Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley appears to have thrust the government in the middle of a legal dispute between the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) and world governing body, Fifa, after recent discussions over the use of the controversial Home of Football facility in Couva.
Rowley confirmed today that the government was offered use of the Home of Football to house Covid-19 patients. This offer was made at no cost to taxpayers.
However, the government did not negotiate with elected TTFA officials but, rather, the head of a Fifa-appointed normalisation committee, Robert Hadad. In so doing, Rowley—whether inadvertently or not—snubbed the will of local football stakeholders who elected William Wallace as president last November.
The TTFA was formed by an act of Parliament in 1982 and its constitution, which was approved by Fifa, does not allow for its president to be removed by any outside party, including the governing body. Paradoxically, Fifa’s statutes allow it to dissolve the executive arm of any member association at almost a whim.
The incongruity of the two constitutions has created a stalemate at the helm of the local football body with both parties set for a date with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to resolve the impasse.
Legally, the Trinidad and Tobago government’s decision to recognise Hadad as the de facto local football head could impact negatively on Wallace’s case that he remains in charge of the TTFA. It is a point that Wallace attempted to make today to National Security Minister Stuart Young.
“I note with some concern reports in the media that the government has apparently entered into discussions with the normalisation committee led by Mr Robert Hadad,” stated Wallace, “who was purportedly appointed by Fifa, in respect of the use of the Home of Football in Balmain, Couva.
“This committee has no legal or other standing in Trinidad and Tobago. As you are aware, the TTFA was formed by an act of Parliament (Act 17 of 1982), and is to be governed by its constitution.
“The constitution of the TTFA places the responsibility for negotiating and entering into any contracts or agreements on the president of the TTFA—a post I have held since the 24th November 2019.”
Notably, neither Rowley nor his sports minister, Shamfa Cudjoe, have ever met Wallace in his current role as TTFA president. It is a snub that is not lost on the besieged local football officials, who now observe their prime minister seemingly happier to play along with the Zurich-based organisation than the locally elected one.
“We have made several attempts to meet [the sports minister] but we never got a commitment from her,” said TTFA first vice-president Clynt Taylor. “Last month, she finally said she would schedule a meeting; but then Covid happened and then Fifa. We are maintaining that we are an elected body under the act of parliament [and] the only way we can be removed is through the general meeting or general council.
“[…] Furthermore, we are still saying we have no issue with the government using the facility but we feel the legal representative is Wallace and he should have been consulted. Fifa’s proclamation does not give Hadad authority to do anything in football here at the moment.”
TTFA general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan confirmed that Hadad negotiated with Rowley over use of the Home of Football facility during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It has been offered to the government and the government has accepted the offer,” said Rowley, at today’s post-Cabinet meeting. “It has been evaluated and found to be excellent; and my advice is that it can accommodate up to about 72 persons… This is as good as any accommodation you can get anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago.
“[…] There are a few things to be done. I may also add that the private sector has been approached to put in some outfitting items; and the private sector has come forward and has committed to ensure that whatever is required to make it comfortable and fully utilised, it will be so.
“And I also add it has been offered to the government of Trinidad and Tobago at no cost; and the private sector additions are all at no cost. This allows us to manage this without too much of a burden to the taxpayers.”
Although Rowley pointed out that the twin island republic gets use of the facility with no rental cost, there is no question that the TTFA is also getting a great deal.
Despite an initial US$2.5 (TT$17) million cash injection from Fifa and a still unknown sum of local football money, the Home of Football remains unfinished and short of the necessary statutory clearances for use as a hotel. Wallace lamented recently that the TTFA lacks the capital to complete the venue in the near future.
It is uncertain how far the private sector’s additions will go; but the TTFA will almost certainly emerge from the pandemic with a better facility than they started with—and without having to spend a cent.
Wallace will probably not be consoled by that. Earlier this month, he saw his general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan arguably switch allegiances and begin working with Hadad.
Wallace and board member Keith Look Loy described Ramdhan’s decision as pragmatic, since he is a TTFA employee and doing otherwise would have risked invalidating his contract. But it weakens the president’s claim that he still holds the football reins in Trinidad and Tobago and hints that the general secretary was not sold on the strength of his appeal to CAS.
At present, Wallace and vice-presidents Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip, are on a fund raising drive to pay for the appeal before the Lausanne-based body in Switzerland. And their potential costs could possibly treble after Fifa requested three arbitrators for their matter. Wallace and his team, who are represented by attorneys Dr Emir Crowne and Matthew Gayle, had hoped they would have to pay for just one.
Fees for an arbitrator, which are split between the two litigants, can cost between 9,000 to 15,000 Swiss francs or TT$63,000 and TT$104,000. It means the the two parties could have to share costs of up to TT$313,000—after the filing fee of 1,000 Swiss francs of TT$7,000.
It is possible that the losing party could be compelled to pay the other’s costs.
For Wallace, a retired vice-principal at Carapichaima East Secondary and the president of the Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL), the battle is a matter of principle and he urged members of the public to continue to support their case.
“My thing is we can’t forever sit back and accept injustice and bullying, because the guy is bigger than you he [should not be able to] get away with everything he does to you,” said Wallace. “We can’t just give up—just like with our crime situation here in the country. We have to fight back and people have to understand that; and I hope they see it that way.
“The feeling on the ground is that something is wrong with this move from Fifa and when there is injustice, people must stand up. This is a clear case of that.”