The Guyana Football Federation (GFF) and the UEFA, European football’s governing body, have started a ground-breaking project to create Guyana’s first professional football league as part of the UEFA’s Assist Development programme.
Officials from both organisations met virtually this month to introduce the project teams, establish working protocols, and outline next steps for the capacity-building programme over the coming months. Once completed, the collaboration will position and enable Guyana to become only the fifth member of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to cater for professional football.
“This is the latest pillar in an increasingly strong partnership between the UEFA Assist programme and the Guyana Football Federation,” said Eva Pasquier, Head of International Relations at UEFA.
“The Federation has impressed the UEFA team from the beginning with its unwavering commitment to delivering excellence in football. We are excited about the impact this current initiative could have for Guyana. We believe there is real scope for a sustainable, marketable professional league that will help to propel its football development forward,” she said.
“This means building capacity within the Federation, so that it can develop longer-term relationships with sponsors while preparing clubs, players, coaches, match officials and fans for the journey. Our aim through this programme is to support the Federation in putting these all-important building blocks in place.”
The professional league initiative is the latest in a growing number of projects between the UEFA and the GFF, following the receipt of financial support to acquire minibuses for youth football development programmes, and various capacity-building activities, including 100-day “Bounceback” return-to-play planning.
“Creating the first professional league in Guyana will be a truly historic moment for our nation, and a real statement of intent for the future,” said GFF President Wayne Forde. “We are excited to begin this journey with UEFA, as we put the foundations in place to develop a strong league model that can thrive in our specific conditions.
“The realisation of this long-held dream will require a national team effort, including the support of our members as well as partners from corporate Guyana and the Government of Guyana. However, once in place, the league will propel our football forward like never before, and offer genuine opportunity for young Guyanese talent to flourish, both at home and overseas,” he declared.
In order to prepare the ground for fully professional football, a range of capacity building is required, from marketing development and infrastructure to club licensing, coach education and governance. The UEFA Assist team will draw on decades of knowhow from European leagues to help the GFF equip itself and its members for the task ahead.
“For those unfamiliar with the concept of a professional league, this is a competition where all players are paid ‘living wage’ salaries which enable them to engage as full-time athletes, most commonly either contracted to independent, financially-sustainable clubs under the European model, or within a commercially-viable franchise under the US model,” Forde said.
“While recent but unsustainable attempts at semi-professional or subsidised models for leagues and teams, as well as the progress by some clubs under the CONCACAF Club License system, have tested the waters in Guyana, those achievements have sadly fallen well short of creating a much-needed professional league. We look forward to working with all our stakeholders to explain the crucial difference, and why it matters for the future of Guyanese football and our young talent, so that we can make this long-held dream a credible reality together,” Forde has said.
The pioneering league development project is taking place with the full support of CONCACAF, the governing body of North, Central America and the Caribbean. Currently, in the CFU, only Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic and Haiti have professional leagues, as classified by CONCACAF.
“There are the only four CFU members with professional football leagues. For Guyana to become one of the approved professional leagues would be a fitting legacy for the Forde-led administration, and (would) position the country for faster development in football and more success at international level,” said Howard McIntosh, ONE Concacaf and Caribbean Project Senior Manager at CONCACAF.
“A professional league in Guyana will provide the pathway for players, match officials and coaches to reach their full potential and to have access to full-time careers in the game, whether at home or overseas. In its focus on football development and good governance, the GFF has led by example in the Caribbean region, and we are all excited to see the fruits of this ground-breaking project unfold in the coming years.”
The establishment of a fully professional league in Guyana, following the CONCACAF league professionalisation roadmap, would also enable the title winner and runner-up of each season to enter the Caribbean’s top-tier club tournament – the CONCACAF Caribbean Club Championship, which offers a pathway to compete in the Concacaf Champions League. Because the current Elite League model is classified as a non-professional competition,
Guyana’s league champions are currently eligible to take part in the second-tier CONCACAF Caribbean Club Shield, which features clubs from CFU member associations with up-and-coming leagues that are working their way towards full professional standards.
Since the beginning of the year, GFF officials have also participated in UEFA Assist’s risk and project management virtual programmes, a CONCACAF Return to Football Conference for 2021 competitions, and online coaching courses organised by the Guyana Olympic Committee and the Pan American Sports Organisation.