The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) has taken it upon itself to rescue the immediate future of the domestic game, after a vote at a board meeting this afternoon at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The defunct League Commission, chaired by businessman Lindsay Gillette and guided by a series of discussions held between local football stakeholders and advisors from UEFA and Concacaf, came up empty-handed in their attempts to unify the TT Pro League and Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) competitions after eight months.
However, a five-member committee from the TTFA Board will attempt to complete the Commission’s work and more besides in just seven days.
“The board voted unanimously to form a committee of five which comprise of Mr Selby Browne, Mrs Julia Baptiste, Mr Anthony Moore, Mrs Susan Joseph-Warrick and Mr Colin Partap,” said TTFA president David John-Williams, “to investigate the structures and a pathway forward for Trinidad and Tobago football with immediate effect. I also said to the board—and the board concurred with me—that the scope of this committee is very wide and very powerful; and the board agreed with me.
“And that [committee] is going to look at, one, the proposal by the TT Pro League [to start on 4 October with a second division including TTSL clubs] as well as [a request by TTSL clubs for] an extension [and] a second round of the Ascension [Invitational Tournament].
“That committee has been tasked with reporting back to the Board in seven days with a view of getting football played on the field in the shortest possible time; and that is October 4.”
John-Williams also confirmed a short and not-too-sweet end for Gillette’s first significant administrative stint within local football.
Last month, the swimming president criticised John-Williams and his general secretary, Camara David, over their supposed political gamesmanship and failure to sufficiently support the proposed T-League. Gillette suggested that if John-Williams could not provide the promised FIFA Forward funds, the TTFA might as well disband the commission.
The board did just that this morning.
“The board today felt that the commission did not fulfill its full responsibility so far as the task it was set out to do,” said John-Williams, “and the board voted unanimously to disband the commission.”
It was, in fact, not a unanimous decision at all—as John-Williams subsequently conceded after prompting by Browne.
John-Williams, Ewing Davis, Anthony Moore, Bandele Kamau, Colin Partap, Sherwyn Dyer and Browne all voted to dissolve the commission. Keith Look Loy and Joseph Taylor voted against; and Rayshawn Mars, Richard Quan Chan, Joseph-Warrick and Baptiste abstained.
“When the board requested a status report [from the commission],” said Browne, in reference to Gillette’s letter that was subsequently published on Wired868, “what was done was not a report but a letter from the commission that gave an ultimatum to the TTFA Board that if we do not hear from you by August 16 and funds are not made available, the commission recommends that it be dissolved.
“That August 16 [deadline] has expired, so the board has taken its decision now.”
John-Williams, who is president of Pro League club W Connection, suggested that the TTFA’s intervention in the matter is a magnanimous gesture.
“The TTFA Board has now taken charge of its destiny and its members,” said the TTFA President. “The board has now taken direct responsibility through that committee to ensure that Trinidad football—and that is club football—is put on the right path, and there is no stuff all over the media and opinions and so on.
“Whenever we come back to you, it is going to be a very firm decision and a pathway for Trinidad and Tobago football.”
Should a matter as important as the restructuring of local football, Wired868 asked, be done without the direct involvement and approval of the TTFA’s general council? And is it feasible that it be completed within a week, especially when the members are not full-time administrators?
“Mr Liburd, the committee has also been tasked to meet with the members of the TTFA who are the TT Pro League clubs and the members of the Super League clubs […] in so far as getting football started as quickly as possible,” said John-Williams. “They have also been tasked with the responsibility [to set] a pathway forward and report back to the TTFA in the shortest possible time. Maybe the pathway may take a little longer but it is important that we get football playing at the highest level as quickly as possible and the committee has been tasked with that responsibility.
“[…] Mr Liburd, let me tell you something, in this country if we put our minds to do it, we will do it!”
It was as close as John-Williams got to answering Wired868’s query regarding the scope and timeline of the board’s latest project. But he did have some more to say.
“Let me just put on record it makes no sense for members of our hierarchy to be talking about ‘professional football is a fallacy’, ‘professional football will not work’, ‘scrap the professional league’,” continued the TTFA president. “You think those comments coming from people within the circle goes down well in FIFA? You think those comments would not put a spoke in our wheel, whether we consider funding the Pro League or funding Trinidad and Tobago football?
“The FIFA Forward programme money […] comes with stipulations; and when all this in-fighting and bacchanal comes, it does not help Trinidad and Tobago football. I say that without fear of contradiction.”
Was John-Williams suggesting that the FIFA Forward funding did not materialise because Look Loy criticised the business model of the Pro League—and not the T-League—months after the money was promised?
Wired868 asked if any FIFA Forward money was sent to the TTFA.
DJW: No FIFA Forward money has been received by the TTFA.
Wired868: Is there a reason for that?
DJW: We do not sign the cheque [for FIFA]. I can also tell you the application has been made …
John-Williams would say no more on FIFA’s apparent cooling of interest in the T-League. Apparently, the TTFA’s new committee tasked with completing the commission’s work will not have all the answers as to why the Gillette-led body failed in the first place.
Browne, unprompted, did offer an international news flash, as he reminded reporters and stakeholders that FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Concacaf president Victor Montagliani were both re-elected unopposed earlier this year.
“The opportunity given to Trinidad and Tobago football at this time is to move in sync with those who view the TTFA favourably at both the FIFA and Concacaf level,” said Browne. “And that’s the opportunity we are looking after with our committee.”
What does re-election of Infantino and Montagliani have to do with John-Williams’ presidency? How hasFIFA’s and Concacaf’s supposedly ‘favourable’ opinion of the current TTFA administration helped local football over the past four years?
And what does the TTFA’s new five-member committee have to do with John-Williams’ presumed bid for re-election?
Browne said no more on the subject.
Incidentally, Gillette was suggested as a potential future TTFA president by commission member and Central FC managing director Brent Sancho, just a few months ago. John-Williams did not exactly thank the businessman for his service when Trinidad Express editor Garth Wattley asked what aspects of the commission’s work dissatisfied the TTFA.
DJW: I will just read one article for you: ‘Player contracts—The Commission must decide on the terms and conditions of a considered league player contract’. The response to that was: ‘no recommendation or report or conditions of player contract were made or communicated to the TTFA’. There are several [aspects we are dissatisfied with]. I just named one.
Wattley: So do you consider [the work of the commission to be] wasted time?
DJW: You’re not going to put words in this president’s mouth for me to get licks on social media. I just said, clearly, the Board took a decision and you have to accept that decision. You are not going to ask me, as president of the TTFA, to make a personal pronouncement on that decision.
It was easy to forget that John-Williams had touted the commission as his brainchild in the first place.
Wired868 noted that the TTFA’s new ‘commission’ did not include a single person with experience as a former top-level player or coach.
Wired868: There is no technical member on this commission, is that an oversight?
DJW: I repeat the new commission’s powers is broad, far, wide and powerful and I leave it at that.
Wired868: So you’re not answering the question?
DJW: I leave it at that. I know there are plenty people in this room who rely on hits to sell. The commission’s powers is broad, far, wide and powerful… If they feel it necessary to co-opt somebody, so be it.
Baptiste, who is also the CEO of the Pro League, assured reporters that all five members of the committee believed their task was doable.
“Seven days is tight but it is possible,” said Baptiste. “[…] We have to give it a good go for the benefit of football in Trinidad and Tobago. Is it important that professional football gets going …”
John-Williams suggested that the fate of Trinidad and Tobago’s football and the Pro League were intertwined.
“What I can say about the TT Pro League is it remains steadfast and committed to the game of football in Trinidad and Tobago,” he said. “What I will also say about the TT Pro League is the fact that the owners have invested a tremendous amount of money in the sport—regardless of the amount of money that government has invested over the last eight to 10 years.
“There is also no secret as president that the fortunes of the national team has waned as a result of the problem that existed in the TT Pro League, and as a board, we felt that it was very important that [we] step in to deal with the situation.”
Why did the board swing into action for the benefit of the Pro League but not with a plan for women’s football? Did they discuss the benefits of a national youth league and whether it could better serve the local game than the Pro League?
Time did not permit follow-up questions on the subject.
Was the TTFA’s new commission—which includes the Pro League CEO but not the TTSL president, Look Loy—already slanted in its mission, since its starting point was that the Pro League should be saved rather than considering an alternate structure?
“It is the view of the board that professional football remains, and it is important that the TTFA take necessary steps to ensure the survival of professional football,” said John-Williams. “And, two, that it helps the [Men’s] National Team in its quest, particularly as World Cup qualifying is right around the corner.
“It is just a little bit of tweaking to be done. The TTFA has decided we need to play football for the benefit of our National Team as quickly as possible.”
John-Williams did not address the fact that the fortunes of all nine national teams—the Men’s and Women’s Senior, Olympic, Under-20, Under-17 and Under-15 Teams—have nosedived under his administration. And only one of those outfits, the Dennis Lawrence-coached Men’s Senior Team, uses Pro League players.
For now, though, the fate of the local game is in the hands of the TTFA. John-Williams promised a solution in seven days. Nothing to worry about.