The Barbadian was speaking against the background of the “rigorous efforts” to redecorate the tarnished image of Caribbean football on the administrative, transparency and governance sides.
Harris also pointed to the renewed thrust being placed by Concacaf on growth and development initiatives which, he believes, has breathed new life and hope in the regional game.
“We have spent almost a year trying to re-organise the CFU to bring back some integrity and, of course, there were some problems we had to solve before really moving on in a positive way.
“I think we are now laying the foundation for a CFU in the future that people can respect, and so we are putting things in place for good governance,” he told the Jamaica Observer recently.
Regional football, and that of the wider Concacaf, is rebuilding after a corruption storm rocked the game, leaving in its wake a battered image, which no cost and pragmatic thinking were spared in its recovery.
As part of its One Concacaf Vision, the confederation led by Victor Montagliani has been focusing massive resources on growth and development programmes in the Caribbean.
Harris, who is also a Concacaf vice-president, has seen the benefits and their potential to recalibrate the foundation of the game in the 31-members grouping.
Concacaf's new competition structure, the Nations League, and its grass roots initiative, the NextPlay Programme, are among the activations fuelling a new sense of optimism in the Caribbean.
“I think the Nations League is one of the best things that can happen for the Caribbean because it affords everybody, regardless of size or quality, to play against the top teams in the region.
“I think it is a first step that opens the eyes of the players, and a lot of them will now know where they need to go and what it is to compete at a certain level,” Harris noted.
“There are some very positive things happening in football in the region and I am glad that they include the exposure of our players through higher level of competition, higher level of interest, and I hope that people in the Caribbean and companies in the Caribbean will see the positive things coming out of these programmes,” he added.
As for the Nations League, the president of the Barbados Football Association thinks his native Barbados has done creditably considering the opposition
“As president of the football association, I would like to go as far as I possibly can, but I have to be fair… we have performed well with people in our region who are amateurs like ourselves. But when it comes to professionals playing against amateurs, then we will always be running up into a big wall.
“I think that is part of the problem with most of us in the Caribbean… some of us have players who have day jobs, who come home from work then they train, when in places like El Salvador and Costa Rica, and the rest, they have professional leagues with professional players and have the best level of coaching… so I would say we have to give the Caribbean players kudos,” he said.
Recently, Concacaf launched the grassroots NextPlay Programme and the NextPlay Cup aimed at providing exposure to the sport and character-building activities for boys and girls at the primary school level across the region.
Harris believes the life-changing potential of NextPlay is far from being fathomed, especially where it relates to the social aspect.
“NextPlay is critical because what we are doing is encouraging kids — girls and boys — from an early age to get to love the game.
“Plus, when you look at our region, we share the same problems, for example shaky economies; rising crime, especially gun crime; and I have always taken football seriously because of the social aspect of it.
“I have seen what football, over the years in my country and the rest of the Caribbean, has done for many youngsters who would have otherwise gone astray, so if we can harness the good qualities in children from that kind of age, I can see better societies in all our countries,” Harris noted.
While there are programmes in motion to improve coaching, refereeing and the administration of the game in the Caribbean, the CFU boss says it's all a work in progress and there will always be the need to keep hoping and dreaming.
“There will be new areas to tackle, firstly like coaching education and referees improvement in the region… I think it is time enough to have a referee going to World Cup, and 2026 comes to focus, especially that it will be held in this region.
“Really and truly, we are looking forward to, as a group, working with Concacaf to ensure that players in this region are afforded more opportunities also,” Harris ended.
The Concacaf Nations League is currently at the qualifying stage, at the end of which teams will be seeded in the three leagues — A, B and C.
It will serve fundamentally as the qualifier for the Concacaf Gold Cup, plus World Cup qualifying seeding and a determinant for the confederation's new ranking index.
The NextPlay Cup, which will have separate competitions in Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago, is built on a partnership primarily of Scotiabank, Concacaf and the governments of the participating territories
Story Courtesy: Jamaica Observer