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Shaka: T&T football stuck between criminalisation and colonisation, Fifa has betrayed us

In early December of last year, I was in Trinidad to film a commercial for Unit Trust alongside none other than the world’s first black Miss Universe, Janelle Penny Commissiong.

The format of the shoot was an informal conversation between two nationals about their successes, their failures—you get the picture. During our 90-minute or so chat, we spoke of our own battles, seen and unseen.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Shaka Hislop calms things down during their goalless draw with Sweden at the 2006 World Cup.
Hislop was a member of TTFA’s Independent Reform Commission (IRC) in 2015 while he served on FIFA’s International Football Association Board (IFAB) advisory panel between 2014 and 2016.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Roberto Schmidt)

Penny asked of my challenges working under Jack Warner, of the court case, how it affected me, how it shaped me. I’m grateful for those experiences, they made me recognise the need to stand up for what you believe in, even when the odds seem insurmountable and many on the sidelines are cheering against you.

I left the commercial shoot and raced south to the Manny Ramjohn Stadium to be present at the Digicel Cup Finals as part of my ambassadorial duties for the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL), alongside the newly-installed TTFA president, William Wallace.

In the time since, I have watched from afar as the newly elected president and administration slid their seats up to the table and tried to come to terms with the magnitude of the task at hand.

On the field, I was very happy with the appointments made at the senior level. I have had the opportunity to speak with, and work alongside, a number of the coaches at the junior levels. Again, I was impressed with the staffing. The coaches themselves were all excited at the prospect of working with the new administration.

The bleating of outgoing administrators was unsurprising and easy to ignore. Having had my own experiences with corrupt administrations and failed administrators, the playbook was a familiar one.

Photo: Then TTFA president David John-Williams (right) and general secretary Camara David pose during the opening of the TTFA Home of Football on 18 November 2019.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)

Even as the footballing landscape took shape, I had a strong suspicion that the financial landscape was far worse than anyone would let on.

In much the same way it took legal action on our part to expose the true scope of the criminality at the highest reaches of the then TTFF, I felt it would only take a new, unfettered administration to expose the clear—if not criminal—mismanagement of their predecessors. Correcting that mismanagement was always going to take time. A lot of time. I don’t think anyone was ever under any illusions about that.

And then, a few hours ago as I write this, the news of the FIFA Normalisation Committee dropped.

My heart sank.

I’ve always believed in football. In our football. And in us. That belief has been with me for as long as I can remember.

After working with William Wallace at the SSFL (as a fan for the last four years), working with Raymond Tim Kee in bringing closure to the player dispute, and even as a player through the Jack Warner years, I was really looking forward to what the new administration would bring.

Photo: Naparima College attacker Mark Ramdeen (centre) poses with his 2018 SSFL MVP trophy between SSFL president William Wallace (right) and ambassador Shaka Hislop.
(Copyright Annalicia Caruth/Wired868)

And now I feel that FIFA, working in concert with members of the previous administration, has betrayed that belief.

It feels like whatever footballing progress we have made in the last 14 years has been erased. Or maybe that is exactly the point. There are too many vested interests who benefit from our game existing in an odd purgatory—somewhere between criminalisation, at worst, and colonisation at best.

It’s an easy existence to manufacture if you have the right people in place. FIFA clearly believed they did.
As many in the previous administration cheer this action in an effort to appease and gain their own favour, it should be clear to all, our football was never their primary concern. Their actions since November make that painfully clear.

Within days of losing the last election, it’s concerning, at best, that one unsuccessful vice-presidential nominee and former board member issued public pronouncements that FIFA would be installing a normalisation committee.

With Fifa and Concacaf still determined to hold the reins on our regional influence, those relationships are protected and enforced—transparency is to be avoided at all costs.

Photo: TTFA finance officer Tyril Patrick (right) poses with Fifa president Gianni Infantino during the opening of the TTFA Home of Football on 18 November 2019.
Fifa has placed Patrick in immediate charge of the TTFA, although he was the subject of an internal probe for alleged professional misconduct.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)

TTFA’s financial woes have been very public, and mushrooming over the last four years. The accounts have been frozen multiple times under the previous administration. Surely all at Concacaf and Fifa were aware of this, even as they continued to funnel money into the Home of Football project.

A legitimate question would be why wasn’t similar action taken by FIFA at that time, when the circumstances of the organisation appeared to be most dire? Are we really expected to accept, and believe the explanation that this is about a financial management plan?

All this coming at a time when corporate support is so desperately needed, and just starting to trickle back in under the current administration in a show of belief and support. So why now?

Idiocy and power are an awful mix, but can only flourish with our complacency. The upcoming legal tussling is only just beginning, with people either already taking sides or cleverly positioning themselves right in the middle.

Goliath has staked his claim. We’ve all heard this parable before, we’ve lived through one incarnation of it not so long ago.

Should Goliath win this one, our game will not be so forgiving or forgetting of the locals who enabled and cheered this on. I’ll keep trying to find the hope in our game.

Photo: SSFL ambassador and 2006 World Cup hero Shaka Hislop embraces San Juan North goalkeeper Emmanuel John after the National Intercol final at the Ato Boldon Stadium on 4 December 2019.
Presentation (San F’do) edged San Juan 2-1.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

About Shaka Hislop

Shaka Hislop
Shaka Hislop is a football analyst with ESPN and a 2006 World Cup player with Trinidad and Tobago. He played professionally in England with Reading, Newcastle, West Ham and Portsmouth and has an Executive MBA in Business Administration and a Mechanical Engineering degree from Howard University. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame athlete in Trinidad and Tobago and Howard while he was the inaugural winner of the England PFA's Special Merit Award for his services to football.

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5 comments

  1. The lessons from 1989 were forgotten.
    The lessons from 2006 are being forgotten.

    The fans spoke by staying away, they didn’t listen.
    The representatives spoke by voting in a new administration, they’re not listening.

    To expand on the colonization theme, Trinidad and Tobago is FIFA’s Haiti, got too far too soon and now must pay the plantation owner for losses incurred, even though what they lost was stolen off the backs of others.

    Long live T&T being the tenth (10th) best in CONCACAF cause that’s the highest we’ll be for the foreseeable future.

  2. Well said Shaka. However a people can only be colonized if they allow themselves to be colonized.
    What do we now do as a football nation?
    We say NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!
    The TTFA is 1st and primarily the zones, clubs and players. Hopefully they all see the urgency to voice loud and clear, a no to this obscene travesty.
    If FIFA had a genuine interest in the welfare of our football, why not offer support to the newly, fairly elected executive of 3 months.
    Any Trinbagonian who applauds this move by FIFA have no understanding of or appreciation for our proud history. I suggest that any such person have a conversation with Geddes Granger.
    Mr Patrick I encourage you to exercise wisdom. This is not about William Wallace. Nor is it about helping to fix Trinidad football. This is modern day colonization. And like every act of colonization, can only be accomplished with the help of a selfish and corrupt few from among those being colonized. The American Blacks have a name for this “few”. It begins with uncle —.
    Even the timing of this is so poetic and fitting. We are approaching Holy Thursday, where we will recall again how Jesus was betrayed by one of his own for 30 pieces of silver. The head of FIFA has no sincere concern for you, for us nor our football.
    Please recall the words of Malcolm X; “Don’t be fooled into thinking that the man who enslaves you will also be the man who sets you free”.
    Trinidad and Tobago football, let’s us be the martyrs that bring about our own liberation. Say to FIFA take your normalization committee and shove it up your pale behinds. We will run our football with the people we have identified as the best for the job at this time.

  3. It is Sad that Shaka has had so many issues with Jack Warner but has no issues with the said folks that JW has put into office. Continuing singing for your supper Shaka. It is a sad day in T&T Football when people like yourself should be impartial yet so onesided.

  4. Earl Best

    Is there any worse death for an administrator than going down in a volley of friendly fire?

    “…FIFA, working in concert with members of the previous administration,…”

    In less than a dozen words, Shaka, you have got to the heart of the matter.

    And Wallace did it in one word”: “Blindsided.”