey Board (TTHB) president Douglas Camacho said the next two flights to Panama are on Saturday and Tuesday. The first, however, cannot seat the entire national team, while Tuesday’s has the seating capacity for the full contingent.
A stay at the hotel until Tuesday, for such a large group, may amount to approximately US$15,000-$20,000, said Camacho.
Speaking to Newsday, Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe said, “Whatever expenses are incurred, and once the request is made to the Sport Company of TT (SporTT), we are going to be prepared to face the Cabinet and make the necessary decisions to provide the support.
“They are a national team out there representing us. Who else to support them than us? We have to do what we have to do. When the request comes and we know the amount, we will put things in gear to do what’s necessary to provide the support.”
Camacho, who is also SporTT chairman, lauded the efforts of Cudjoe’s ministry, which he said, had been very concerned and willing to finance the options to house the team and bring them safely back to Trinidad.
Additionally, the sport ministry and Camacho have also contacted Caribbean Airlines (CAL) to ascertain if they would be able to get a chartered flight out of Panama before Tuesday.
The TTHB president remains hopeful the airline can find an aircraft and pilot to get them from Panama to Trinidad.
“If CAL could get the charter on, we would be able to get our people to Panama for them to make the pickup. There are multiple flights from Chile to Panama. But we must ensure when we get there, our journey home is already confirmed.
“The challenge, of course, is how many (CAL) aircraft are available, how many are assigned to this route and making sure they have pilots who are available. It’s a lot of logistical things they need to sort out. But CAL is looking to see how they can assist and how soon,” he said.
Cudjoe added that the board was also exploring the option of bringing home some members on Saturday’s flight and the remainder on Tuesday. Camacho said the group is a bit tired and disappointed but believes their resilience and camaraderie will see them through.
He affirmed that neither the team nor its officials wasin any way responsible for this unexpected delay.
“I suppose, in the short term, everybody is disappointed in the outcome, especially how it happened. It was not one of those cases where there was a lack of planning.
“The adults in charge of the team ensured they reached the airport early, got clearance, their boarding passes, boarded the aircraft and everything was arranged for them to come home,” he said.
He questioned however, the person/s or department who would decide to deny a national team re-entry into their country over such a trivial matter.
“Whoever the office is – not necessarily the person – they had let the girls in three days earlier, and they brought the same PCR written in Spanish.
“All their (men) documents were printed and approved.
"It’s not the airline to blame or even anyone from the team, it seems to be bureaucratic. I don’t know who has the authority to make that decision or who made the call to make such a decision,” he added.
In fact Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram told the Health Ministry's virtual press conference on Wednesday that test results are required to be in English as part of the TT Travel Pass.This is a document that can be printed or saved on a mobile device to board flights and enter TT.
The CMO referred further inquiries to the National Security Ministry.
Camacho pointed out that commercial airlines do not allow people to board an aircraft unless their final destination (Trinidad in this case) allows them entry into the country, otherwise the airline would be held accountable.
To the decision-makers who opted to refuse the Spanish-language PCR test results, Camacho voiced his frustration.
“I guess they didn’t know
negativo meant 'negative' in English.
"I am trying to be composed and philosophical but I’m quite angry to know that someone in an office somewhere in Trinidad decided to not accept the PCR, hold back the entire flight and have the TT nationals remove their baggage,” he said.
In closing, he credited Cudjoe and her ministry for their efforts thus far towards ensuring the team members are being well taken care of.
“They (ministry) are willing to pick up the costs to make sure the children are comfortable. They have agreed to assist and look after the nationals who are out there. Both the Minister of Sport and the government in general, they reached out to us and really offered to help. Hats off to Minister Cudjoe.”