The world governing football body, FIFA, stands accused of complicity in the rise of an allegedly illegitimately elected football president from Trinidad and Tobago with overarching ambitions.
FIFA handed former vice-president, Jack Warner, a life ban for attempting to rig its 2011 presidential elections. And the disgraced ex-football official is now fighting off an extradition request from the United States for racketeering and other corrupt practices.
But Trinidad and Tobago football’s new bigwig, David John-Williams—who appears to have the quiet support of FIFA, UEFA and CONCACAF for his anticipated Caribbean Football Union (CFU) presidential bid—is himself facing questions about the legitimacy of his ascension to the role of Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president.
And worse, FIFA observers are charged with knowingly allowing the farce and turning a deaf ear to subsequent complaints which could have a profound effect on a nation still trying to pick itself up from the financial and moral carnage of Warner’s era.
In short, at least 11 of the 45 delegates at the TTFA’s 29 November 2015 election—but, almost certainly, many more—were ineligible to vote according to article 10.2 of the TTFA constitution, which states that:
Any legal person wishing to become a Member shall apply in writing to the General Secretariat. The application must be accompanied by the following mandatory items:
A copy of its legally valid constitution and regulations, which shall comply with the requirements of the Constitution; […] a copy of the minutes of its last General Meeting or constitutional meeting and a copy of its audited financial statements for the previous financial year.
Article 13, entitled “Members’ Obligations”, further states that members have the following obligations:
To comply fully with the Statutes, regulations, directives and decisions of FIFA, CONCACAF, CFU and TTFA at all times and to ensure that these are also respected by its Members;
To ensure the election of the members of its decision-making bodies (at least every four years); […] to observe the mandatory items specified under article 10 paragraph 2 for the duration of their affiliation.
The TTFA constitution was adopted and ratified on 12 July 2015 by an Independent Reform Commission (IRC) that included: former West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA) president and Test cricketer Dinanath Ramnarine, attorney Elton Prescott SC, Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis, archivist Patrick Raymond, former 2006 World Cup player Shaka Hislop, Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MATT) executive member Dr Sheila Rampersad, former referees’ head Osmond Downer, and Raoul John.
Ramnarine was named to head the TTFA’s electoral committee, which also included Lewis and attorney Mervyn Campbell. They had four and a half months to get the TTFA’s 47 delegates—the coaches’ association and players association were both dormant and did not participate—ready for the election.
Three months later, on 10 October 2015, Lewis withdrew and was replaced by Prescott. Remarkably, the committee had not held a single meeting by then.
At that point, there were only 10 days left to guide 47 delegates through the new TTFA constitution, advise them on adjusting their own constitutions, get their audited financial statements and other necessary paperwork for them to be compliant in time for the 20 October 2015 deadline.
The TTFA electoral committee apparently believed that it had a “get out of jail” card.
Article 83, “Transitory period”:
Existing members shall be granted a transitional period of […] 18 months to submit the documents and declarations required in art 10 par 2 of this constitution. Failure to comply with this obligation may lead to the suspension of that member.
The electoral committee interpreted this to mean that delegates did not need to be compliant with article 10.2 of the TTFA constitution to vote at the 29 November election.
On 18 October, two days before the deadline for confirming candidates and delegates for the election, Ramnarine—on behalf of the electoral committee—advised TTFA’s members accordingly, via email:
[…] The Electoral Committee will (sic) like to remind all 49 members that they shall be granted a transitional period of 18 months to submit the documents and declarations as required in the approved TTFA Constitution. Failure to comply with this obligation may lead to the suspension of that member. For the avoidance of doubt, the 18 month period starts from 12 July 2015. The TTFA has committed to a process of assisting all members in an effort to achieve compliance within the time frame.
But there were several problems here.
First, FIFA never intended for members who were not compliant with the constitution to be afford voting rights.
On 23 October 2014, FIFA head of member associations Primo Corvaro, who was instrumental in the approval of the new TTFA constitution, said as much in a press conference that Ramnarine attended:
Once you have adopted the statutes of the constitution at the TTFA level then you will have to work at the membership level as well. Each full member will need to have their own constitution, the same for the group of interests, the same for the zones. And that’s another challenge because they must be properly constituted before the election.
Because on the day of the election, we want people who have been constituted in the presence of [the] electoral commission according to a constitution which is in conformity with the TTFA constitution, which in itself is in conformity with the FIFA statutes.
The “Transitory Period” referenced in article 83 was not included in the TTFA constitution. The electoral committee ought to have known this since a committee member sent Wired868 a copy of the draft constitution on 6 July 2015 that already had a red line through the clause. It was inserted as an annex instead.
On 13 October 2015, then TTFA general secretary Sheldon Phillips emailed Corvaro and requested “clarification on the Transitory Provision Annex for members.”
“Once our membership receives a definitive answer from FIFA on the above listed items,” stated Phillips, “our AGM will be better positioned to take place without unnecessary procedural challenges.”
Ramnarine did not appreciate Phillip’s query and, on 17 October 2015, told the TTFA general secretary that his committee—and not FIFA—would determine what happened at the 29 November elections.
“My suggestion is that all concerns raised in this matter should be referred to the electoral committee and not FIFA,” stated Ramnarine in an email that was copied to Campbell, Prescott and incumbent president Raymond Tim Kee. “As you are aware at the last TTFA general meeting where the TTFA constitution was adopted by the general council, they appointed an electoral committee to handle all matters related to the TTFA AGM and elector of officers.
“I am reminding you of that decision and kindly asking that you be guided by that decision and process.”
At 1:53pm on 18 October, Phillips responded to Ramnarine, Prescott and Campbell and insisted that the transitory provision was not included in the constitution. Regardless, Ramnarine emailed the TTFA’s potential delegates four hours later and insisted that the clause was valid.
On 20 October 2015, FIFA acting general secretary Markus Kattner—and not Corvaro—responded by fax on behalf of the world governing body, and his response was clear:
We acknowledge receipt of [your] letter dated 13 October 2015 with regard to the transitory provisions of the constitution of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) and we have duly taken note of its content.
The issue of compliance with article 10.2 was discussed during the adoption of the constitution and in our understanding, all members as listed in the TTFA constitution must comply with article 10.2 in order to take part in the elections; and those failing to do so will still have 18 months from the date of the adoption to complete the process or lose definitively their membership.
It was understood that it would be much easier to achieve it with the clubs (through basic statutes which could be improved at a further stage) than regional associations or groups of interest.
We hope that we have been of assistance and feel free to contact us should you have any further query.
It was the deadline day for the confirmation of delegates and candidates and more than half of the potential delegates were invalid. If the election did not come off, FIFA already vowed to dissolve the TTFA’s executive committee—or board of directors—and put a normalisation committee in place to run local football until the mess could be cleared up.
Kattner’s suggestion that clubs might find it be easier to be declared compliant was also a major blow to the incumbent president.
Tim Kee believed that his strength lay with the regional bodies. John-Williams, the president of Pro League club, W Connection, was expected to have support from other teams.
With the entire electoral set-up in disarray, Tim Kee acted swiftly. He sacked Phillips.
The football president hinted that Phillips’ dismissal was due to an embarrassing interview in the Trinidad Guardian two days earlier in which the general secretary was quoted—incorrectly—as saying that Tim Kee had the full support of his executive.
In truth, Tim Kee was deeply unpopular and the story brought an immediate and humiliating public response from the TTFA vice-presidents.
But maybe there was a clue in the TTFA’s media statement, which said Phillips was dismissed for his “failure to adhere to directives regarding the operational activities of the FA.”
Phillips told Wired868 he was convinced that Tim Kee sacked him due to his meddling in the machinations of the electoral committee.
Further, the general secretary suspected that the Ramnarine-led committee was cherry picking which delegates received help in falling in line with the TTFA constitution. Although the electoral committee apparently did not meet formally until October, emailed correspondence suggested that they began meeting regional associations months earlier.
Phillips said he told Tim Kee in July 2015 that a significant portion of TTFA members were in danger of being disenfranchised due to the approach of the electoral committee. He claimed that his advice and warnings were ignored.
I observed that members of the electoral committee [were] only engaging regional associations rather than all TTFA members in providing assistance to ensure members were compliant with the new constitution and FIFA directives…
The second concern was the pace in (sic) which the committee was operating made it difficult to logistically improbable to meet the directives of FIFA as well as statutory deadlines… As a result, several candidates were improperly nominated by non-compliant members.
The third and final event that directly led to my letter to FIFA was a report from several TTFA members that electoral committee members were advising TTFA members they didn’t have to be compliant with the new constitution in order to participate in the AGM and election. This information given by the committee was, of course, incorrect and counter to clearly defined statutes within the TTFA constitution. In my view, if clarification was not established the election, AGM, and the legal status of the TTFA would be jeopardy.”
Wired868 asked the electoral committee members why they persevered with the election although many of the delegates were not properly constituted and should not have been allowed to vote for the TTFA president.
Ramnarine declined the opportunity to comment but his former colleagues gave their accounts.
Campbell said Paula Chester-Cumberbatch, who acted as interim general secretary until the elections after Phillips’ dismissal, was the only person who could say conclusively which delegates were compliant with the TTFA constitution.
The attorney suggested that they carried on with the elections for the greater good of the local game, despite the constitutional issues:
As far as I remember, there were one or two areas [of concern]. But the whole body agreed with what was being done for the purpose of getting through the election. So it wasn’t something that was done arbitrarily.
The new rules were followed but they were not squeaky clean or precise in everything. There might have been a little grey in it. But everyone agreed to go with it and it was a fair process to all and sundry.
Prescott, a senior counsel, said that the electoral committee was satisfied the rules were followed.
“My recollection is too poor to give you anything concrete,” Prescott told Wired868. “But we were satisfied that everyone there was properly there. In the month of the election, the electoral committee met twice or maybe three times; and on one of those occasions, we were assured that the delegates had satisfied the criteria to vote.”
Wired868 asked who had given such an assurance about the eligibility of the TTFA delegates.
“At best, I would say Paula Chester,” said Prescott, who is also the leading counsel for the TTOC. “Dinanath had telephoned her…”
Ramnarine had made it clear to the previous general secretary that the electoral committee would not be dictated to by him or even FIFA. Did he have a change of heart and suddenly begin taking directions from Phillips’ temporary replacement?
Chester-Cumberbatch said she didn’t offer assurances to anyone but merely tried to assist the electoral committee however she could.
“They were the ones who were in charge of all the proceedings and correspondence,” Chester-Cumberbatch told Wired868. “I simply compiled information. And remember, the process started before I came in.
“I was only there for the last three weeks.”
The former interim general secretary admitted that some of the delegates who voted on 29 November were ineligible according to article 10.2. But she also, erroneously, suggested that the transitory clause allowed them to take part:
Decisions were taken to ensure there was full participation at the AGM. Collectively, everyone agreed that we needed the election and people were reminded they had 18 months to get things in order. Some of them had their elections and presented their revised constitutions to the TTFA. But of course there was a lot of work to be done to help the clubs in particular to get their things in order… We wanted to ensure that the election was conducted.
Whose decision was it to go forward with the election regardless?
“That would have been a TTFA decision,” said Chester-Cumberbatch. “The electoral body would have made a proposal and [the TTFA] would have agreed. Mr Tim Kee would be the best person to say what was agreed.”
Wired868 could not reach Tim Kee for comment. But former TTFA vice-president Rudolph Thomas concurred with Chester-Cumberbatch.
If the football president wanted the election to take place because he fancied his chances and saw the prospect of a normalisation committee as a damning indictment on his leadership, his vice-president had a different reason. He was anxious to be rid of Tim Kee:
I don’t think it was a formal thing. If I remember well—when we were protesting some of the things the president and general secretary were doing—we clearly indicated that, despite the fact that the constitution was not being followed by the letter of the law, we were in favour of the elections coming off. At that point in time, anything but [Tim Kee] was the sentiment.
Not everyone was as cavalier about the violation of rules.
John-Williams sent a string of emails to the electoral committee on 19, 20, 21, 22 and 29 October, which complained about the flaws in the process. Among other things, the candidate was uneasy about the lack of a voter list and the possibility of ineligible bodies.
[…] I also take note of the ‘grace period’ of 18 months being granted to member bodies to get their ‘house in order’, thus possibly allowing them to be eligible to vote in the elections, [which] is of concern to us. It is public knowledge that several of these member bodies mentioned in the new constitution are non-functional or have not been full members of the TTFA.
It is critical in the circumstances that all the candidates are duly furnished at least 30 days prior to the elections with a list of the delegates who are eligible to vote on 29 November 2015.
John-Williams had good reason to be concerned too.
Tim Kee sent Geoffrey Edwards an email that addressed him as “Futsal president”, which allowed him and another delegate, Nigel Roberts, to vote without the newly formed body ever holding an election.
And the TTFA’s marketing officer, Kyle Lequay, was similarly declared the president of Beach Soccer without the inconvenience of an election.
FIFA’s authority was being ignored.
On 5 November 2015, FIFA acting deputy general secretary Marco Villiger took a turn at bringing sanity to the TTFA’s electoral proceedings.
[…] We kindly ask you to update us on the current situation. As stated in the transitory provisions of the new constitution, the TTFA members not complying with article 10.2 will not be allowed to participate in the elections. In consequence, we would like to know how many members are already compliant and how many more you expect in order to asses the approximate number of delegates who will participate in the TTFA elections.
We would also appreciate if you can brief us on the electoral process and more specifically on the deadlines leading to the 29 November 2015 elections and the work of the electoral committee. We thank you in advance to provide us with a report at your earliest convenience.
The electoral committee met later that day. But they were not for turning.
On 6 November, Ramnarine emailed the TTFA’s delegates and misrepresented FIFA’s position on the transitory clause while suggesting that its absence from the the constitution was an error.
The Electoral Committee held a meeting on November 5, 2015, during which the following decision was approved for issuance to all members of the TTFA.
1. FIFA mandated there should be an 18 month provision for compliance with the Constitution this was agreed to at the AGM on 12 July 2015.
2. That provision was inadvertently omitted from the Constitution.
3. Pursuant to the above an 18 month transitionary period for compliance was given by the Electoral Committee becoming effective from 12 July 2015 and was circulated 18 October 2015.
4. Compliance before the election to be held on the 29 November is not practicable.
5. To date no member has complied.
6. Nominations were closed as at midnight 20 October 2015.
The TTFA electoral committee had essentially overruled FIFA.
Ramnarine then attempted to dictate terms to the TTFA executive committee as he announced that the electoral committee passed a resolution to hold a special general meeting of the football body at 9am on 20 November 2015 to address: abridging notice period to have such a Meeting; discuss and agree interim measures to go forward with elections; and waive 18 month provision for compliance.
The electoral committee’s resolution provoked a withering response from TTFA vice-president Krishendath Kuarsingh:
In my humble opinion, this resolution is of no consequence for the following reasons: (i) There is no provision in the TTFA’s Constitution for the convening of a Special General Meeting; (ii) Your Committee does not have any authority to convene such a meeting…
Secondly, there seems to be some serious misunderstanding with respect to the transitory provisions of the TTFA’s Constitution. Please refer to the attached letter from Mr Markus Kattner, Acting Secretary General of FIFA which is very clear on this matter.
Lastly, there are some erroneous statements in the referenced e-mail. As an example, you stated that, at point 5 of your e-mail: “To date no member has complied.” This statement is totally inaccurate, since the Regional Association, the Southern Football Association has notified the TTFA Secretariat of its nominee to the Board of Directors, adopted its upgraded Constitution and submitted its Delegates to the forthcoming AGM.
Apart from the Southern Football Association, the Eastern FA and Referees’ Association also submitted their paperwork early. But most of the other bodies were not fully compliant while a few did not tick any boxes at all.
But Kuarsingh, like almost everyone else, just wanted to have an election. Even as he chided the electoral committee for its perceived failure to satisfy the electoral code.
“Sir, I implore you and your electoral committee to honour its obligations without further delay,” stated Kuarsingh.
There was further complaint from Phillips to CONCACAF’s head of member associations and legal affairs, Hugo Leal. But no response.
And, on 29 November, Corvaro and fellow FIFA member associations representative Luca Nicola turned up at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain and watched John-Williams ascend to the position of TTFA president in a flawed election.
“We are here as observers of the TTFA elections, so we are not taking any position on what happened,” said Nicola, after the presidential election. “We obviously take note of the election of the new incoming president Mr John-Williams and we congratulate him on being elected…”
At the same time, the FIFA presidential election campaign was in full swing with five candidates competing for the throne that was wrenched away from departed president Sepp Blatter.
On 27 January 2016, John-Williams broke ranks from the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) and declared support for Gianni Infantino.
“I was a bit surprised with the TTFA’s endorsement,” CFU president Gordon Derrick told Wired868, days later. “The idea was we are supposed to get together on the 12th of February in Miami where some candidates would be presenting themselves again. And we will then decide on who we support…
“In our discussions, the overtones from the meeting was we would discuss as a group, although there was no directive given.”
John-Williams endorsement might not have strengthened the CFU’s position but it was a shrewd move on an individual level.
FIFA controversially barred Derrick from contesting the post of CONCACAF president on 12 May 2016—the decision is now before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)—and Canadian Victor Montagliani won the election instead. It broke the Caribbean’s 26 year monopoly of the top CONCACAF job.
Derrick accused John-Williams for campaigning on Montagliani’s behalf against another Caribbean delegate Larry Mussenden, who was the Bermuda FA president and former attorney general.
On 17 and 18 June 2016, John-Williams held an extraordinary meeting in Port of Spain. The TTFA president invited all 31 CFU presidents to a two-day seminar at the Marriott Hotel to discuss a Caribbean professional football league.
Montagliani confirmed that the meeting—inclusive of airfare and hotel accommodation—was funded by CONCACAF, UEFA and FIFA.
It was the first time that a Caribbean member association had ever held such an ambitious meeting. And a furious Derrick as well as CFU general secretary Neil Cochrane did not receive invitations.
The new FIFA, it would seem, wants its own men at the helm.
Wired868 asked Leal, Corvaro and the FIFA Media Department why the TTFA’s election result was allowed to stand despite the apparent electoral violations and FIFA’s own initial objections to the process.
CONCACAF’s legal department and member association head, Leal, was not inclined to share any problems he might have seen in the process.
“I inform you that FIFA would have to be contacted in order to get information regarding the matter,” said Leal.
The FIFA media department apparently heard no evil.
“According to our information, the elections held on 29 November 2015 involved members in compliance with the TTFA constitution,” stated a FIFA spokesman. “FIFA observed the elections and has not yet received any official complaints about the alleged irregularities.”
And Corvaro, who did not respond to his email but was tracked down by telephone, spoke no evil.
“For us, we observed the election, so the issue is over,” Corvaro told Wired868. “If you want to complain, use the judicial system. But, for us, it is over.”
Despite the assertion by the FIFA Media Department, there has already been at least one complaint about the TTFA election.
Defeated presidential candidate Ramesh Ramdhan, a former FIFA referee, wrote directly to Infantino, two weeks ago, to complain about the supposedly illegitimate election. By Ramdhan’s count, at least 11 of the 47 votes cast were invalid.
Despite the knowledge of the above constitutional breaches, the electoral committee felt it was more important to have an election rather than ensuring that members conformed with constitution, thereby giving rise to an unconstitutional Executive.
As a Presidential candidate, I am seeking the intervention of FIFA in this matter. I am confident that the new FIFA thrust to rebuild confidence in the organisation and your own stated objectives of transparency and accountability will get the attention this situation warrants.
It is also noteworthy that the President, who is the beneficiary of these constitutional breaches, endorsed your own candidacy very early in your campaign…
Thus far, neither Infantino nor anyone else at FIFA has responded.
It is left to be seen if Ramdhan, or anyone else, pursues the matter at FIFA level or beyond. In theory, a single TTFA board member can have the election result voided in local court according to article 135 of the Companies Act:
135. (1) A company or a shareholder or director thereof may apply to the Court to determine any controversy with respect to an election or appointment of a director or auditor of the company.
(2) Upon an application made under this section, the Court may make any order it thinks fit including—
(a) an order restraining a director or auditor whose election or appointment is challenged from acting, pending determination of the dispute;
(b) an order declaring the result of the disputed election or appointment;
(c) an order requiring a new election or appointment, and including in the order directions for the management of the business and affairs of the company until a new election is held, or appointment made; and
(d) an order determining the voting rights of shareholders and of persons claiming to own shares.
And, despite concerns about whether he is legally entitled to run the TTFA in the first place, a Trinidad and Tobago football official appears to have won the support of high friends within FIFA, who are willing to turn a blind eye to very obvious flaws in his make-up.
The more things change.