McLaughlin wants big support for girls

Women’s football holds centre stage this week and Caymanians are being encouraged to support the national side in the first sporting tournament on the island since Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004. Even the sports minister himself has appealed for a good turn out.

Cayman host Group D of the Olympic qualifying tournament and play Puerto Rico in the first match on Wednesday at the playing field North Side. Haiti face Puerto Rico at the same venue on Friday and Cayman take on Haiti on Sunday. All matches start at 7.30pm.

All women spectators will be free admittance. Men have to pay a nominal fee. The referees, all female, are from Cuba and the officials from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago

Jeffrey Webb, president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, his urging loacls to support their own. ‘This is the first time Cayman is hosting an international qualifying tournament in four years,’ he said.

‘This for us is a tremendous opportunity. For many of it us it will be a great joy to see full international football returning to Cayman. It is not a coincidence that we have chosen women’s football to relaunch Cayman into the international arena with a qualifying group, it is a requirement for every country to host a qualifying group every four years. One factor is the cost. Every country has to share in the cost of developing not only women’s football but football as a whole.

‘We are excited and pleased to welcome Puerto Rico, the first time any team from there has played here. This is also the first women’s team to come from Haiti. We’ll be having international football in North Side for the first time and while, of course the venues are seeing tremendous improvement, thanks to, of course, the Honourable Minister of Sport and Education Alden McLaughlin and his government, we’ve also seen tremendous improvement in facilities throughout the country.

‘While we’re looking forward to playing in North Side, I’m sure the players and fans would have loved to be playing in George Town or in some of the bigger populated areas of the country.’ That is not possible because of renovations at all the venues.

‘We are very excited by the commitment and dedication that the women’s national team has displayed over the last year. Their training, their habits, their attitude has been phenomenal. The reports that we’ve received from the management and the technical director is very, very positive.

‘This tournament and Cayman hosting this group couldn’t have been possible without economical partners and the biggest partner, of course, was the government. I want to thank them. We also have some other partners we want to thankful, including the Olympic committee, Sir Donald McLean and the Olympic executive committee and the Olympic movement has been very supportive. We also have our corporate sponsors, Bisys, Green Light and Atlantic.

‘We’re happy that the minister has recognized the important role that sport plays throughout our society. When you read the American journals of medicine you realise that sport is now being recommended – and in our case football – for the fight against hypertension and obesity. It’s great that the ministry is embracing sports and using it as a vehicle in the fight against some of these illnesses.’

In attendance at a press conference at the Truman Bodden Complex were players Sophia Dilbert, Brianna Hydes and Telicia Ebanks.

McLaughlin said: ‘I just want to say how pleased I am to support such a great event and particularly because it involves women. I don’t want to put any pressure on the girls but I just want to say that the men haven’t qualified so our last hopes rest with you! No pressure at all.

‘Seriously, I want to thank all of those involved and pay particular tribute to the corporations and the superb partnership that has developed between the federation and the ministry over the last couple of years, because we are doing a tremendous amount of work to improve the infrastructure but we understand very well that it involves significant inconvenience and displacement for football while we’re going on with those works here at Truman Bodden and Ed Bush in West Bay and the Annexe in George Town.

‘One or other or all of those venues would have been used to stage an event of this magnitude and so I’m deeply grateful to the football association for co-operating and not complaining in getting the games played in a venue in which we would not ordinarily have chosen.

‘But it does present itself with an opportunity for football to be played for the first time in the Eastern Districts. I wish our girls well and indeed all participants because I have to be seen to be impartial but being the Minister of Sports I’ll be in the stands cheering on the Cayman side.’

Team manager Bernie Bush said: ‘There’s been so many things lacking here, to the people of Cayman I’m appealing to you to come out and support them. This team is really together. In the past there have been complaints that there were too many players from a particular club or district. All those excuses were used not to come out and support our country. This is one time that the team is completely together. The girls are all friends. They’re all from different districts. They’ve all earned their spots. They’ve put in some hard training.

‘When you see some women who have their families, in the case of some seniors have two or three kids. And they come up at 7.30 in the morning up to Pappagallo and run the dykes for four or five miles. And when you see them run from the Public Beach past the Ritz-Carlton and back down again in a given specific time, this is their sacrifice. ‘Players leave work at 4pm, to come to practice, then go back to work. You see young ladies walking into practice studying their books and when practice finishes and they’re waiting for their parents to come and pick them up, they’re studying their books again. Sacrifice has been made. The least the public can do is to please come out and support these young ladies. It’s time for us to learn to support our own. That is one of my pleas. And please wear red as much as you can.

‘We’ve got a good mix of some of the seniors from the past and nine or ten of the team is the U-17 squad that’s been preparing for the last year to head to Antigua next month for the World Cup qualifiers. And believe you me, you will see a brand of football in women’s football that you’ve never seen before. Some are only 13 or 14 years old. You’re going to be very surprised. A lot of people are saying you’re taking these young girls against big women but the parents and the coaches know what they’re capable of. And they are going to fight, despite what the public may believe. So wear your red and come out and support them.