When the Soca Warriors held Guatemala to a 2-2 World Cup qualifying draw at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 2 September 2016, it not only meant a place in the Concacaf Hex but also a cash windfall of US$1.5 million or TT$10.4 million for the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA).
The Concacaf bonanza was the largest single payment to the TTFA in 2016 and represented just over a quarter of the football body’s income for the year.
Then head coach Stephen Hart was due US$10,000—roughly 0.007 percent of the bounty—for his role in taking the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team to the Hex. But TTFA president David John-Williams allegedly refused to authorise the payment to his most valuable employee.
Hart’s claim is one of a stream of legal briefs against the local football body that add up to well over TT$12 million, even before damages and legal fees are factored in.
And with the TTFA Board often in the dark about financial details—and general secretary Justin Latapy-George unable to push through even a TT$50,000 TTSL registration fee without John-Williams’ say-so—the local football body’s growing legal difficulties appear to be linked directly to its president’s abrasive, ruthless managerial style.
Hart, who was also owed five months’ pay and various travel-related expenses at the time of his dismissal, is suing for roughly TT$5 million plus damages—which includes the full value of an employment contract that was due to run until December 2018.
The TTFA also faces suits from ex-women’s team head coach Carolina Morace and her staff (estimated at TT$4.3 million), former general secretary Sheldon Phillips ($2 million), Futsal head coach Clayton Morris and his players and technical staff (TT$501,376) and former National Under-17 coach Ken Elie (TT$187,000).
The local football body has already coughed up close to TT$800,000 to former Referees Department head Ramesh Ramdhan and Phillips. And, of course, there is also a legal claim for damages by United States Spanish-speaking television network, Telemundo.
In almost every case, the plaintiffs expressed astonishment at the John-Williams-led body’s dismissive and high-handed attitude to their claims, which made out-of-court settlements near impossible.
When the Futsal team asked the TTFA to pay outstanding money to the group, the national players and staff members were asked to prove that they were hired to represent the country in the first place.
“Our request at this stage […] is for the disclosure of the following documents,” stated TTFA attorney Annand Misir, in correspondence to the claimants. “The contract or agreement or any relevant documentation whereby the appointment, terms and conditions of the technical staff were approved by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association…
“The contract or agreement or any relevant documentation whereby the appointment, terms and conditions of the players were settled and agreed by the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association…”
Morris, who was hired by John-Williams’ predecessor, Raymond Tim Kee, led the same Futsal squad into two international tournaments under the current football president. The John-Williams-led TTFA also sent Morris and his manager, Ronaldo Brereton, to a Concacaf workshop as their representatives and arranged their travel, accommodation and per diems for participation in World Cup qualifiers in Cuba and Costa Rica between January and May 2016.
John-Williams would do well to explain to the High Court how he can claim to be unaware of any responsibilities to the Futsal team, particularly given that timeline.
In response to Telemundo’s case for breach of contract by the local football body, the TTFA’s defence and counter-claim—which was signed by Latapy-George—insisted that the television company’s deal was made with a “separate legal entity” called the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation that had nothing to do with them.
“The Defendant herein was therefore not a party to the said [television rights] agreement,” stated Misir, “[…] and specifically denies that it legally transferred to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) any rights as alleged or at all.”
Telemundo, who are represented in the local High Court by Christopher Hamel-Smith SC and advocate attorney Jonathan Walker, retorted that the name change was done by then TTFA president Oliver Camps, who acted on behalf of the Defendant and pointed to multiple instances in which the football body had conducted business as ‘TTFF’.
“The Defendant’s name was changed to ‘the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation’ at its Annual General Meeting held on 13 September 1998,” stated Hamel-Smith, “[…] thereafter, in or around 1999, the Defendant changed its corporate logo so as to reflect the [new] business name… This […] was the logo used on the official uniform of the Trinidad and Tobago Men’s national football team from around 1999 until 2013 when the Defendant reverted to using its formal name and a further redesigned logo.”
So was John-Williams unaware that the TTFA and TTFF were the same body? Or that interim TTFF president Lennox Watson had acted on behalf of the local football body when he agreed a deal for the country’s 2018 and 2022 World Cup television rights?
Such bizarre assertions were familiar themes in the legal positions taken by the current football body.
Hart, in his statement of case, noted that his contract was formally terminated with immediate effect on 29 November via a letter from John-Williams—which followed verbal notice by the president given five days earlier in a meeting at the Ruby Tuesday Restaurant in Grand Bazaar.
Yet, despite written evidence of the sacking, John-Williams told Hart, a week later, that he had not been fired at all but had left by mutual consent, if that were true, it would have voided any claim for a pay-out covering the remainder of the coach’s contract.
“By letter dated 6 December 2016, the President of the [TTFA] wrote to the Claimant alleging that the Claimant agreed to part ways,” stated Hart’s lead attorney, Keith Scotland, “and due to this assumption, the Defendant purportedly did not issue a termination letter. However, [Hart] under no circumstances was in agreement with such [a] bold assumption and never agreed to part ways with the Defendant.”
In Phillips’ case, the John-Williams-led body accused the former general secretary of fraudulently affixing Tim Kee’s signature on his employment contract, which was due to run until 9 May 2017.
“The [TTFA] avers that Mr Tim Kee had no knowledge of the purported agreement,” stated Misir, “and that Tim Kee’s electronic signature was fraudulently obtained.”
One would think that such a strong accusation would not be made lightly, yet Tim Kee claimed to have no idea what John-Williams and company were talking about.
“I duly authorised such employment agreement [with Phillips] on behalf of, and as the President of the TTFA, with full understanding and acknowledgment of the terms stated therein,” stated Tim Kee, in a witness statement submitted to the High Court. “[…] I strongly deny that the […] contract with Sheldon Phillips was never properly executed, and strongly deny that my signature was obtained fraudulently.”
Several of the TTFA’s former employees complained of being mistreated by John-Williams. The Futsal staff members and players said they were given a per diem of just US$10 per day for a two-week stay in Costa Rica, while they were not given any match fee at all while representing their country—despite allegedly receiving verbal assurances by John-Williams.
The football body also failed to book the team’s hotel for the entire tour, which meant the players were ordered to leave the premises and had to huddle, bewildered, in the lobby in front of rival football nations.
“The Claimants faced the most embarrassing and unfortunate position of having to be put out of their hotel accommodation at the CONCACAF campaign,” stated attorney Melissa Roberts-John, in her deposition on behalf of the Futsal team. “In an attempt to curtail the humiliating and distressing position the team was unjustly placed in, the technical staff—namely Mr Brereton—was forced to pay out of pocket for extra accommodation and/or expenses until their scheduled departure…”
The TTFA is yet to reimburse Brereton.
Hart complained too about the TTFA’s failure to adhere to several clauses in his contract, including four return trips to Canada per year so he could spend time with his wife and children.
Among the testimonies to Hart’s strained relationship with John-Williams is a document that sought to quash an infamous training ground incident involving the pair, which was reported exclusively by Wired868.
In May 2016, John-Williams, who had already agreed three practice games away to Peru, Uruguay and China in the space of 12 days, asked Hart to prepare his team to play a fourth match against Equatorial Guinea.
The extra match almost certainly contravened FIFA’s medical guidelines and Hart’s said the workload would be too much for his squad—particularly as the team was travelling without a masseuse and several players had just completed their seasons.
John-Williams, according to witnesses, walked on to the national team’s training ground on 17 May 2016 and asked Hart to allow him to speak to the players alone. Then, the football president allegedly asked the players to overrule their own coach.
The players would refuse, via email.
A day after Wired868’s article, John-Williams sent his coach a document to sign, which addressed the issue in obscure terms.
“In light of all the foregoing, it is disappointing that one segment of the media has chosen to focus on reports of an ‘incident’ that simply did not happen in the manner it is being reported,” stated the document. “Due to the TTFA, like all best run companies, not conducting its business in the public domain, the TTFA will not be commenting further.
“Suffice to say there is no rift either between the President and the Coach of the National Senior Men’s or the President and the players.”
Tellingly, the document did not specifically contradict any of the allegations in the Wired868 article or deny that John-Williams had made overtures to the national players behind Hart’s back.
Hart refused to sign, out of concern that to do so would mean emasculating himself in front of his players, who had witnessed John-Williams’ training ground intervention. In the subsequent seven months of Hart’s tenure, the TTFA did not arrange a single practice game for his squad.
According to Hart’s contract with the TTFA, the former Canada national team coach could only be dismissed for failing to perform his duties in a professional and timely manner, committing a felony or misdemeanour involving “moral turpitude” that could embarrass his employer or if he was unable to legally perform his duties.
Curiously, i95.5FM radio host Andre Baptiste repeatedly questioned Hart’s moral leadership in the lead-up to his dismissal—after team doctor Terence Babwah and paramedic Dave Isaac claimed the coach recklessly risked the life of goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams by playing him in a World Cup qualifier away to Honduras despite his being injured.
Hart, goalkeeper coach Michael Maurice, fitness trainer Tobias Ottley and Jan-Michael himself all denied the allegation. And it later emerged that i95.5FM was being paid by the football body—unknown to the TTFA Board—at the time of the radio station’s ‘campaign’ against the football coach.
Neither Maurice, who worked consistently for the TTFA for roughly two decades and was one of just two local coaches hired by Leo Beenhakker for the 2006 World Cup, nor Ottley has been hired by the local football body since then.
John-Williams has so far not used Jan-Michael’s injury as an explanation for Hart’s dismissal—which, in any case, he claimed was a mutual parting of ways.
Telemundo also noted what it felt to be inconsistent stances taken by John-Williams as regards the television rights agreement that the football body claimed was null and void.
“The [TTFA] has acted in furtherance of this said agreement including, by email dated 11 March 2016, requesting the payment to the Defendant of the bonus that was due under that agreed formula,” stated Hamel-Smith. “And as at March 2016 receiving the sum of US$450,000…”
So John-Williams, according to Telemundo, asked to be paid from the same contract he later suggested was not worth the paper it was written on. Ironically, at the same time, the TTFA allegedly ignored its contractual obligation to pay Hart US$10,000 out of that figure.
Hamel-Smith suggested that the TTFA was trying to have its cake and eat it too.
“That is not the conduct of an honest commercial man,” said Hamel-Smith, during Telemundo’s pleadings at the High Court on 21 March 2017. “The conduct of an honest commercial man is that he respects the rights of somebody who is bonafide and he gets what he can get from the people who took advantage of him if he truly believes that.”
In John-Williams’ first year in office, the football body spent TT$1.2 million in professional and legal fees, which was the TTFA’s third highest line item and just TT$200,000 short of its annual wage bill. And that was before the TTFA took on Telemundo.
Not that the cases are altogether straightforward. The Futsal members are demanding match fees of US$200 per game—which they claim to be “consistent with international accepted standards”—although it would be an unprecedented sum for the squad.
The TTFA claimed too that Morace and her staff refused to accept payment from a third party—in this case, Concacaf—on their behalf and declared the agreement “terminated for just cause” after a three month impasse. Her suit is believed to be lodged with FIFA.
And Phillips was fired by Tim Kee, although it was a controversial decision and the TTFA board declared, at the time, that the dismissal was improper.
There was grounds for legitimate concern from the TTFA in the television rights matter too, after the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) convicted former Traffic president Aaron Davidson and ex-CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb for fraudulent behaviour related to several financial deals inclusive of the one involving the then TTFF.
However, as Telemundo’s attorneys pointed out, the US network was never accused of misbehaviour and, if John-Williams felt the TTFA was cheated, then the appropriate body to tackle would be Traffic or Concacaf.
Already cash-strapped and unable to pass its audited financial statement for 2016, the TTFA may well find darker days ahead if John-Williams’ bullish legal stances fail to bear fruit.
At present, John-Williams is recovering from an unspecified injury suffered late last month.
Medical sources claimed John-Williams’ accident occurred at the Home of Football construction site although, after the TTFA Board had voted to take the FIFA-funded contract from under his watch, the president had promised to remove himself from the controversial project entirely.