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Denbow option! Fifa signs ‘rolls royce’ of legal profession to fight Wallace in High Court

For the past two months, Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace’s attempts to provoke dialogue from Fifa were met with stony silence—but that changed today.

Wallace, via attorneys Matthew Gayle and Dr Emir Crowne, filed a claim in the local High Court on 18 May, which attempts to keep the world governing body from dismissing the TTFA’s elected officers and passing control to its own normalisation committee.

Photo: SSFL president William Wallace (middle) is the centre of attention during the media launch of the 2019 season at Fatima College, Mucurapo on 3 September 2019.
Wallace was elected TTFA president on 24 November 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Fifa’s statutes forbid legal challenges outside the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and there were doubts as to whether the behemoth Switzerland-based organisation, with cash reserves estimated at US$1.5 billion (TT$10 billion), would bother to engage.

However, Wallace got word today that Fifa will indeed play along—at least, for now. And the global body, headed by president Gianni Infantino, will be represented by the offices of Dr Claude Denbow SC in Trinidad.

The Law Offices of Dr Claude Denbow SC specialise primarily in tax, insurance, pensions and company law and Denbow, who was made senior counsel in 1998, has been published locally, regionally and internationally on the aforementioned topics and hosted several seminars on corporate law in Trinidad.

He has acted as a consultant to United Nations bodies on investment insurance and tax law in the Commonwealth Caribbean and to the Caribbean Law Institute on commercial law.

“He is an amazing lawyer,” said one source, who spoke off the record. “[…] By the looks of it, Fifa are really getting the Rolls Royce out of the garage for this fight.”

Photo: Fifa president Gianni Infantino.
(via Fifa)

In contrast, Gayle and Crowne, who are both fast earning solid reputations in sport law—having successfully defended the likes of iconic table tennis players Rheann Chung and the late Dexter St Louis and gifted Jamaica sprinter Brianna Williams—are representing the TTFA pro bono.

Gayle said he is pleased that Fifa recognised their case and is ready to defend his clients, although he expects a ‘highly technical’ legal battle.

“I suppose it is heartening to see that Fifa has at least entered an appearance and would appear to be engaging with the TTFA, in what is the proper forum for resolving the dispute between these two parties,” said Gayle. “I note that the High Court has on a previous occasion observed that football is the game that belongs to Trinidad and Tobago. I would hope that in that same vein, Fifa would be looking to resolve this dispute as quickly and amicably as possible.”

Fifa has until 18 June to file a defence to the TTFA’s request for an injunction against its normalisation committee, which is headed by local businessman Robert Hadad.

However, an attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggested that Fifa would probably try to move the goalposts.

“I don’t expect Denbow to file a defence but instead to challenge the High Court’s jurisdiction,” said the attorney. “The case won’t necessarily be about taking the TTFA back to CAS, as it will be to say that it should be before CAS, due to the arbitration clause.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago National U-20 players train at the Ato Boldon Stadium training field in Couva on 7 February 2020.
(Copyright Daniel Prentice/Wired868)

Wallace and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip withdrew from CAS last week citing perceived bias by the Switzerland-based sport arbitration body. The TTFA’s officers may have to defend that decision in court—although, technically, it will be Fifa who has to prove that the local member association erred.

Fifa would believe it has the best man for the job on these shores.

Ironically, even as Infantino prepares to splash the cash in the courtroom, the Hadad-led normalisation committee is yet to discuss outstanding salaries with office staff and coaches, who are unpaid for between three to six months.

The local football body is due US$1.5 million annually from Fifa, which is yet to be paid this year.

Wallace suggested he will not stand in the way if Fifa pays staff directly—despite the legal impasse—and Hadad requested banking details for coaches almost two weeks now.

Neither Fifa nor the normalisation committee appear to be in a rush to help the TTFA’s frustrated employees, though, as they prepare for the next phase of their turf war.

Editor’s Note: Wired868 did not mean to infer, by publication of a comment from an unnamed source, that the Law Offices of Dr Claude Denbow charges exorbitant fees in relation to their skills as a law firm; and regrets any such interpretation. We apologise for any harm caused.

In the following video, Wired868 editor Lasana Liburd spoke to TV6 Morning Edition host Fazeer Mohammed on the morning of 26 May 2020, prior to confirmation that the Law Offices of Dr Claude Denbow will represent Fifa in the High Court:

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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  1. If TTFA loses, will they have to pay costs?