Was Search for a Star sabotaged?

From left to right Director of the St Lucia Tourist Board, Louis Lewis; Gros Islet Youth Football Director, Jennifer Gaston; Prime Minister, Stephenson King, Governor General, Her Excellency, Dame Pearlette Louisy; and former English footballer Les Ferdinand at a special cocktail reception in his honour.

You would think with all the allegations concerning then FIFA presidential challenger Mohamed Bin Hammam and former FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, allegedly offering bribes to members of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) in exchange for votes, the St Lucia Football Association (SLFA) who belong to the CFU would do their utmost to deflect attention away from themselves.

That was not case at a recent special cocktail reception at the official residence of Prime Minister Stephenson King. The reception was held in honour of Les Ferdinand. He is the founder of “Search for a Star St Lucia” —a sports initiative geared at identifying two young St Lucians footballers, who would get the opportunity showcase their talent to coaches at the internationally renowned Tottenham Hotspurs Football Club in the United Kingdom.

On this night one assumed celebrations were in order, given the fact the guest list included Governor General, Her Excellency Dame Pearlette Louisy, the Prime Minister, various officials with the Department of Youth and Sports, Ferdinand and his team which included high ranking coach Chris Ramsey and local footballers. However that was not the case. What transpired during the evening could only be called a grave injustice on the part of the (SLFA) who initially gave the program its blessing.

Master of Ceremonies Gilroy Hall who was a former national footballer gave an inkling of things to come. Referring to Search for a Star St Lucia he said: “I was one of those who gave 150 percent to the SLFA because I thought it was a great initiative. Today I am told we are now heading on a different sort of journey.”

After being introduced, the guest of honour explained what the MC alluded to. After thanking individuals who assisted and supported them, Ferdinand sadly announced the trials for “Search for a Star St Lucia” has come to a halt. What happened?

He said: “The one set of people that we needed to come on board to really help us was the SLFA. We really needed them to supply the players and the venues in order for us to move forward. Unfortunately they have not been as cooperative as we needed them to be.”

Ferdinand went on to say “the goal posts were changed and unfortunately we have not been allowed to go on with what we needed to do, which is facilitating the opportunity to offer two players a chance to come to Tottenham and train.”

It was not all doom and gloom regarding the initiative. Permanent Secretary in the Department of Youth and Sports, Donovan Williams, looked on the bright side. He referred to the recent development as just a stumbling block toward Ferdinand and his associates getting their initiative underway.

Williams said: “We are totally committed to ensuring we provide opportunities for our young persons to excel. This is an initiative that goes beyond football and the football association. It is national in its truest scope. We at the ministry will utilize all the necessary resources to ensure we provide our youth with that platform to elevate themselves.”

Williams went on to say: “For me it is merely a delay in the provision of that opportunity. We have had some very fruitful discussions with Les and his team in terms of how we can bring the initiative back on board in a way that satisfies them.”

As you would expect the Prime Minister who is a former Minister of Sports had the last word in this episode. This was by no means his first meeting with Ferdinand. In fact, King met the former footballer on his home soil in April while in the UK attending the Royal Wedding.
During that meeting, the Prime Minister expressed his appreciation to Ferdinand and his associates for investing in the potential talents of St Lucian youth. The Prime Minister then expressed the view that the initiative would provide an opportunity for a “once in a lifetime” exposure for young St Lucian talent.

On this night though, having heard that things had not gone according to plan, King who had a private session with some of the key players (excluding SLFA officials) said: “We have had extensive discussions this evening as to how we can move this initiative forward. I have challenged the Ministry of Sports to take on the initiative as a national effort in the interest not of the Prime Minister, not of the government but the interest of the people of St Lucia.”

In closing, King acknowledged that Ferdinand and his associates have not made any demands on the government for any financial support or any other resource to put the program forward. However he did say “if it means we {government} must come with the financial resources, then we must do it in the interest of St Lucian young people to make sure it becomes a reality.”

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