Exclusive interview with former Seychelles football boss Suketu Patel |28 September 2023
‘Newly elected members discarded what was built in the past, placing sports at the starting line again’
Former Seychelles Football Federation president and sports enthusiast Suketu Patel willingly shared his views on the progress of sports in Seychelles and his support for Eddie Maillet in his pursuit for a leadership role within the local football federation.
In an exclusive interview with Sports NATION, Mr Patel, who was once the Council of Southern African Football Associations (Cosafa) president, Confederation of African Football (Caf) first vice-president and sat on the Fédération internationale de football association (Fifa) organising committee and Fifa Goal Bureau, was very tough on how sports is being run in Seychelles nowadays.
Sports NATION: In your opinion, has Seychelles’ sports progressed?
Suketu Patel: Speaking about sports in general, progress is where you build on past developments. The problem is that the newly elected members in sports discarded what was built in the past, thus placing sports at the starting line again. The youths are less interested in sports as there are other things that attract them nowadays, such as television, computers, internet and others.
The solution to this competitiveness in interest is that sports should become a subject like any other academic module in schools at a young age; it is easier to integrate a sporting mindset into the young people. Sports teach discipline, and I believe that the youths of today have a lesser sense of discipline than those of the past generations.
Sports can also produce role models whereby they can influence people to refrain from social ills. Sports need to be practised throughout the year. We need to start seeing sports as a national activity where the ministry of education, the ministry responsible for sports, sporting federations and also parents have a big role to play. If everyone refrains from taking ownership of the situation, then the issue continues to circle around and if there is no movement, then there will be no progress.
For us to really see progress we need to realise the importance of sports in our country. Sports can be used to develop the youths, but at the same time it is necessary to create the right conditions for them and invest properly because today many see sport only as a hobby or leisure activity.
Sports NATION: How can you describe the performance of Team Seychelles at the last IOIG?
Suketu Patel: I believe when you are in charge of something, and it did not go well, you should have the guts to admit it.
Many people are saying that the result obtained from the recent IOIG is fair and that Team Seychelles did its best.
If you keep saying that even though things did not go well, you will never identify the real problem in order to address it.
In my view, for the 11th IOIG, especially for team sports, the problem is that you cannot have a national team which does not reflect your local competition.
With our actual situation, we need to start from the bottom again.
Our sports pyramid today is inverted, normally in a pyramid our national team should be at the top with a good base of players for selection. We are totally different, where there is a great focus on the national team which does not reflect our domestic competition. I strongly believe that we cannot wait until four months before a regional competition to start our preparations. If you are not playing competitions at a high level each week, definitely your national team will reflect the actual level. You cannot have a situation where the government knows the dates of the IOIG but decides to invest a large sum of money at one go at the last minute. You cannot develop sports like this. You have to be consistent, instead of dispensing a large sum at one go. They should have each year helped the federations host competitions, provide equipment, kits, thus dealing with basic issues for both teams and players.
Sports NATION: How can the selection process for the national team become better?
Suketu Patel: In everything there has to be accountability. If you see the players everyday competing at a high level and the fans see their performances, there would have been no complaints.
The selection of players for the national team should be transparent as the spectators see for themselves and know who the best among the pool of players available are. This leaves room for almost no debate.
I started playing division one football at the age of 15 and joined the national team at 19. We had a core of 15 selected players who played together for over 10 years and it was also based on our performance in domestic competitions. Today, we think that to compensate a team is taking them abroad. In our first competitions against regional clubs, St Louis drew against a Malagasy team Cosfap 0-0 at home and won away on a 1-0 score.
In the African Cup Winners Cup in 2002, St Michel missed out on qualifying for the group stage after losing by a single goal against AS Vita of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
We played in the African Cup of Nations (Afcon) qualifiers and lost 1-2 to Tunisia and 0-2 to Mali on home ground, and we also defeated Zimbabwe and drew with Namibia in the 2022 Afcon qualifiers.
This shows the level of football played at that time. In 2010 we were 126th on the Fifa ranking. If you do not organise your domestic competitions, making it consistent, it is only logical for people to blame the federation.
Sports NATION: In your view what failed at the SFF?
Suketu Patel: Sadly today in the federation some personnel are not football people, they do not possess the background in the discipline, either as a former player or team manager. I think today in the federation the interest is more towards using the means to travel around to represent the country without analysing and prioritising the situation at home. We need a structure tailored to our climate and weather conditions. Traditionally, we played from March till November afterwards comes the rainy season, but today, we have adopted two parts of a season and as we know, December is the time for festivities.
The basic needs to practice a sport is essential, and the federation today is receiving roughly over US $1.5 to US $2 million in funds, whereas in the past we received a maximum of US $250,000 from which we materialised various projects, including the SFF headquarters, and Stad Amitié on Praslin.
As for maintenance work, we did it on the lighting system and other infrastructure.
Today, there is a tug-of-war between government and the federation. Both are asking who has the responsibility of the venues.
As a federation the different clubs and players are part of your responsibility, and you cannot run away from these responsibilities.
It saddens me to see all these past projects and initiatives neglected and discarded. I would have never accepted the idea of adopting the English Premier League whereby the different schools wear the kits of the English clubs in a domestic competition. This shows that the federation waited for an embassy to initiate projects and it also diminishes our native identity, thus reducing our national pride.
Sports NATION: How much do you know Eddie Maillet?
Suketu Patel: I have known Eddie since he was 16 years old. He was also an instructor at the National Youth Service and around that time he joined my team at Plaisance where I took him under my wings. At the time there were no referees and I encouraged many people in the team to join refereeing. That was around 1985 I think. From thereon we saw that Eddie had a lot of potential and we knew we needed someone to develop refereeing in the country. He was among the first football employees we had and he contributed in developing refereeing in Seychelles.
He took the opportunity to develop himself, and also reaching the World Cup.
There are millions of referees around the world and he managed to reach the last 64 which showed two things. He had the ability and the mentality, the football federation at that time had a vision whereby the education of their staff was very important.
We were developing football personnel, including referees, coaches, and medical staff to make sure our players are well treated and their welfare taken at heart. After his growth Eddie decided to follow into my footpath in African football and he managed to become the director of the refereeing commission. The fundamental thing is that Eddie has been a football person right from the beginning.
Sports NATION: Do you think he has the qualities to become the next SFF president?
Suketu Patel: He came to me to seek support and if he wishes to help Seychelles football I will help him. Eddie is a person who is well organised and I think before making such a declaration he studied the situation well. To make it clear, at my age, I will not be interfering in the SFF duties, but with my knowledge of football and how to administer a business if he needs guidance and advice my door will be open for him. With the relationship I have with Eddie it is normal for me to help him if he reaches out to me, but without imposing my opinion. Like I mentioned before he is a football person, he understands how a federation should work and he has experience working with the football federation.
Sports NATION: As the former football president, has the sport progressed over the years?
Suketu Patel: Sadly, they did not continue with the good things we had done in the past. I am not saying that what we left behind was perfect but the people who came in should have kept the good things and build on them. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Before, as a federation, we had provided 1,000 pairs of boots, 2,000 footballs each year to football teams and schools.
Traditionally the season began in March and ended in December, the first division was made up of eight teams at the time and each week there were about 2,000 spectators for the matches, indicating that our football was interesting.
Today, there is inconsistency in the divisions, shifting to 12 teams, and then back to 10 teams and through this, football will not improve. For spectators to return to the venues, they must see a good display to influence them. If we take a look that the level of play, the refereeing which is not too good and the poor infrastructure, spectators will surely have doubts on whether it is worth to make expenses to commute to see the games. When you are in charge of a sport you need to know what you are competing with and what can you offer to make it interesting to attract the public to your events. There was a time when we had 29 women’s teams in Seychelles, today we sent a women’s team to Singapore with the aim of making the Fifa ranking. Is that of great importance? Why not take the funds and invest in domestic football?
Sports NATION: Should the SFF venture onto a new path?
Suketu Patel: You cannot separate yourself with the domestic competitions, if our teams are not used to playing competitive football, are not mentally fit and don’t have the ambition to progress we have to seek a new path. There comes a time when everyone, including myself, run out of ideas especially if you have remained in a position for some time. It is important to have change in certain positions where someone new can come in with a new vision and fresh ideas to make things better.
I strongly believe that our football today has lost its way as the federation has little interest in the domestic game. When you hold a leadership role within a federation you need to make the necessary sacrifice. As a leader in football my mindset was to offer to the new generations what I did not have as player. The only way to see this type of motivation is if you have been part of that system. It is not normal for our local clubs and players to be fighting for the basics needs. Today, a lot of teams are unhappy about how the federation is treating them and I believe they are stepping up to do something about it.
Interview conducted by Neil Sirame