Besieged Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace and his vice-presidents, according to Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis, are not the only ones responsible for their case against Fifa ending up in the local High Court.
On Monday, Wallace moved an action against his supposedly illegal and unjust removal by the Fifa Bureau of the Council from the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to the local courts, after claiming that his hope for fair treatment from CAS had been shattered.
Wallace, guided by attorneys Matthew Gayle and Dr Emir Crowne, claimed Fifa appeared to be creating and adjusting its own deadlines for procedural filings while the world governing body refused CAS’ request to pay half the cost of arbitration upfront—which left the TTFA saddled with the full figure of 40,000 Swiss francs.
Fifa statutes forbid members from challenging its decisions in any legal forum other than CAS, at the risk of sanctions. However, the TTOC president believes that stipulation makes it even more important for the CAS forum to be above reproach.
And he suggested that Fifa and CAS might have undermined the TTFA’s faith in the arbitration body and thus forced them to seek justice elsewhere.
“Fifa statutes prohibit members from pursuing matters in civil court,” Lewis told Wired868. “And given such a prohibition, Fifa has a duty of care to ensure that there is equitable treatment and due process in dealing with matters [at CAS]. According to Lord Chief Justice Hewart, ‘justice must not only be done it must be seen it should be manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done’.
“[…] I consider this an important landmark case in the history of lex sportiva (sport law). And CAS ought to have considered it important to hear the case.”
Lewis felt CAS did not do enough to facilitate Wallace and the TTFA, in a case that has already sparked interest in several corners of the globe.
Can Fifa essentially override the constitution of one of its member associations and force a regime change after just four months, without even the attempt of mediation?
The local official said it is a case that sport lawyers would salivate over and CAS, as ‘the privy council of sport’, had a duty to ensure they heard it.
“The founding purpose of CAS was to take international sport disputes out of national courts and to create a specialised forum where these disputes could be heard and decided quickly and inexpensively,” he said. “The principle of the autonomy of sport doesn’t mean any organisation is above the rule of law and should not be expected to adhere to principles of good governance.
“[…] CAS’ purpose is to guarantee independence and impartiality and there is a discretion to provide legal aid to facilitate access to justice for natural persons who may not have the financial means.
“This is a case that even Fifa and all international sport federations and sport lawyers should have wanted CAS to adjudicate and decide on, quickly and inexpensively. This is an important case for global sports law.”
Lewis, who helped frame the current TTFA constitution which was accepted by Fifa in 2015, disagreed that the ongoing impasse is a constitutional one.
“I will not categorise it as a constitutional crisis—it’s not,” said Lewis. “The Independent Review Constitution Commission, which was Fifa approved, created a constitution that allowed football to hold its elected officers to account. It fostered democratic elections. There have been two changes of administrations [since it was ratified].
“It has facilitated transparency and accountability. That’s not to suggest by any means that the constitution, like all constitutions, doesn’t require review and amendments from time to time—due to a changing and evolving operational environment.”
For the TTOC president, it is neither the TTFA constitution nor the leadership of Wallace that needs to be defended. Rather, he said, it is Fifa’s behaviour that should be under scrutiny.
“Fifa has the power, by virtue of their statues, to appoint a normalisation committee,” said Lewis. “The exercise of that right can’t be unfettered. It’s not a right to act in an arbitrary, illogical manner devoid of equitable treatment, rule of law and principles, without due process and natural justice; or to act unreasonably.
“Did Fifa reach its decision by transparent and objective criteria? On the facts of this particular case did Fifa act reasonably? Was there proportionality?
“Was the legitimate expectation of the democratically elected TTFA Executive breached? It’s a legitimate legal and sport law question that CAS would have had to consider and decide.”
Wallace and his general secretary, Ramesh Ramdhan, insisted on executing and publishing a forensic audit of the local football body—including the controversial TTFA Home of Football project. Lewis described the disruption of that exercise by Fifa’s normalisation committee as a ‘travesty’.
Notably, a full two months later, the decision by the Bureau, which is headed by Fifa president Gianni Infantino, is yet to be ratified by the Fifa Council.
Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) vice-president Osmond Downer explained that the Bureau was previously referred to in the Fifa statutes as an ‘emergency committee’ but underwent a name change under Infantino in 2016.
Downer is skeptical about the wisdom in granting that body such far-reaching powers.
“The powers of an emergency committee must be—and usually is—limited to matters that are considered urgent and pressing which happen between Council meetings,” said Downer. “But this is a far-reaching decision for any emergency committee to make, which up to now has not been ratified by the Council [since their May meeting was postponed].
“What is the justification for making a decision that can affect a whole association like that—and against the constitution of that very association? At this moment, football [in Trinidad and Tobago] is at a dead-still; not even a standstill.”
Lewis, who is nearing the end of his second and final term as TTOC president, suggested that sport will not reach its full potential once international sporting bodies are motivated by self-interest and not the benefit of its members.
“If the world of Olympic sport wants to continue the veneer of the principle of the autonomy of sport, there must be best practice, legal processes and standards,” said Lewis. “Sport organisations aren’t, in my view, immune from legal intervention and legal principles. There must be safeguards that ensure fair treatment and so that organisations cannot make irrational and arbitrary decisions or act in bad faith.
“The global sports movement is Euro-centric, incremental, conservative and bureaucratic; that has been the biggest impediment to change and transformation and modernisation. The playing field isn’t level; it’s a daily battle.
“The entire ecosystem is wired—no pun intended—to protect the status quo. The ongoing abuse of their dominant position is real.”
The TTFA’s elected officers asked the High Court, on Monday, to declare Fifa’s decision to implement a normalisation committee in the twin island republic as ‘null, void and of no legal and/or binding effect’ and to place a permanent injunction against Fifa and its normalisation committee from ‘attempting removing the [TTFA’s] duly elected executive from office’ and ‘interfering in the day-to-day management of the [TTFA], including the [TTFA’s] bank accounts and real property’.
No date has been set for the hearing.
Fifa has been served court documents but is yet to respond to the impending matter.