A celebration of Trinidadian culture will be on display when the draw ceremony for the 2001 FIFA U-17 World Championship is held Wednesday 9 May at the Tobago Hilton.
The high point of the night, to be sure, will come when the 16 countries that have qualified for the finals find out their opponents for the sixth edition of the FIFA junior championship. But all attendees on the night will also be treated to a slice of life from the twin-island republic, the smallest nation ever to be awarded a FIFA world championship.
"This is an historic time for sport and the people of Trinidad & Tobago. To hold a FIFA championship is an honour given to few, and now it is our time when the world's attention will be on our nation and on our people," said Jack Warner. "We look forward to welcoming the world to our islands ... and to the first football world championship to be held in the Caribbean."
Warner, of course, is a FIFA Vice President as well as President of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. But he also holds the title of Chairman of the FIFA Committee for Youth Competitions, as is also Honorary Chairman of the tournament’s Local Organizing Committee.
This past weekend, the field of 16 nations was completed when the final spots were claimed in Europe and the host confederation. Spain, France and Croatia captured the three spots for UEFA, while Costa Rica joined USA and host Trinidad & Tobago from CONCACAF. The remainder of the field: Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay from South America; Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Mali from Africa; Oman, Japan and Iran from Asia; and Australia from Oceania.
Immediately prior to the actual draw itself, Warner will receive the championship trophy from a representative from the Confederacao Brasileira de Futebol, the winner of the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Championship in New Zealand. The trophy will then be held until 30 September when it will again be presented to the captain of the winning team, this time after the final at the Hasely Crawford National Stadium in Port-of-Spain.
But before then, the various dignitaries, honored guests, officials and team representatives will have been treated to music (including the FIFA anthem) from the Redemption Sound Setters, the national anthem of Trinidad & Tobago from the Signal Hill Alumni Choir, and a demonstration of native dance.
Warner will address the audience, along with Oliver Camps, President of the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation, the Honourable Orville London, Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, and the Honourable Mansour Ramsaran, the Minister of Community Empowerment, Sport and Consumer Affairs for T&T.
It was primarily through the assistance from Hon. Ramsaran that four new stadia were built in the country for the event - Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar, Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Manny Ramjohn Stadium in Marabella, and Dwight Yorke Stadium in Bacolet, Tobago. In addition, the Hasely Crawford Stadium underwent a spectacular renovation making it one of the finest football facilities in the world.
"All those who have worked for the good of our game and of our people in the past must be remembered as we approach the draw and then the tournament itself," Warner said. "And all of us must realise how important it will be to all those generations to come."
Before long, many in the audience will be sitting on tenterhooks, wondering who the draw will put in their path for the claim of world champions. As is traditionally the case, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, FIFA General Secretary, will preside over the draw, which will see the 16 countries divided into four groups.
Aiding him with the pulling of the balls from the pots will some of the greatest athletes from T&T: decathlete Hasely Crawford, national team footballer Reynold Carrington, women’s national team member Leslie Ann James, netballer Lystra Lewis, as well as cricketer Brian Lara, considered by some the greatest batsman in the world. Also assisting on the dais: FIFA referee Noel Bynoe, the captain of the Trinidad & Tobago U-17 national team, and Giselle LaRonde-West, a former Miss World.
Three of the groups will play in Trinidad, with the fourth to be assigned to Tobago for the entire first round. The tournament moves to the big island for the quarterfinal stage, involving the top two from each group, with the winners advancing to the semifinals then finals.