Morvant Caledonia AIA technical director Jamaal Shabazz, a self-proclaimed friend and supporter of Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams, has warned that next month’s football elections will be a ‘dangerous’ one which might require intervention from Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith.
Shabazz, who reminded viewers that he was a former insurrectionist, made the bizarre claim to TV6 Morning Edition host Fazeer Mohammed on Friday 18 October, as they discussed John-Williams’ quest to retain his post.
Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) president William Wallace and Terminix La Horquetta Rangers director Richard Ferguson are both nominated to challenge John-Williams at the TTFA election on 24 November.
Mohammed: “Do you think things will get better or worse after the election? Or does that depend on the result?”
Shabazz: “I think first it will get worse before the election. This will be a volatile election. I won’t even venture to use what I feel but this could be a very dangerous elections.”
Mohammed: “Why dangerous?”
Shabazz: “From where I sit, large sums of money [are] being put into winning votes. I have evidence. If it was coming from one section of the electorate, it would have already been public news. And I am saying that it will get worse before it gets better.
“[…] At some point [Commissioner of Police] Gary Griffith will have to step in to this matter. What is happening in the football is worst than what is happening in Beetham and John John. I can tell you that.”
Shabazz declined further comment on the matter.
On Friday morning, Shabazz, the current St Lucia Men’s National Senior Team head coach and ex-Trinidad and Tobago Men’s and Women’s National coach, attempted to clarify his view on John-Williams’ leadership style as well as his appreciation for football ‘strongmen’.
“What I see in the [TTFA] Board when David John-Williams came into power, he came in with a high level of enthusiasm,” Shabazz told the Morning Edition, “and at several instances, he bypassed the collective opinion. Because he’s seeing it—he wants to go this way…”
Mohammed suggested Shabazz was admitting that John-Williams was a dictator.
“If you bypass collective opinion, which means you bypass the majority,” asked Mohammed, “isn’t that autocratic?”
Shabazz: “You have to be autocratic at times to be a leader…”
The Caledonia AIA co-founder tried to justify his defence of John-Williams’ leadership style with an anecdote.
Shabazz: “A Thursday I [got] a whats app from John-Williams and a letter from somebody in the ministry giving the TTFA the land and the okay to go ahead and build [the Home of Football]. Sunday morning I get a call from John-Williams saying, ‘What are you doing? come down Ato Boldon [Stadium] nah?’ John-Williams is on site, clearing the land.
“They got permission the Thursday to clear and [two days later] he is on site on a tractor. That is enthusiasm; that is commitment. Look where that project reach today. Because he is a builder!”
And where has the TTFA Home of Football project reached? It remains unfinished and shrouded in controversy with general secretary Camara David begging private sponsors to help pay for its completion while the High Court blasted John-Williams’ attempt to run the project as though it was his fiefdom.
Mohammed: “Don’t you recognise, Jamaal Shabazz, that a president […] must respect process. You can’t just pick up yourself and bypass the will of the majority and do as you like, even if you think you’re right.”
Shabazz appeared to backpedal somewhat when he hinted that John-Williams was a well-intentioned dictator. (“I would never stand for blatant dictatorship.”) He then said ‘99.9 percent’ of the TTFA president’s decisions actually were sanctioned by the Board. But, paradoxically, John-Williams was only fulfilling the will of the people when he ignored their wishes.
“In this society, we look for a saviour and if they don’t solve [the problems] we crucify them,” said Shabazz. “[We] always want one man to solve the problem. If we approach our problems like that we won’t get anything done. It has to have a leader, it has to have consultation, it has to have a debate and then a decision.”
Mohammed: “Has [John-Williams] consulted with the people?”
Shabazz: “I think he can do better at that.”
Mohammed: “In other words, no.”
Shabazz: “I won’t say that either…”
Shabazz admitted he was unimpressed and unconvinced by calls for ‘transparent leadership’ from the TTFA president.
Shabazz: “You see that transparency thing; that is a cliché men does use. ‘Transparency’, ‘accountability’ because them is nice words corporate Trinidad and Tobago like to hear and so-called ‘well to do [people]’ like to hear. The reality of it is when you’re leading an organisation there comes a time when you have to take some firm decisions—but I am one to say consult with people.”
So is Shabazz suggesting that leaders should talk to stakeholders but are not obliged to listen to them or use their counsel?
The veteran coach spoke disparagingly of critics of John-Williams’ tenure, who he described as ‘dissidents’ that were supposedly quiet during the reign of disgraced FIFA vice-president Jack Warner but since found their voice.
The problem Shabazz had with that line is, as he admitted, he also quietly reaped the benefit of Warner’s dictatorship at the time. And, even as he tried to favourably compare John-Williams’ Home of Football with Warner’s Centre of Excellence caper—in which the latter administrator hoodwinked local football to make off with a multi-million facility built and maintained with FIFA and TTFA money—he was careful not to directly criticise his former boss.
Shabazz: “[The Centre of Excellence] is owned by one family; and that’s fine. But we thought it was owned by football…”
Mohammed: “Why is that fine?”
Shabazz: “If a man used his then intellectual capacity and he used the then FIFA at the time—fine. That is his wisdom, his shrewdness…”
When asked to give his personal view of Warner, Shabazz again tried to have it both ways.
Shabazz: “[Warner] left a feeling of distrust for Trinidadians and Caribbean people. According to how you look at him, he could have been a freedom fighter or a dictator… I think he could have been a little bit of both.”
Warner’s time at the helm of the local game remains divisive. Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the Germany 2006 World Cup as well as the Portugal 1991, Korea Republic 2007 and Egypt 2009 Youth World Cups.
Yet, millions were siphoned out of the local game to the benefit of Warner’s family while players and critics were ‘blacklisted’ and thousands more are still owed for their services.
John-Williams’ own time in office has delivered debt and controversy without even a glimmer of the success on the field.
Shabazz: “The [current] results I can’t defend, except for the fact that if you’re stifled with debt it will affect your current ability to issue finance…”
He did not suggest how John-Williams might improve the financial health of the game outside of the unfinished Home of Football, which, in his opinion, might take another four years at least to offer any return on investment.
Shabazz said he saw nothing wrong with coaches using national positions for on the job training.
“I have worked for free in women’s football for the first 10 years from 94,” he said. “If a coach decides that he or she wants to build their experience at working at the national level for free, I am fine with that…”
As for John-Williams, Shabazz suggested that the current TTFA boss’ main problem is his inability to convey his brilliance to stakeholders .
“What I would [blame] David John-Williams with is poor media skills in terms of presenting what really happened,” said Shabazz, “and for me I can say that without fear of contradiction.”
On 24 November, 47 local football delegates will decide if John-Williams’ problems run deeper than that. That is, of course, if the electoral process is not hampered by Shabazz’s predicted bloodletting.
Griffith has been warned.