Michael Townley, the British attorney of the 13 World Cup 2006 players, shared the emotions of much of Trinidad and Tobago at the news that the “Soca Warriors” have finally been paid the agreed sum for their participation at the senior FIFA tournament in Germany.
Townley told Wired868 that he was relieved, happy, confused and stunned in equal measure at Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s financial intervention as well as the responses from Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA)1 president Raymond Tim Kee and ex-FIFA vice-president and local football special advisor Jack Warner.
He explained that his first contact with the Trinidad and Tobago Government came last Friday when, at the request of former World Cup player Brent Sancho, he phoned Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, SC, to discuss the case.
Townley also had a conversation with the press attaché at the Office of the Prime Minister. But he admitted that he never fully came to grips with what was happening in Trinidad before the media conference yesterday at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann’s.
“I asked what are the conditions attached to the payment and I never fully understood what was happening there,” Townley told Wired868. “On one hand, it seemed that the government was giving us the money and that was the end of it. And, on the other hand, it seemed as if we might have to pay them back pursuant to us recovering the money from the TTFF1 or Jack Warner. Or that the TTFF might have to pay the money back to the government.
“It is ambiguous to be honest. It happened so fast that I haven’t been able to put my stamp on the payment and the conditions.”
In the wake of the media conference, Sancho said that the players maintain the right to go after the TTFA and/or its former advisor Jack Warner, who was chairman of the Local Organising Committee that collected revenue for the Germany World Cup on behalf of the football body.
Wired868 was told that, up until yesterday’s media conference, TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips asked Government officials to pay the World Cup players through the football body. The response was allegedly consistently negative.
Phillips denied that either he or the TTFA ever made such a request. But Tim Kee told the Trinidad Express that, in his opinion, the government’s payment had relieved the TTFA of its debt obligations.
“If a debt is owed and the debt is settled, it doesn’t matter from what source, it is settled,” said Tim Kee, who earlier this year had threatened to shut down the football body to deny the players their due. “I didn’t know that the Government is in the loan business; there is a big difference between loans and grants…
“It didn’t matter where the money came from, I’m extremely elated that this matter has been settled. It has been a real load on my back.”
Not for the first time, Townley suggested that Tim Kee’s understanding of the legal issues surrounding the bonus dispute was less than solid.
“The Prime Minister said that the payment was made without prejudice to the accrued rights of the Soca Warriors,” said Townley. “Raymond’s fragile grasp of legal reality is displayed again by his statements…
“If you are in a debtor/creditor relationship with someone and another party comes along and says ‘I feel sorry for you and here is a wad of money,’ it doesn’t mean that the other person’s debt to you disappears. That is illogical.”
Townley pointed out the Prime Minister was very careful in her statements so as not to prejudice the legal rights of the players. He suggested that Tim Kee was either intentionally being silly or needed to make better use of legal advice.
“The Prime Minister has been careful to say that she is not getting into the legal matter between the players and the TTFA,” said Townley. “And, even if she were to make the payment on behalf of the TTFA, it doesn’t extinguish the debt; it just transfers it so that they will owe the government now.
“His suggestion that the debt evaporated is a ridiculous interpretation of the legal situation.”
Townley said that whether his clients would continue to pursue action against the TTFA and, possibly, Warner would depend on the players themselves, not him.
This morning, Sancho suggested that they would do just that. Any goodwill won by the football body last year after the opening payment to the players evaporated earlier this year when Tim Kee publicly insulted the players and threatened to close down the TTFA to avoid settling the debt; and Phillips issued a media release which warned that the football body intended to “continue uninterrupted” despite the Warriors’ anger.
Wired868 understands that Phillips approached the players at the Diplomatic Centre yesterday and claimed that the money they received was thanks to the efforts of the football body. The players, an insider alleged, not-so-politely asked him to leave.
“The next step is to talk to the legal minds to see how we can continue with the pursuance,” Sancho told Wired868. “We still have to talk things over with Mike (Townley) and talk as a group. But yesterday’s settlement had absolutely nothing to do with the TTFF.”
Townley explained that the players still feel it necessary to make Warner account for the alleged misappropriation of millions meant for local football. And the only way to do so is to go through the football body, which has continually declined to take legal action against its former trustee.
If the players stick to their guns, Tim Kee and Phillips will have to either go after Warner or be closed down.
“We have never been able to find a way legally to go after Warner,” said Townley. “He has been able to shield himself effectively behind the TTFF. The TTFA could go after him or they could assign their rights to sue Warner to us or some other entity.
“Or, if they are wound up, the liquidator can sue Warner in the name of the company.”
For Tim Kee, the present PNM treasurer and Port of Spain mayor who served as Warner’s vice-president for almost two decades, it is an interesting dilemma.
During his rise to the post of TTFA president, Tim Kee repeatedly denied claims that he was Warner’s “stooge.” However, it was two of Warner’s staunchest allies in local football, Central Football Association president Bryan Layne and Eastern Football Association general secretary Neville Ferguson, who were reportedly responsible for his nomination to the post.
“If there is a will to do so, we will go after the (TTFA),” said Townley. “There is no compromise of the players’ claim.”
Regarding Warner’s release in reaction to yesterday’s payment to the players, Townley said he almost fell out of his chair when he read it.
“The man is so without grace,” he said, “it is amazing.”
But it was Warner’s statement that first raised in Townley’s mind an issue concerning yesterday’s settlement about which he has mixed feelings.
Obviously thrilled to be paid, the attorney nevertheless opined that the way the announcement of the payment was handled by Persad-Bissessar was “mind-boggling.”
“That the (Prime Minister) can effectively say we are going to spend a few million dollars on the players because it will make me feel good,” said Townley. “… That couldn’t happen in the UK; or certainly not that quickly without a parliamentary debate about it. But that is not to say it couldn’t happen like that in other places…
“If I was a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago or even a football fan, I would be pissed off at this. It is a messy situation because essentially someone else has paid Warner’s debt and he is off the hook again.”
Over the coming weeks, the13 World Cup 2006 players will decide whether to continue their pursuit of Warner, who once declared that they would only ever get their money over his dead body.
If the players do decide to keep up the fight, the TTFA must decide whether it will stand by them or put its own operations at risk by continuing to back its former trustee.
Crucially, elections of officers for all the zonal football bodies as well as for the TTFA Executive are due this year.
1 Editor’s Note: The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association changed its name to the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation in 1992 before reverting to its original title last year.