A joint high-powered delegation from FIFA and Concacaf met the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s Board in a secret meeting today, as, for the first time, the world governing body betrayed their concern over the instability of the local game under President David John-Williams.
The million dollar question, though, is: exactly who is FIFA and Concacaf here to help?
Is it the embattled TTFA president who not only voted for Gianni Infantino as FIFA president but helped power his campaign through the Caribbean?
Or is it the local football association which is effectively bankrupt and racking up legal losses at an alarming rate, due in large part to John-Williams’ abrasive stewardship?
Veron Mosengo-Omba (Director of Development for Africa and the Caribbean) represented FIFA along with the governing body’s CFO for Strategic Planning while the Concacaf delegation were: Horace Reid (Member Associations department), Howard McIntosh (One Concacaf and Caribbean Projects senior manager) and Alejandro Lesende (CFO).
TTFA President David John-Williams and Vice-President Ewing Davis were there along with Board Members Raeshawn Mars (Northern FA), Richard Quan Chan (Southern FA), Joseph Taylor (Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association), Sharon Warrick (Women’s League Football), Julia Baptiste (TT Pro League), Collin Partap (Central Football Association), Keith Look Loy (TTSL), Bandele Kamau (Eastern FA) and Selby Browne (Veteran Footballers Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago). General Secretary Camara David was also present.
Ostensibly, FIFA/Concacaf requested the meeting to deal with the TTFA’s debt crisis. At present, the local football body’s bank account is frozen while creditors are lining up with court orders in their favour.
The FIFA delegation, according to an insider, were told of a large inherited debt by John-Williams and wanted to hear ideas on dealing with it.
How can you possibly arrive at the correct answer with a flawed question?
John-Williams’ predecessor, Raymond Tim Kee, cut the local football body’s debt—which stood at TT$35 million in 2012—by more than a half in three years, before he was voted out of office in 2015. That debt has been mushrooming ever since while a lack of transparency regarding the TTFA’s finances and ongoing court cases makes it hard to determine the current health of the organisation.
Two years ago, former General Secretary Sheldon Phillips made what now appears to be a prophetic statement, as he linked the TTFA’s escalating woes to John-Williams’ stewardship.
“In this era of ‘wrong and strong’, [the] TTFA leadership persists in acting in a manner that may very well push creditors to seek legal redress and have the TTFA placed in court-appointed administration,” wrote Phillips. “There simply seems to be no evidence of desire on the part of the current TTFA President and its board to pay debt unless creditors go through arduous litigation, win a judgment—at greater expense to the TTFA, I may add—and collect on said judgment.
“This is not a prudent or honourable manner of stewardship of the game; in fact, it marks a further deterioration in the relevance of the sport and general goodwill towards it.”
For FIFA and Concacaf to address the TTFA’s debt without first looking for a possible crisis of leadership there, would be like handing a man an umbrella to face a hurricane.
Not that FIFA brought an umbrella either; they are not in the debt forgiveness business. Rather, the ‘experts’ from Zurich and Miami are here to help fix local problems with ‘knowhow’ and ‘experience’.
Other than the fact that the tourists appeared not to grasp—or pretended not to know—what the problem was in the first place, there were a few tell-tale signs as to how useful their time might be in these climes.
First, take a look at Trinidad and Tobago’s domestic game. The perennially cash-strapped Pro League has been in existence since 1999 while the Super League was formed in 2003 and redone into the TTSL in 2017.
UEFA and Concacaf delegates insisted that they both be put under the TTFA’s direct watch immediately—coincidentally, in time for the local football body’s elections in November.
Today, the newly proposed ‘T-League’ is in paralysis with neither administrators nor clubs certain as to when they will start with the likelihood of a September kick-off certain to see them out dazzled by the better supported Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) product.
Or consider the fact that Mosengo-Omba was a frequent face at the controversial Home of Football project in Couva and was always ready with a ‘thumbs up’ and helpful quote about how well things were going.
And his response to roughly 80 per cent of the money spent on the FIFA-approved project being unaccounted for and used without Board approval? Eh… That’s an ‘internal problem’.
If that was not enough to make a farce of the FIFA/Concacaf ‘reconciliation mission’—whether financial or otherwise—then two other points jarred alert Board members.
First, Mosengo-Omba admitted that John-Williams and David made a proposal to FIFA to get the TTFA through the current crisis. However, the FIFA official allegedly declined several opportunities at today’s meeting to reveal the details of John-Williams’ offer.
Since FIFA helped frame and ultimately approved the TTFA constitution, Mosengo-Omba should know full well that John-Williams cannot legally represent his association without the support of his Board.
If John-Williams’ perceived dictatorial tendencies have alienated him from local administrators and football supporters, then Mosengo-Omba is in no position to help assuage those fears.
Second, David gave Board members barely 24 hours notice before today’s key meeting and claimed that FIFA and Concacaf only advised of the get-together on Wednesday.
However, there is considerable doubt that this is the case, with one suggestion that FIFA actually served notice to the TTFA a week prior.
Did David intentionally try to mislead his Board? Was the aim to have less participation from stakeholders? As usual, the ruthlessly ambitious General Secretary refused to come clean on his intentions.
In such a spirit of distrust on all sides, there is little surprise that the meeting ended without little hint of progress.
Browne, who has recently and suddenly grown fond of John-Williams, proposed that the TTFA be given a loan. However, Mosengo-Omba made it clear that FIFA regulations forbid the local football body from mortgaging the Home of Football while the FIFA Forward Programme funds should not be used to settle debts.
So how can a virtually insolvent TTFA access a loan with no security?
Look Loy’s proposal was that John-Williams and his last remaining vice-president, Davis, resign immediately with an interim president appointed until an election can be held, along with a forensic audit of the TTFA’s finances with specific attention to the Home of Football.
The TTSL President suggested that a new face at the helm could buy time from creditors and make the TTFA more attractive to potential sponsors and investors.
Suffice to say, the FIFA and Concacaf delegates did not ask that Look Loy’s suggestion be put to a vote.
The meeting ended without solution, although the visitors at least had a better understanding of the temperature at the TTFA. And, just so they know, local football stakeholders would be marking their card as well.
This is the land of Jack Warner; we have seen this movie before.