100 children, 55 adults ‘stranded’ on UK sports trip: Out in the cold

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jaric Titans Sports Development Club coach Brian Browne in a screenshot from a video
posted to the Club’s Facebook page on Wednesday.

AFTER landing in rainy and frigid weather (four degrees Celsius) in England this week, Jaric Titans Sports Development Club administrators are scrambling to find accommodation for almost 100 children who were brought to compete in the Manchester International Easter Football Cup.

The event runs from March 29-31.

The young footballers are part of a large contingent from the Tobago-based club, which includes over 50 adults. A GoFundMe page was set up on Tuesday and at 7 pm on Wednesday, had raised around £3,535 of the £60,000 needed to provide shelter while in Manchester.

The public was also asked to donate to the club’s Republic Bank account.

In a video posted on Facebook on Wednesday, Jaric Titans coach Brian Browne explained the predicament.

He said, “I’m here to make an appeal to you, the public, for assistance. We’ve been planning this trip to England for such a long time and at the last minute, some plans and some commitments that were made fell through.

“We did come to England because we didn’t want to disappoint the boys that were training and preparing. They were excited to come, so we didn’t want to disappoint them.”

Browne said the flights had already been booked and the club “took a leap of faith” by going to Manchester without having their accommodation sorted out.

He added, “We are struggling for the cost of accommodation, so we are appealing to the public for assistance – any kind of assistance. However large or small you can give, we will appreciate.

“We are here with close to 100, 100-plus children; it’s a substantial amount but whatever little you can give will go a long way.”

Newsday spoke to Browne via WhatsApp call on Wednesday afternoon and he said there has been little change in the club’s circumstances since the post was made.

“People have been calling and contributing, but no major (change),” he said.

Asked what was the plan for accommodation before coming to England, Browne said, “The plan for accommodation was always to be at the…”

After pausing for a few seconds, he ended the conversation, saying he had a train to catch and asked that Newsday call him back by 9 pm (UK time). WhatsApp calls to his cellphone at that time did not go through.

Contacted on Wednesday, Sports Minister Shamfa Cudjoe-Lewis said the club did not apply for funding either through her as Tobago West MP or her ministry.

“I know certainly, no promises were made by me as a matter of fact, no request for funding was submitted to my ministry from Jaric Titans.

“Interestingly, a couple years ago, when I first joined the ministry, I sponsored Jaric Titans. They were going somewhere in Europe to give youngsters the experience to play in a similar football initiative.”

She said the club applied for funding for the Manchester trip through the Sport and Culture Fund under the Office of the Prime Minister.

“They did not notify me, they didn’t ask for guidance, did not come to my constituency office…I couldn’t have provided any advice to them because I didn’t know.”

Cudjoe-Lewis said two weeks ago, after Sport and Culture Fund denied the application, she received a WhatsApp message from a former schoolmate, who is one of the parents of the young footballers, asking if she could reverse the decision.

She said she enquired about the application and was told that the club applied for $1.6 million to cover 89 children, which includes a three-year-old, and 55 adults.

“After examining the case, the Sport and Culture Fund was not convinced this was an initiative that would help in the development of the sport based on the way they sold the story. It somewhat looked like, I don’t know, something of a joyride, and they couldn’t explain why Sport and Culture Fund is being asked to fund everybody.”

Cudjoe-Lewis said she asked if funding for some of the children could be arranged, but the chairman said the Sports and Culture Fund had already met for the month and any disbursement of funds would not be in time anyway.

“There is no way I can overturn a Sport and Culture Fund decision,” Cudjoe-Lewis said.

She said Jaric Titans had decided not to approach her ministry as they intended to ask her for funding for a separate event in June.

“I know they went to the THA and I understand that the THA made some promises to them to fund them, to support them, and I wish them the very best in their endeavours, and I look forward to their application for the June event.”

Asked about her thoughts on taking almost 100 children to Europe without accommodation being secured, Cudjoe-Lewis replied, “That is a matter for Jaric Titans themselves and the parents who are involved in the initiative.”

She described Browne as an “outstanding and very responsible sporting person” who always acts from “the goodwill of his heart.”

She also had similar praise for the club.

“I know it’s based on developing children and the sport and giving the youngsters a new experience to help them grow. But they applied too late, or the way that they went about doing what they were doing was not done properly. We’re human, we make mistakes… “Unfortunately, the whole idea of going out there with children without accommodation, I don’t think it’s the best idea. We have to look to the wisdom of the parents who are involved and the leadership of the Jaric Titans.”

In a brief interview with Newsday on Wednesday, Secretary of Sport Terrance Baynes said Jaric Titans approached the THA for funding for the trip “a few days ago.”

Asked to clarify if it was literally a few days ago, Baynes replied, “Not even a week.”

He said that based on the amount that was requested, a commitment was required from the THA Executive Council, but he could not say if that was approved.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne told Newsday he was unaware of the situation but hoped the group would contact the High Commission in England for assistance.

He said he would try to get a contact for the group to see how he could help.

In September 2022, Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) leader Watson Duke slammed the former PDP-led THA and Chief Secretary Farley Augustine for “abandoning” 27 members of the Roxborough Folk Performers group who went to New York on a cultural tour.

In a Facebook video, Duke said the THA provided airline tickets but nothing else to cover accommodation, food and other expenses.

Augustine said the THA did not send the group to New York but still provided financial assistance to the tune of $400,417.50 to cover airfare and some expenses.

The public spat led to Duke resigning as THA Deputy Chief Secretary and Augustine and the remaining THA executive forming their own party.