Hosting the Women’s Under-20 CONCACAF tournament over the past two weeks was an unqualified success and bodes well for the future of football events in the Cayman Islands.
Many games were filled to their 3,500 capacity at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex which brought much satisfaction to Caymanian Jeffrey Webb, the CONCACAF president and FIFA vice-president, who ensured ground and infrastructure upgrades were met by the government, which injected more than $5 million into staging it.
Webb attended the first CONCACAF games and then flew to Dakar, Senegal to receive an award from the United Nations for his campaign on raising HIV/AIDS awareness.
He got special recognition by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). He received the 2013 Protect the Goal Special Award for the Diaspora at the Pan-African Youth Leadership Summit for his exceptional work in using sport to advocate for social development. Webb returned in time for Sunday’s championship game which USA won 4-0 against Mexico.
“Receiving the award was a very humbling experience and I’m really overjoyed at the recognition,” he said. “For us in CONCACAF, we believe that the game has a responsibility to society which gives so much to the game and the game can give back so much more.”
Webb added that in the past there was a view that football was not responsible for the ills of society but he sees it differently. When he did his HIV/AIDS research, he found that the widest affected area were people aged 15-24 and that a new person is infected every minute of the day.
“The game can bring awareness to this fact and I think we did a great job in doing that at the Gold Cup competition last year,” Webb said. “We had over 60 million watching on TV those games and in 13 stadiums that attracted 600,000 people.” There were tournaments in Mexico, Panama and now Grand Cayman to continue pressing the message. “It is educating our players and also our fans, all generations from all walks of life. That’s the great unifier in sports,” he said.
As for the Women’s U-20 CONCACAF tournament, Webb is pleased. “The feedback has been tremendous,” he said.
He added that April Heinrichs, an official with the U.S. national soccer program who is an Olympic gold medalist and was captain of the women’s 1991 World Cup winning team, said that this was the best women’s competition at any level she had experienced.
“That endorsement bodes well for the Cayman Islands, the Cayman Islands Football Association and for CONCACAF,” said Webb. “We’re raising the bar, improving standards and my intention is to make CONCACAF the best of the six world football federations.”
Cayman’s very young and inexperienced side lost all three of their group matches and did not score once. Webb feels that merely cramming in lots of training and practice games in the months leading up to the competition was totally inadequate.
“It was down to lack of sustainable preparation,” he said. “There was lots of preparation in the months leading up to it, but to play at this level the girls needs more exposure.
“The U.S. national team has been together about nine times, they’ve had training camps throughout the last year and their budget is close to $6 million a year. You can see all that investment on the field, their movement, the way they play and interact and their approach to the game.
“The Cayman girls just have to work hard. Obviously, it’s a numbers game and we don’t have the same participation level as [the U.S.]. The women’s game here has not grown like it should have in the last 10 years.”
He hopes this competition showcased local talent sufficiently to attract new players for the program to grow exponentially. “We’re hoping that the legacy from this tournament definitely propels that,” he said.
Wendy Fisher was the only Cayman official in the tournament. A former top player, Fisher is as dedicated to achieving her potential as an official as when she was playing. She was an assistant linesman in the championship game and is already an inspiration to anyone wanting to do the same. Fisher will officiate at the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, a huge tournament.
“It was nice exposure for Wendy,” Webb said. “In CONCACAF’s 50 year history, no Caymanian has ever worked on a CONCACAF final. From the referee assessment reports, she was outstanding. Congratulations to her and her family for all the sacrifices she’s made over the years.
“She was a great player and the same attitude she had then, she has taken on to the next phase of her career.
“The Algarve Cup involves the top 12 women’s countries in the world. That includes Germany, USA, Canada and England. She is a rising star and congratulations to her on a great job.” Bruce Blake is Cayman’s football association first vice-president. He said, “It was a great tournament. We were oversubscribed every single day apart from one night when it rained. The crowd was lovely and the standard of football very high.”
Blake added that it bodes well for not just local football but for sports tourism as well. He said that hotels were at full capacity and many businesses benefitted. “I saw many football people out shopping and taking island tours,” he said. “They were not only here to play football but to experience the Cayman Islands. For many, it was their first time here and they took the opportunity to see it.
“Cayman is a paradise, especially with the sea and sun. Many have said they will come back with their families.”
Blake thanked Webb for allowing the tournament to be held here and also the local organizing committee and all the volunteers for their input.
The next sports tourism injection is another annual visit next month of Swindon Town Football Club’s academy team from England, in conjunction with the Houston Dynamos playing too. Then, in August, it’s the turn of the girls U-15 CONCACAF tournament of around 16 teams. “If we can have these kind of tournaments during the slow season I think everyone will benefit,” added Blake.