The 2006 World Cup players finally received payment for their exploits today, eight years after the fact, by Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
This afternoon, in a press conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s, Persad-Bissessar stole a march on Sport Minister Anil Roberts, National Security Minister Gary Griffith and Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president Raymond Tim Kee and general secretary Sheldon Phillips with a financial gift to the victims of the country’s most vexatious sport case, which gained worldwide attention.
In 2006, former FIFA vice-president and Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) special advisor Jack Warner, who is also a former Minister of Works and National Security in Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet, negotiated a bonus agreement with the country’s World Cup players that was never honoured.
Warner’s refusal to hand over accounting documents to the football body or the High Court meant that, even today, no one knows the true figure generated by the country’s historic appearance at the Germany World Cup.
However, the 13 “Soca Warriors” who took the TTFA to court agreed to settle for US$3 million and, today, Persad-Bissessar instructed Finance Minister Larry Howai to pay the outstanding US$1.3 million (TT$8.3 million) to the players.
“It was a moment that unified us like never before,” said Persad-Bissessar, about the players’ World Cup debut. “They healed every national wounds, bridged every divide…”
Crucially, though, the Prime Minister stressed that the payment was made “without prejudice” to the players’ legal affair with the TTFA.
World Cup 2006 players Brent Sancho, Stern John, Aurtis Whitley, Cornell Glen, Cyd Gray, David Atiba Charles and Anthony Wolfe attended the press conference and Sancho thanked the Prime Minister and Attorney General Anand Ramlogan for their assistance.
“On behalf of those of us who have been fighting a long, tough legal battle to get our just due payment for our efforts at the FIFA World Cup, Germany 2006,” said Sancho, “this moment means more than any of us can describe.”
Persad-Bissessar left the press conference to head straight for the Piarco International Airport and a flight to Brazil for the World Cup. She told reporters that her trip was a private affair and will not be paid for by taxpayers.
“I leave later this afternoon on a private visit to Brazil with my grandson,” she told the Trinidad Express. “I want to assure you that not one cent of Government’s money is being used for this private visit.”
There was no suggestion that Sport Minister Anil Roberts or the present Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) played any direct role in the settlement.
Insiders suggested it might not be coincidental that the Prime Minister’s sudden concern for the players follows close on the heels of a series of damaging exposés in the Trinidad Express about the controversial Life Sport programme, which is linked to death threats for Ministry of Sport permanent secretary Ashwin Creed and Life Sport director Ruth Marchan and at least one murder.
Two years ago, former Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Kelvin Jack, in a Wired868 column, accused the Prime Minister of twice ignoring letters for assistance in resolving the matter.
“Twelve other 2006 World Cup players and myself are lost for words and disenchanted with the Honourable Prime Minister’s silence,” stated Jack. “I understand that the Prime Minister is a very busy person but, in my opinion, she has no excuse for not acknowledging receipt of our correspondence.
“It is disrespectful, not only to my teammates and I, but also to the citizens of my homeland since taxpayers directly contributed at least $80 million of the TTFF’s 2006 World Cup revenue.
“I am presuming—although I still hope I’m wrong—that the Prime Minister isn’t bothered if a member of her government, Works Minister Jack Warner, is yet to account for over $200 million that my team mates, myself and our beloved fans helped generate when we qualified for the 2006 World Cup.”
Even after Warner’s disgraceful fall from office in 2013, Persad-Bissessar and her government showed no public interest in the players’ case.
The players, who were awarded the Chaconia Gold medal winners after Trinidad and Tobago became the smallest nation to qualify for a senior FIFA World Cup, responded by turning up the pressure on the TTFA.
Tim Kee, who was a vice-president throughout the scandal, replaced Oliver Camps at the helm of the TTFA in late 2012. And he, along with Phillips and Jeffrey Webb, Warner’s successor as CONCACAF president, convinced the players that were keen to settle with an opening payment on 20 May 2013.
But the good rapport did not last as the TTFA never completed its second court-ordered payment in September and the Warriors vowed to resume legal action.
Tim Kee, who is also the Port of Spain mayor, responded by threatening to deny the players their due by starting a fresh organisation; while a Phillips press release said the football body would “continue uninterrupted” despite impending legal action from the Warriors.
The TTFA had already showed no inclination to follow the instructions of the High Court and sue Warner, the former TTFA special advisor, for allegedly misappropriating football money. The football body suggested, via press release, that the matter was statute barred although Phillips later backed away from this position after the players’ British attorney Michael Townley rubbished the claim.
Behind the scenes, Phillips appealed first to the Sport Ministry and then the National Security Ministry to wipe out its estimated $28 million debt, which also includes outstanding payments to former national coach Russell Latapy and ex-technical director Anton Corneal.
Privately, he told the Warriors to expect Cabinet approval for their payment before Carnival 2014. But months passed without any inkling that Griffith would come to their rescue.
Instead, another party allegedly suggested to the Prime Minister, during the first round of the Brazil 2014 World Cup, that it would be a wonderful gesture if the Warriors were paid off before the completion of the tournament and while the nation was seduced by the power of football.
The figure, who is independent of the government and the TTFA but has a sport background, asked to remain anonymous.
Persad-Bissessar supposedly replied that she would give “active consideration” to the players’ settlement. The Attorney General is believed to have played an active role in resolving the matter.
“The Prime Minister is a football fan,” claimed the third-party. “All she needed was to be reminded that it was an unresolved issue… She thought it was a court matter and she could not intervene.”
The suggestion that the Prime Minister was unaware of the status of the bonus dispute flies in the face of widespread and readily available information on the matter; not to mention letters to her office from the players themselves.
However, two other persons close to the negotiations—including a 2006 World Cup player—confirmed that the final settlement with the government was instigated by a party independent of the TTFA.
Today, Persad-Bissessar confirmed that her government had decided to pay the players for their historic achievement.
“On behalf of the Soca Warriors members who stuck it out over the years enduring so many legal battles,” said Sancho, “may I take the time to express my gratitude to the Honourable Prime Minister and her government for this heart warming gesture.
“We recognize that the government has no legal obligation to assist us yet chose to do so through this gesture. All of Trinidad and Tobago can breathe a collective sigh of relief that a moment that brought us all so much happiness and pride is free of any grievance…
“We will all follow the events in Brazil this week with an unfettered spirit and only great memories of the time the Trinidad and Tobago anthem played on the football field in Germany.”
There is still no word, though, on if Warner will ever be asked to account for the missing millions that taxpayers will now foot.
Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the reactions of the 2006 World Cup players, the TTFA and ex-TTFF special advisor Jack Warner to the government’s pay-off.
And click HERE to read the response from the Soca Warriors’ British attorney Michael Townley and find out why he is uneasy about the settlement.