Trinidad and Tobago will remain under the direct grip of Fifa for at least another year, as the world governing body today unilaterally declared that it extended the mandate of its normalisation committee on the two-island republic.
The decision, made by the Gianni Infantino-led Bureau of the Fifa Council, was made on Monday 27 February but only relayed to local stakeholders today, via Fifa’s installed leader on the islands, Robert Hadad.
And it follows Hadad’s bullish claim to members, at an Extraordinary General Meeting last month, that the TTFA would collapse into chaos, receivership and isolation if he walked away.
Fifa, via a missive signed by general secretary Fatma Samoura, stated that Hadad and co-members Nigel Romano and Trevor Nicholas Gomez are here to stay—for another year at least.
“The Bureau decided on 27 February 2023 to extend the mandate of the normalisation committee until 31 March 2024 at the latest,” stated Fifa.
It is the third time Fifa set a departure date for its normalisation committee in Trinidad and Tobago that it promised to follow. On each previous occasion, the controversial sporting body broke its own word.
Fifa disbanded the democratically elected executive of president William Wallace on 17 March 2020 via Article 8.2 of its Statutes, which states:
“Executive bodies of member associations may under exceptional circumstances be removed from office by the Council in consultation with the relevant confederation and replaced by a normalisation committee for a specific period of time.”
Infantino’s Bureau announced then that the mandate of the Hadad-led Normalisation Committee was:
- to run the TTFA’s daily affairs; to establish a debt repayment plan that is implementable by the TTFA;
- to review and amend the TTFA Statutes (and other regulations where necessary) and to ensure their compliance with the Fifa Statutes and requirements before duly submitting them for approval to the TTFA Congress;
- to organise and to conduct elections of a new TTFA executive committee for a four-year mandate.
“The specified period of time during which the TTFA normalisation committee shall perform its functions shall expire as soon as it has fulfilled all of its tasks,” stated Fifa, “but no later than 24 months after its members have been officially appointed by Fifa, which means on 26 March 2022.”
Ironically, the TTFA’s debt was accumulated under the stewardship of autocratic football presidents, whose income and expenditure sheets were annually approved by Fifa. And Infantino personally endorsed late TTFA president David John-Williams for re-election, despite the fact that the football body’s debt rose by almost 200% during his tenure.
The fact that Infantino “normalised” Trinidad and Tobago’s football just three months after local stakeholders voted out John-Williams in favour of Wallace did not go unnoticed either.
The TTFA’s operations under Fifa’s direct control, via Hadad, worsened rather than improved.
Over the last two years, the local football membership complained to the governing body about Hadad’s repeated failure to follow the constitution in terms of general meetings, inactive standing committees, his poor communication with stakeholders, and the non-transparent hiring of coaches and staff whose salaries are paid by the TTFA.
By 24 December 2021, the Bureau of the Fifa Council admitted that its normalisation committee had no chance of completing its tasks in the agreed time.
However, rather than dismiss Hadad and his team, Infantino gave them another year—“[…] until 31 March 2023 at the latest”—to get the job done.
“The Bureau took note that there were certain issues that led to the backlog in the normal operations of the TTFA,” stated Fifa.
On 8 November 2021, six weeks before their first extension, the Hadad-led normalisation committee appointed Maria Daniel as its trustee to “manage the debt proposal process”. And, under her watch, the TTFA reached an agreement with creditors that would erase the local football body’s debts.
The money to service these debts, approximately US$5m, was provided by a mystery financier whose identity was unknown—until Hadad revealed that it was Fifa, during a general meeting last month.
Today’s missive confirmed Fifa as the guarantor.
“The Bureau acknowledged that, with the primary objective of allowing the normalisation committee to fulfil one of its main tasks,” stated the letter, “and with a view to preventing the TTFA’s complete liquidation as well as avoiding significant long-term harm to the organisation and football in general in Trinidad and Tobago, Fifa decided to provide financial support to the TTFA to address its extreme situation.
“In this context, Fifa has now approved financial assistance to the TTFA subject to signing a strict financial agreement between Fifa and the TTFA.”
Other than handing over its debt management process to Daniel, Hadad and company made limited to no headway on updating the TTFA’s constitution—despite the urging of the membership—while the local body continues to run without standing committees and with no change to its internal financial structures.
(Ironically the Wallace-led TTFA executive, within two months of its election, started a review of its financial structures under the supervision of consultant Kendall Tull, which included meetings with board members, before Fifa stepped in.)
Yet, Fifa suggested its Trinidad and Tobago-based normalisation committee was so busy addressing creditors—a task farmed out to its trustee, two years ago—that it was unable to complete its other tasks.
“Certain recent developments have delayed the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) process,” stated Fifa. “Consequently, and considering the backlog, the normalisation committee has not yet been able to begin revising the statutes, another of its main tasks.
“Given the above circumstances and the fact that the BIA process […] requires not only payment of the creditors but also that TTFA’s governance be restructured and its oversight strengthened, we consider that it is of the utmost importance that the normalisation committee complete the BIA process.
“Furthermore, due to the challenges that the TTFA continues to face and to ensure that the mandate of the normalisation committee […] is carried out and fulfilled in strict compliance with the Bureau’s decision, the Bureau decided on 27 February 2023 to extend the mandate of the normalisation committee until 31 March 2024 at the latest.”
On 10 December 2022, after growing frustrated with the normalisation committee’s sluggish pace and Hadad’s unsatisfactory responses to their concerns, local football members—whose letters to Fifa went unanswered—passed a motion that compelled the normalisation committee to demit office this month.
The motion, moved by Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) president Osmond Downer, was binding according to the constitution. So unable to ignore a constitutional request by its member association, Fifa threatened to suspend Trinidad and Tobago for exercising its legal right.
As members backed down, Daniel scolded them for finding themselves under Infantino’s whip in the first place.
“How long have you been sitting here as members?” asked Daniel, according to multiple witnesses. “We are talking about (normalisation committee members) who came in for three years… This (debt crisis) happened over 15 years.
“[…] Why did Fifa have to come down and put a big stick on you and put other people in charge? Why didn’t you take control of your own constitution?!”
Daniel’s view was not totally without merit. But it was naïve to the support that sitting football presidents often receive from Fifa, which insulates them from their own membership—not to mention the absolute power that the Zurich-based body gifted its former vice-president Jack Warner.
The fact that Daniel’s relationship with Hadad and Fifa allowed her to chide the persons who indirectly pay her salary was, inadvertently, another example of the TTFA membership’s impotence in matters of governance.
At last month’s EGM, Hadad warmed to Daniel’s theme.
“If I walk away—and this is not [an idle] threat—I will only succeed in putting all of you all into complete chaos,” Hadad told members. “If I do walk away, this whole process starts over and more importantly the association will go into dissolution. You will be facing receivership.
“You will be facing no more TTFA. The Home of Football will be sold and the creditors will be paid out of [that].”
Fifa has changed the members of its normalization committee in other countries like Haiti and Pakistan.
It is uncertain whether its refusal to do so in Trinidad and Tobago—despite repeated complaints by members and its own acknowledgement that the Hadad-led committee has not done its job—is because of Infantino’s fondness of the HadCo co-CEO, or his disdain for the will of Trinidad and Tobago’s football stakeholders.
Hadad, a football rookie with a less than rudimentary understanding of the TTFA’s constitution, attempted to school members on the power imbalance between Trinidad and Tobago and Fifa, and what that meant for the two-island republic.
“Like it or not, if you want to play football, you have to play football with Fifa,” said Hadad. “You can’t play football with the Vatican and Tobago… Stop talking to us like we are the enemy. We are not the enemy. I am getting tired of it.
“I am getting tired of sitting here and hearing a man (likely to be either Downer or VFFOTT interim president Selby Browne) rambling and saying the same thing over and over and over. If you don’t want us the problem is not you all, the problem is all the people you owe the money too.”
Fifa’s payment structure for normalisation committee members generally stands at US$6,500 (TT$44,000) per month for the chairman and US$4,000 (TT$27,000) for other members.
By that yardstick, Hadad could have pocked as much as TT$1.58m already for his position at the helm of the local game.
It remains a mystery too where Fifa banks its annual subvention to the TTFA of around US$1.5m—and the process used to convert the money to TTD.
The Fifa Statutes instructs the governing body to wire the money to a bank account on the island in the name of the football body. However, the TTFA’s bank account has been dormant since Hadad stepped in.
With a scarcity of foreign exchange for businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, it would be interesting to discover how the Hadad-led TTFA managed what is likely to be over US$7m by the time he steps away from the local body—whenever that is.
Fifa, ostensibly, is a body formed collectively by over 200 nations to organise its competitions and manage its finances. The majority of those member nations, including then TTFA president John-Williams, elected Infantino to spearhead the global organisation.
The TTFA is not a branch of Fifa. Rather, Fifa exists because over 200 nations—including Trinidad and Tobago—will it to be so.
However, Article 8.2 allows Fifa to invade a member association on obscure grounds and retain power so long as the majority of nations are not bothered to intervene.
Barring a case of electoral fraud in Argentina, Fifa almost exclusively used its “normalisation clause” against lesser football nations who are not members of the old economic “first world”.
In Trinidad and Tobago, football members now privately refer to Hadad as “Governor-General”—a loaded term meant to invoke memories of a time when the local proxy of its colonial master ran the country.
Fifa says 31 March 2024 will be the TTFA’s new “Independence Day”. But it has broken that promise twice already.
“I now look forward to the NC’s completion of its two-year assignment in this fourth year,” Browne quipped, in response.
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He said my man is the best, Rolfie is his name
Cutting cloth, making suit is his game
Doh show him the man, my tailor is class
Just show him the corner whey di fella pass
And he go make a suit,
dat is tailor!
“The process or period of developing inside the womb between conception and birth” or, “The development of something over time”, i.e. gestation period, is where we are today with this FIFA decision to “extend their grip” on T&T’s football. This I say to both the T&TFA, NCC Robert Hadad and particularly clubs and coaches of especially the youth levels, seize the moment. Truthfully, this is mostly for the T&TFA! Dr. E. E. Williams once shared one of his strategies with me (this when sitting on his lap at the GG’s (Hochoy’s) House. Then me, as a 12 year old – heard a shared strategy when I asked “what do you do when you fail’ (paraphrasing). His response, ‘sometimes, when in doubt take two steps back before you take one forward’. Today, I have added other nuggets to my walk and decision-making – one being, it is good to have setbacks because they lead to better bouncebacks. Our football needs this setback and we should seize every bit of room laid before us by this supposed FIFA-imposed setback in our football to reengineer our new and MUCH-NEEDED plan, holistic at that, as we ready ourselves for what’s around the corner. The good thing is, we have had many a “round-the-corner” blind to the sight turns, and did nothing or little with it. Preparation is the key and NEVER, NEVER are we again to ever let our eagerness get the better of our readiness. Let this seeming setback lead to our best ever, BOUNCEBACK! C’est la vie!