After 10 years and nearly US$3 million in spending, at the most conservative estimate, Cayman Islands football officials are planning a “grand opening” ceremony for a solitary football pitch at the game’s headquarters in Prospect.
The artificial turf has been laid, the corner flags are in place and the center is finally ready to host some football.
Partly funded by FIFA’s much hyped, at times controversial, GOAL project, progress has been slow since the land was donated at peppercorn rent by government in 2004.
Money has poured into the project, from five separate GOAL donations and two grants from private companies. The result, so far, is an administrative office building, car park and now, a football pitch.
In comparison to the lofty goals for a world-class center of excellence outlined at an earlier opening ceremony for the office building more than six years ago, it is underwhelming.
Senior officials from the Cayman Islands Football Association acknowledge progress has not been smooth, but say it is an ongoing project that will take several years, and more GOAL funding to complete.
They attribute the high costs largely to the expense of developing and filling the swampy, low-lying land.
A 2013 survey of the land, carried out after a minimum of US$1.6 million had already been spent, showed that the site still required more than 43,000 cubic yards of additional fill at a likely cost in excess of $1 million.
A full accounting of precisely how much money has been spent on the center is not publicly available. Bruce Blake, the acting president of CIFA, did not respond to requests to provide this information.
Details of the donations from FIFA’s GOAL project are publicly available on the world governing body’s website.
According to the site, approximately US$1.8 million of an allocated US$2.2 million has been paid by FIFA to contractors for work on the site.
The first money was allocated in 2002 for the office building. When that was completed in 2009, FIFA president Sepp Blatter and longtime Caribbean football boss Jack Warner arrived by private jet for an opening ceremony to acclaim a new era in Cayman football.
Warner, who was indicted this year on corruption charges, hailed the site as evidence of the success of FIFA’s GOAL project.
Warner enthused, “Mr. Blatter introduced the GOAL project to boost smaller territories. FIFA decided to fling a million here and there and despite much criticism, it worked.”
Jeffrey Webb, then-president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, said during the ceremony that the center would ultimately feature three playing fields, a gym and dormitories.
“I want it to be the premier location of the whole region and attract players from across the world,” he said.
Despite the completion of one field, after an accelerated period of activity at the site this year, those aims remain a long way off.
Blake, the acting president of CIFA since Webb was indicted along with Warner in the FIFA corruption probe, has defended the handling of the project.
He emphasized, in an interview in August, that all money from the GOAL project had been paid directly to contractors by FIFA and no GOAL funds had ever gone through CIFA’s accounts.
He said the association had followed the world governing body’s rule book on all GOAL-related projects, and highlighted the low-lying nature of the site and difficulties growing a grass field, among other problems.
CIFA accounts, published since that interview, reveal that an additional $984,000, booked in earlier accounts as loans from “strategic partners,” were actually sponsorship grants for the construction of the national training center. Together with the GOAL donations, that totals just under US$3 million in spending directly attributed to the center.
Asked to clarify how much, in total, had been spent at the site, Mr. Blake did not respond.
FIFA has also paid just over US$2 million in grants to CIFA through its Financial Assistance Program since 2011, according to its website, though there is no indication that any of this went toward the center.
Since the projects’ original approval for GOAL funding in November 2002, FIFA has made five payments. The donations included US$450,000 to Black Holding Ltd./Roy Campbell & Sons Const. Ltd. “to deliver headquarters and administrative offices befitting a football association.”
A second payment of $412,000 was approved in 2008 to “complete the headquarters” and install a football pitch.
A third payment, again to Black Holding Ltd./Roy Campbell & Sons Const. Ltd., of $406,000, was made in 2009 to complete the football pitch at the CIFA technical center.
In 2011, FIFA goal project allocated another $508,782, of which $364,000 was paid to Economy Builders for the installation of a second football pitch at the center of excellence.
Despite these payments, as of late December 2014, there was no usable football pitch at the site. A patchy, partially marked, grass pitch lay largely unused next to the office building.
In 2014, FIFA allocated another half-million dollars once again to “complete the football pitch project at the CIFA Centre of Excellence as the current grass field cannot survive in the low-level saltwater environment.”
Of these funds, $184,750 was paid to Edel Grass BV to lay Astroturf at the center, according to documents published on FIFA’s website. The work by Edel Grass and local subcontractors this year led to the completion of the first pitch in September.
Bruce Blake cited FIFA’s GOAL regulations as the document that guided how such spending was handled.
Asked if there was a tender process for the GOAL project contractors, he pointed to a clause in the FIFA regulations that requires a minimum of three quotes for any project of more than $50,000.
He said of the document, “This is what governs the GOAL project. We go through this process each time we apply for a GOAL project. There is a FIFA committee, a FIFA development officer, we provide them with a proposal, a budget and drawings, they decide whether it is viable – they are the ones that make the decisions, they are the ones that determine who the contractors are, and they are the ones that pay the contractors directly.”
Blake suggested that the regulations have always been in place.
“This has always been on the FIFA website, nobody has taken the time to read it, nobody has taken the time to contact FIFA about it,” he said of the GOAL regulations.
“There is a lot of misinformation out there that nobody double-checks and nobody verifies,” he added.
A FIFA spokesman, in a partial response to questions posed by the Journal, indicated that the version of the guidelines referred to by Blake did not come into place until 2013 – after funding for four of the Cayman GOAL projects had been paid. In its statement, FIFA’s spokesman added, “According to the Goal Regulations (2013) the respective member association is primarily responsible for tender processes as FIFA’s Development Committee approves the projects but is not involved in the selection of providers.”
The 2013 GOAL regulations do not clearly state precisely who is responsible for the tender process. An earlier version of the GOAL regulations, published in 2005, makes no reference to any tendering process.
Neither FIFA’s spokesperson not Blake replied to a follow-up request for clarification on how contractors were selected for the Cayman GOAL projects prior to 2013.
Contacted by the Journal, Eldon Rankin of Economy Builders said he could not remember if the 2011 project had been advertised. He said he had a signed contract from FIFA and had done a lot of work to rid the site of muck and fill parts of the site.
In his original interview in August, Blake rebutted suggestions of any conflict of interest in the handling of those contracts, saying it was a “tender process that FIFA controls.”
Three of the early construction contracts went to Black Holding Ltd/Campbell & Sons. Campbell & Sons was founded by the late father of CIFA’s current vice president, Peter Campbell. However, Campbell did not become the association’s vice-president until 2009 and refutes any suggestions of conflict.
Blake added, “When those contracts were awarded, Peter wasn’t a member of our executive committee…and it is his father’s company.”
Campbell said that aside from a crossover period of around six months, he was not on the executive committee at the time the company was involved in GOAL projects, and in any case, he had no influence over the process.
He added that Campbell & Sons has been around since 1968 and both he, as a private developer, and the firm, had been involved in far bigger projects.
He added, “We all should know this is an election year and you have individuals running around trying to discredit members of the executive.”
Campbell said there was no mystery to why so much money needed to be spent at the site.
He said, like a lot of construction projects in Cayman, a substantial amount of costly demucking and fill was required to raise the level of the land.
He said FIFA’s development officers had visited the site and had not questioned the amount of money required for fill.
Despite this, a survey conducted for CIFA by Roland Bodden & Co. Ltd. in 2013 – after four of the GOAL projects had been paid for – put the amount of fill still needed for the two football fields and the site at 43,594 cubic yards. The survey was issued Sept. 12, 2013.
According to the survey, the first pitch still required 5,381 cubic yards and the second pitch 12,556 cubic yards of varying levels of Cayman rock, crusher run and shot rock.
The remaining site would need 35,448 cubic yards of fill.
Orsino Pink, of the surveying firm, confirmed to the Journal that it had carried out the survey, shared with us by Mr. Blake, to establish how much additional fill would be required to take the site up to finished grade. At an estimated cost of $30 per cubic yard, it would take an additional $1.3 million to take the entire site up to the level required.
Some of that work has since been carried out to facilitate the completion of the first pitch, but much of the site remains unfilled.
Campbell said parts of the property were in excess of 8 feet deep, “like a well.”
Blake acknowledged it would take a lot more work to get the rest of the site ready for development.
He said the land was essentially free, on peppercorn lease from government, and that while there were numerous issues with it which had not been immediately obvious, CIFA is grateful.
He said the association plans to apply for more GOAL funding to put floodlights at the site.
Beyond that, applications for changing rooms, stands and dormitories could follow.