By Neto Baptiste
Visa complications have forced the Antigua and Barbuda women’s under-17 football team to withdraw from the CONCACAF qualifiers slated to kick off on Wednesday at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, USA.
Difficulties in securing dates for players seeking US visas prior to the start of the tournament resulted in the youth team being pulled from the tournament where they were scheduled to contest Group D alongside St. Lucia, Guadeloupe and Guyana. St. Lucia and Guadeloupe have also pulled out of the qualifiers reportedly for similar reasons.
Technical Director for Football, Sowerby Gomes, explained that although dates had been secured since April, a hike in Covid-19 cases in Barbados forced the US Embassy to reshuffle all appointments which resulted in the FA’s original appointments being delayed to a date after the tournament.
“We had quite a few first-time applicants to the process, and the first-time applicants would have to go down [to Barbados] in person, and as a result, with the continued communication with Barbados, the date that came back to us was a date that was not acceptable because it would go way past the tournament,” he said.
“We would have gone through all of the protocols in terms of touching base with all of our people on the ground in Barbados, our Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in Antigua, and we exhausted all those options, but still were not successful in getting a proper date so that we could have been able to go before the embassy and get the visas approved,” he added.
Revealing that 19 of the 24 selected players would have needed to travel to Barbados for visa appointments, Gomes said it would have proven difficult to get every player in on time as the embassy indicated they were not taking group applications due to strict protocols prohibiting large gatherings.
The former player said it was a difficult development for both players and staff.
“It was very disappointing on our end knowing that we would have applied for the visas since April and now, based on the whole protocol situation in Barbados with the Covid-19, they came back and gave us a date that would have gone past the tournament, and that would have been a difficult situation for us since the ABFA would have invested so much cost in terms of getting the girls prepared for this particular tournament,” Gomes said.
As for what now, the TD said there are ongoing talks between those countries forced to pull out of the qualifiers regarding a possible tournament later this year.
“We have, so far, been engaging with the other member countries who also had to be pulled out of the tournament for similar reasons, and some for other reasons, and we are looking to have a sort of triangular tournament hopefully in November with St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Dominica,” he said.
“We are trying to assemble all the teams in one particular location so that we could have a sort of tournament, and that all of these players who have been training towards this particular tournament don’t feel the downer in this whole situation. At the same time we are looking also at coaches’ development and at this particular tournament or games [in November] we will be looking at the assessment of our coaches,” he added.
CONCACAF, over the weekend, announced changes to the groups and schedules of the qualifiers.
The announcement, according to a release, followed the withdrawal of a number of teams due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, which resulted in an uneven number of teams per group.
Group A will now consist of Saint Kitts and Nevis, US Virgin Islands and Suriname with Group B housing Barbados, Curaçao and Belize. Group C consists of Honduras, Anguilla, Guyana and Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Antigua and Barbuda team was being coached by Lorraine Charles and Valarie Isaac.