Honduras’s men’s football team is at loggerheads with a Louisiana club after its players backed out of a friendly match hours before kickoff, citing poor field conditions.
Honduras had scheduled the match against Barbados as preparation for this summer’s Gold Cup, Concacaf’s regional championship, which will run from 24 June to 16 July in various US cities.
The Baton Rouge Capitals Soccer Foundation, whose home state has a large population of Hondurans, had arranged the match and agreed to act as hosts at the municipally owned Olympia Stadium.
But the pitch at the 7,000-seat venue, where high school American football teams regularly play, had several large patches covered with sand, while its stands have signs of deterioration. Some of the biggest names on Honduras’s roster told their federations that they would not play in the match after training at Olympia Stadium on Saturday evening, according to Honduran sports news outlet Diez.
James Vilas of the Capitals foundation said his organization – which competes in a regional developmental league – learned Sunday morning about the players’ boycott. Organizers, who had announced that tickets could be bought for $80 at the stadium, sent a statement at 10.50am on Sunday saying the match, which was scheduled for an 8pm kickoff, was canceled.
According to Vilas, Honduras’s soccer federation sent a representative to Olympia Stadium in the run-up to the game. They approved of the venue except for some spots on the field that needed to be filled with either sand or top soil. Vilas said the requests were carried out by staff at the ground, which is less than six miles from the 102,000-seat stadium where Louisiana State University’s four-time national champion football team play.
But Honduras’s general manager, Gerardo Ramos, told Diez that his team were worried they risked injury by playing on the field. Ramos added that the team were not given the accommodation and transport they had been promised.
“There were various unfulfilled promises … and we made the decision [to cancel]”, said Ramos. “We knew there was a level of risk, and we thought they would provide what we had asked, and we made the decision as players, coaching staff and executives.”
Diez said Alberth Elis, Bryan Acosta and Jerry Bengston, who all have experience in Major League Soccer, were among those who refused to play. Meanwhile, in what was arguably the most visible protest, Andy Najar declared himself injured and unavailable for Sunday’s match as well as the Gold Cup – and then played for MLS’s DC United on Saturday.
Vilas said he was disappointed for Louisiana’s Honduran community. There are believed to be more than 100,000 people of Honduran descent in south-eastern Louisiana, one of the highest concentrations of Hondurans outside the country itself.
Meanwhile, Vilas said his club has lost tens of thousands of dollars that were invested in flights, hotels, hiring referees, fees to Fifa and stadium rental. He added that the city of Baton Rouge – Louisiana’s capital – had provided police officers, barricades and other logistical support, only for the entire affair to end in a manner that is farcical even by Concacaf’s often chaotic standards.
Vilas declined to discuss whether his club would pursue litigation over the canceled match, instead saying “we are hoping it doesn’t get to that”.
“We’ll discuss how to make reparations hopefully this week,” he said. “And we are hoping in the future to organize something that ends up being much better.”
Ramos – who are scheduled to open their Gold Cup campaign against Mexico on 25 June in Houston – said he was not worried by potential legal action.
“We don’t think there will be consequences that hurt us economically,” Ramos said. “There’s expenses that we incurred, and that’s an argument for the federation to make through its legal department.
“First is the safety of the players with an eye on the Gold Cup. … We don’t want to risk the players’ health.”