On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak to be a pandemic, which was unprecedented for a coronavirus. By then, Italy’s Serie A had already been halted by the government with multiple sporting competitions set to follow.
The Bureau of the Fifa Council promptly rescheduled an upcoming Fifa Council meeting from Friday 20 March to a ‘date yet to be confirmed in June-July 2020 at the Home of Fifa in Zurich or via video conference’.
But while Fifa president Gianni Infantino was happy to delay the core business of the world governing body, the affairs of Trinidad and Tobago—a country with a population of 1.4 million, which has not qualified for a Fifa competition in 11 years—appeared to be far too pressing.
So, on Tuesday 17 March, Infantino’s Bureau of the Fifa Council convened and ‘decided to appoint a normalisation committee for the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) in accordance with article 8 paragraph 2 of the Fifa Statutes’.
A day later, the same body held a second meeting.
“The Bureau of the Fifa Council chaired by Fifa president Gianni Infantino convened by conference call today,” Fifa stated on 18 March, “to address the exceptional circumstances created by the Covid-19 virus outbreak …”
TTFA president William Wallace, a former school teacher in his third month on the job, weighed heavier on the minds of Infantino and his inner circle than a global pandemic, wreaking havoc on healthcare systems, economies and, not least, sporting competitions?
Two weeks later, Trinidad and Tobago has the ‘what’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ of Fifa’s shock decision, while the ‘why’ remains a source of speculation. However, in a battle that seems to hinge on personalities, the ‘who’ might also be worth closer examination.
Fifa’s Council, which comprises of Infantino and 37 members elected from the various associations, is the equivalent of its board of directors. (Interestingly, Uefa is allowed three vice-presidents and six ordinary members, while other confederations get a single vice-presidential spot and between two to six ordinary members each.)
According to article 34 of the Fifa’s statutes, the Council ‘defines Fifa’s mission, strategic direction, policies and values—in particular with regard to the organisation and development of football at worldwide level and all related matters’ and ‘oversees the overall management of Fifa by the general secretariat’.
Article 11 states that only the Congress, an annual meeting of all 210 member associations, shall ‘decide whether to admit, suspend or expel a member association solely upon the recommendation of the Council’ while article 16.2 states: ‘suspension of a member association by the Congress requires a three quarter (3/4) majority of the member associations present and eligible to vote’. That means 158 member associations must agree.
Decisions of the Congress, according to article 32, ‘come into effect for the member associations 60 days after the close of the Congress, unless the Congress fixes another date for a decision to take effect’.
Yet, Fifa has a separate committee, the seven-member Bureau of the Fifa Council headed by the president, with sweeping powers, whose decisions, according to article 38, ‘take immediate legal effect’. Decisions of the Bureau, like the call to implement a normalisation committee in Trinidad and Tobago, still need to be ratified by the Council at its next meeting in three or four months’ time.
But by then, if things follow their usual course, Wallace would have already resigned his post. Fifa, you see, cannot legally remove the president of a member association. The TTFA’s constitution states that only its members can do so, via three quarter of the valid votes at its general meeting.
However, what Fifa’s Bureau can do is enter sovereign jurisdictions and essentially create a second ‘shadow’ leader. And then, the Infantino-led body steps back and waits for the psychological pressure of its disapproval and the potential threat of suspension—a decision that does not rest with the Bureau—to coerce the targeted football president into falling on his or her own sword.
“Can the head of the normalisation committee go to the TTFA’s bank, produce the appointment letter from Fifa and withdraw money?” asked TTFA attorney Matthew Gayle.
So much for the legality of Fifa’s appointment of Robert Hadad, as the de facto head of Trinidad and Tobago football for the next two years.
Fifa offered to help the TTFA straighten out its constitution; maybe it should look at the beam in its own eye. By its actions, the Bureau is effectively wielding power over member associations that the Fifa statutes suggest should belong only to its Congress.
Article 8.2 states: ‘Executive bodies of member associations may under exceptional circumstances be removed from office by the Council in consultation with the relevant confederation and replaced by a normalisation committee for a specific period of time’.
And article 38.2 states: ‘The Bureau of the Council shall deal with all matters within the competence of the Council requiring immediate decision between two meetings of the Council’.
Two clauses that allow a decision meant to be overseen by 210 nations with a 60 day waiting period, to instead be made by seven persons—or, potentially, four—with immediate effect.
Before we look at the Bureau members whose identities were hidden behind the Fifa letterhead, it is worth revisiting the stated justification for intervention in the twin island republic:
‘The recent FIFA/Concacaf fact-finding mission to Trinidad and Tobago […] found that extremely low overall financial management methods, combined with a massive debt, have resulted in the TTFA facing a very real risk of insolvency and illiquidity.
‘Such a situation is putting at risk the organisation and development of football in the country and corrective measures need to be applied urgently.’
Much can be said about the fact that, over the last four years, Infantino, Mosengo-Omba and a host of mid-level Fifa and Concacaf officials held over a dozen meetings and symposiums in Trinidad, funded the football body, and approved its financial books annually without, apparently, discovering the ‘extremely low overall financial management methods’ that existed.
Or that Fifa then appointed finance manager Tyril Patrick, the person who oversaw the financial shambles, to run the local body.
It is not only former TTFA presidents—John-Williams and the late Raymond Tim Kee and Oliver Camps—who should be made to account for the Bureau’s charge; but also Fifa bigwigs like Mosengo-Omba, secretary general Fatma Samoura and, ultimately, Infantino himself.
Under what logic should Wallace, just three months into the job, be penalised for the mess that ‘DJW’ and Infantino left him.
“We commissioned an audit into [the TTFA’s internal structure] by our finance people and they provided a report which we [gave] to [Fifa],” said Wallace, who immediately targeted the body’s financial structure. “Fifa didn’t come in and discover that—we gave it to them and their response was that this is 50 percent of their job done.
“We went into an organisation with a total absence of financial structure and were working on developing one.”
Since Fifa never released the annual US$1.2 million (TT$8 million) Forward Programme money that the TTFA is entitled to, Wallace turned to good samaritans like Kendall Tull, a consultant with decades of financial management and audit experience, who agreed to help spearhead the necessary reform for free.
Tull, who sat in on meetings with the Fifa/Concacaf mission in February, was dumbfounded by the Bureau’s subsequent claims.
“One of the things that was said by the Concacaf representation, Alejandro [Kesende], was it is the first time he has ever come [to Trinidad] and someone spoke his language in relation to the financial issues facing the organisation,” said Tull, “and in terms of the lack of internal controls and other issues that have been plaguing the organisation. They literally said that the report we gave to them that outlined what we found and had recommendations about how we would proceed going forward made their jobs a whole lot easier.
“They recognised that the new administration understood what the circumstances were and were taking steps to address them. All of that was actually said.
“So you would not have thought on the basis of what they said—we are not debating whether what they said [about the weakness of the TTFA’s structure] is untrue—but to suggest we were not addressing it as a matter of urgency and priority is a misrepresentation. That absolutely is not the case.”
Now is as good a time as any to look beyond the ‘Fifa letterhead’ at the seven men who comprise the Fifa Bureau.
Fifa did not respond to Wired868’s request for the names of the persons who made the infamous decision on 17 March. But we know the president of each confederation is entitled to sit in at Bureau meetings.
Those are: Victor Montagliani (Concacaf), Alejandro Dominguez (Conmebol), Aleksander Ceferin (Uefa), Lambert Maltock (Oceania), Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa (Asia) and Ahmad Ahmad (Africa).
Dominguez, a 48 year old businessman, had a meteoric rise to the role of Fifa vice-president. He served for just three years as Paraguay football president before he was promoted to president of the entire South American confederation and given a Fifa VP jacket.
“I saw the opportunity,” Dominguez told the media. “I didn’t see the crisis.”
The ‘opportunity’ that allowed his rapid ascension was US Department of Justice investigations that led to charges against three successive Conmebol presidents—Nicolás Leoz, Eugenio Figueredo and Juan Ángel Napout, the latter described by one publication as Dominguez’s ‘close friend’—within the space of three years.
Dominguez potentially stood in judgment of Wallace’s administration, two weeks ago.
Then there is the 63-year-old Maltock, who is in his third term as Oceania president and has been at the helm of the Vanuatu Football Federation since 2008. Vanuatu are ranked 163rd in the world and less is known about Maltock than his tiny homeland of 272,000 people.
Ceferin, a 52 year old Slovenian sport attorney by profession, has made a name for himself as European president by standing up for his confederation’s smaller clubs and associations.
Did he vote to implement a normalisation committee in Trinidad too? That would be interesting, since the TTFA’s debt is TT$50 million or just under €7 million. At present, the Football Association of Ireland, which continues to run its own affairs, is €55 million (TT$407 million) in debt.
Ceferin—or any Eufa proxy who might have represented him—should have some explaining to do.
Wallace would not want to harass the 54-year-old Asian Football Confederation president Al Khalifa, who is a member of the House of Khalifa which is the ruling family of the Kingdom of Bahrain.
Campaign groups like Human Rights Watch, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain and the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy accused Al Khalifa of heading a committee that identified athletes—including international Bahraini footballers—involved in pro-democracy demonstrations during the ‘Arab Spring’ in 2011, many of whom were later imprisoned.
The Bahraini administrator’s allegedly macabre duties for the House of Khalifa lack the flair of his counterpart from the Africa Football Confederation.
Like Al Khalifa, the 60-year-old Ahmad simultaneously holds sporting and political office. He is senator in Madagascar while also heading the Malagasy Football Federation and running African football. (Meanwhile Wallace vowed not to attempt to serve as Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) president and TTFA boss at the same time.)
Despite those three massive portfolios, Ahmad, according to former Caf general secretary Amr Fahmy, found time to sexually harass staff and siphon off money from the African football body. The president, naturally, denies the accusation.
Last June, Ahmad was arrested by French authorities but subsequently released without charge as part of ‘a probe into corruption, breach of trust and forgery’.
But Ahmad’s most memorable alleged indiscretion came during the Russia 2018 World Cup. He billed Caf for US$18,450 in daily allowances for a 41-day stay in the host nation between 7 June and 17 July. But, between 23 June and 1 July, he also trousered another US$4,050 for a trip to Cairo under the heading of ‘Visit to Caf Bureau’.
He was simultaneously collecting money for being in Egypt and Russia at the same time. So where was he? According to BBC, documents suggest that Ahmad was actually back in Madagascar for at least four of those days.
Fifa did not confirm whether the 60-year-old Ahmad was on the conference call that made a damning judgment on the state of the TTFA’s finances. But clearly he can be a hard man to pin down.
And then there is Montagliani, the 54-year-old Canadian who holds the distinction of being the first Concacaf president from outside of the Caribbean since 1991—a job that relies in large part on a splintered relationship between the islands.
Montagliani and John-Williams share the dodgy distinction of both showing popular Canada-based Trinidadian coach Stephen Hart to the door. Both enjoyed similar ‘benefits’ from it.
Montagliani was Canada football president for barely five months when Hart’s push towards the Concacaf Hex ended with a catastrophic 8-1 loss away to Honduras. He accepted the coach’s resignation and Canada subsequently plummeted to its lowest ever Fifa ranking of 122.
The Canadian football team was 75th in the world when he took over; and, by the time he was promoted to Concacaf president, it was 109th.
Presumably, Montagliani would see himself as capable of ‘advising’ the TTFA about the necessary steps towards regaining its former glory.
The Concacaf president got uncomfortably close to TTFA politics in recent times.
Just weeks before last November’s election in Couva, Montagliani solicited a letter from Nike North America Sports Marketing Senior Counsel, Zoe Brathwaite, which raised questions about a campaign promise made by Wallace. The Canadian forwarded the letter to John-Williams and it surfaced just two days before the TTFA’s AGM.
“I had a [Concacaf] meeting in December and I asked the president of Concacaf [Victor Montagliani] about the letter,” said Wallace, in a previous interview, “and he explained to me that he was asked by the Trinidad FA to look into arrangement of the Nike deal.
“And in talking to Nike, [Concacaf] indicated that, since Nike was a sponsor of Concacaf, if they supported [Wallace’s slate] they would be supporting an entity that was running against one of the Concacaf members—which was Trinidad and Tobago—and it would look like interference in an election. And Nike stepped back.”
Could Montagliani’s act be viewed as interference in a local election? And, if so, should he now be involved in effectively nullifying that electoral result?
Article 38.5 of the Fifa statutes states: ‘The President is entitled to designate a deputy for any member who is unable to attend or has a conflict of interest. The deputy shall belong to the Council and the same confederation as the member who is unable to attend or has a conflict of interest’.
Wired868 asked Concacaf whether Montagliani represented the confederation at the Bureau meeting of 17 March. Up until the time of publication, there was no response.
Might Infantino also be deemed to be ‘conflicted’?
Six days before the TTFA election, the Fifa president showed up in Couva to open the Home of Football and referred to John-Williams as his ‘teammate’ in a speech to football stakeholders and journalists:
“I came to Trinidad and Tobago, and I was not believing to find somebody like [David John-Williams] in Trinidad and Tobago. I have to say the truth. Because the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association was more or less in the same state as Fifa at that time. David was saying ‘shambles’, I say shambles was maybe a compliment for the state you found.
“We found a Federation which was under the earth. TTFA, Trinidad and Tobago Football, very sadly, was in the headlines for other reasons than football, even though linked to football. Today, we are here, and proud to be here, because today, Trinidad and Tobago is the capital of the world of football.”
In truth, when John-Williams was elected president in November 2015, he met a body that was:
- (Finances) $16 million in debt;
- (Men’s) Ranked 49th in the world and successive Gold Cup quarterfinalists;
- (Women’s) Missed the 2014 Women World Cup by the slenderest margin after a 1-0 two-legged aggregate loss to Ecuador in a Fifa Play Off.
At the time that Infantino lavished praise on DJW, the TTFA was:
- (Finances) TT$50 million in debt;
- (Men’s) Ranked 104th in the world and had just set all-time records for longest losing streak, win-less streak and run of games without scoring;
- (Women’s) Failed to even qualify for Concacaf round of the 2020 Olympic qualifying series, after being embarrassed 4-1 at home to St Kitts and Nevis.
The TTFA’s membership was not swayed by Infantino’s praise and, in front of Fifa and Concacaf observers, voted 26-20 to replace John-Williams with Wallace.
On Wallace’s first working day, the Home of Football was declared closed, since it lacked proper insurance and clearances and was deemed unsafe for use.
Further, TTFA general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan said the local football body planned to investigate spending at the Fifa project—which had at least TT$16 million unaccounted for—and would publicise its findings, even if Fifa officials like Mosengo-Omba were named.
How, then, could Infantino sit dispassionately in judgment of Wallace’s administration?
Thus far, Wallace has declared his intention to appeal the Fifa decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Victory would be unprecedented. But perhaps a legal battle would reveal as much about the flaws in Fifa as it does the TTFA.
And, more relevantly, it would turn the spotlight on seven men who wielded the authority of 210 member associations—and the controversial, wide-ranging clause that allowed it.
Editor’s Note: A US-based group called Supporters of United TTFA has opened a Go Fund Me account to help finance the football body’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Click HERE for more information.
TTFA president William Wallace has vowed to ‘oppose Fifa’s injustice at the Court of Arbitration for Sport’. Click HERE for more information.