A Caribbean professional soccer league has been highlighted as a key goal for the future of the sport in the region.
Jeffrey Webb, Cayman’s top football official and now one of the most influential figures in the world game, floated the idea on the eve of a regional soccer summit, bringing governments and sports officials from around the region together.
Speaking at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, flanked by Joseph “Sepp” Blatter, the president of FIFA, Webb outlined a vision for an inter-island pro league.
He said a higher level of competition was essential to give national teams from the region a hope of qualifying for the World Cup on a regular basis.
“One of the conversations that must begin, and we hope it will begin with this sports summit, is about professional football in the Caribbean,” he said Monday at a press conference at the Ritz-Carlton.
“Our territories still lack a meaningful established professional league for the players to aspire to. This is a conversation we must have. We would need financing.
“This is a discussion and a topic for the Caribbean and for the smaller territories to make that giant step of competing and qualifying for a World Cup on a sustainable level – not hit and miss, not one time in 50 years – on a sustainable basis.
“Professional football must play a role. That is something that must be top of the agenda for Caribbean football.”
The expense and logistics of organizing an inter-island football league would be problematic. A previous effort in the early 1990s lasted only three years before collapsing amid severe financial difficulties.
Cheaper, more reliable air travel throughout the region combined with increased interest in football as a televised sport, could make the idea more inviting to investors two decades on, but it remains a difficult proposition.
Ardin “Cheeky” Rivers, technical director of the Cayman Islands Under-17 national team, told the Compass a pro-league for the region would need to be a combined effort between private sector, government and FIFA.
He said gate receipts and television alone would be unlikely to fund the venture, but believes it may work as a sports tourism initiative.
He said Cayman would need to improve its coaching infrastructure and facilities to equip itself to compete against the region’s best.
“I think a professional league is a great idea to motivate the domestic players to reach another level,” Rivers said. “That would provide motivation to improve the team structure, the management and coaching and the youth programs. Looking at the big picture it would do an enormous amount for the Cayman Islands.”
He said it would take four to six years of development for Cayman to have a team that could compete in the league.
“I think we could have our own franchise, but it would have to have a long term plan and a proper youth structure.”
Gregory Ebanks, technical director of Cayman’s Elite Sports Club, said a pro league would help players to excel beyond the limits of domestic football.
“This is realistic provided we have proper planning with finance and a well-organized administration and other staff in place.
“Everything positive can come out of this. This will give players an opportunity to excel with their dreams of playing professionally and provide something for our Cayman youth to aspire for. The Caribbean region will grow, mature and develop vastly.
“I wish the region good luck and best wishes with this idea our own Jeffrey Webb is offering, and ask the potential partners, particularly in the Cayman Islands, to join hands with this.”
Blatter, speaking at Monday’s press conference, said it would always be very difficult for smaller Caribbean nations to qualify for the World Cup because of simple population issues.
However, he did raise the prospect of splitting the CONCACAF qualifying process, acknowledging that the four places up for grabs spanned three different regions.
“Perhaps we should say one of those four berths is for one region,” he added.