Fifa today filed an injunction in the Trinidad and Tobago High Court, which seeks to stop it from hearing any matter in relation to its normalisation committee and insists that the right forum for its dispute with the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) is the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
And, if successful in its treaty, the billion-dollar world governing body is demanding that TTFA president William Wallace and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip pay its legal costs too.
Fifa’s legal position was electronically filed with the High Court, through attorneys Christopher Hamel-Smith SC, Jonathan Walker and Cherie Gopie from M Hamel-Smith and Co. The TTFA is represented by Matthew Gayle, Dr Emir Crowne and Crystal Paul of the New City Chambers.
Fifa’s injunction attempts to nullify—or at least set aside—a request by the TTFA’s legal team that the High Court declare the Fifa-appointed normalisation committee, headed by businessman Robert Hadad, to be ‘null, void and of no legal and/or binding effect’ and to block it 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’.
Fifa’s Bureau of the Council, which is headed by president Gianni Infantino, announced the set up of a normalisation committee in Trinidad and Tobago on 17 March 2020.
The TTFA initiated arbitration proceedings against Fifa at the CAS on 6 April—in keeping with the constitution of both football bodies. However, on 18 May, the local football body filed in the High Court and withdrew from the CAS.
Wallace told Wired868 that he abandoned the CAS due to concerns about the body’s impartiality.
“In short order, it became clear that CAS was prepared to ignore its own regulations to facilitate Fifa in its handling of TTFA vs Fifa,” said Wallace, on 18 May. “Specifically, CAS directed the democratically elected TTFA officers to pay 40,000 Swiss francs to cover the entire cost of the proceedings, when its regulations require the two parties to a matter to pay half each.
“It was only in response to the TTFA’s officers’ objection to this glaring denial of its own regulations that CAS called on Fifa to pay its half (20,000 Swiss francs), which Fifa has since refused to do.
“As a consequence of Fifa’s refusal and based on some other institutional behaviour of CAS, we along with our legal team have serious doubts that we would be afforded a fair hearing at CAS—even if we decided to pay Fifa’s part of the cost.”
Fifa, through affidavits filed by Fifa chief member associations officer Veron Mosengo-Omba and attorney Miguel Lietard, countered that the CAS merely followed its own rules and the TTFA did not follow the appropriate steps if it had a financial issue.
“[…] The CAS Rules of Arbitration provided that where a respondent did not pay its advance of costs, such advance may be paid by the appellant/claimant,” stated Fifa, “[and] that at all material times the [TTFA] had the option of applying for legal aid under the provisions Section 6 of the ICAS Code…”
Fifa insisted that the TTFA ought to be compelled to use the CAS due to an arbitration clause in its constitution, as well as in the Fifa Statutes.
And, in its injunction, it noted that the TTFA’s Constitution required it to: ‘observe the FIFA Statutes as well as its regulations, directives and decisions’ and that it ‘would not take matters of interpretation and application of the FIFA Statutes and its regulations, directives and decisions to ordinary courts and that they recognised the CAS’.
Further, Hamel-Smith suggested that his opposing legal team had ‘failed to disclose to the court’:
- the steps that FIFA had taken in furtherance of its agreement to arbitrate;
- that the TTFA Constitution was subject to the provisions of the Fifa Statutes, forbid use of ordinary courts in matters of interpretation and application of the Fifa Statutes and decisions, and recognised CAS’ jurisdiction to deal with such disputes;
- that the CAS Rules of Arbitration provided that where a respondent did not pay its advance of costs, such advance may be paid by the appellant/claimant;
- that the TTFA had the option of applying for legal aid from CAS;
- that the service of process to initiate its High Court action could not be done via email, under Swiss law.
Fifa believes the TTFA’s injunction should be dismissed on the grounds that:
- Service out of the jurisdiction on FIFA (which is domiciled in Switzerland) was not permitted by the Civil Proceedings Rules;
- The case is not a proper one for the High Court’s jurisdiction; and
- The TTFA does not have ‘a good cause of action’.
Fifa offered a brief justification of its decision to implement a normalisation committee on the twin island republic.
“Fifa came to learn of the TTFA’s seriously dire financial situation and high level of indebtedness which had resulted in the freezing of the TTFA’s accounts,” stated the affidavit. “Moreover, Fifa concluded that the institutional and regulatory framework of the TTFA did not provide appropriate means to address the alarming financial situation the TTFA was (and is) in; and that its executive committee did not have the appropriate skill set to manage the situation—and had taken no or no appropriate steps to correct the situation.
“In those circumstances, on 17th March 2020, Fifa appointed a normalisation committee for the TTFA.”
Fifa’s assertion that it ‘came to learn of the TTFA’s seriously dire financial situation’ would need some selling, since it approves the local football body’s financial documents on an annual basis.
And, as Wallace repeatedly insisted, the ‘indebtedness’ pointed out by Fifa was wholly the fault of former administrators; and, in particular, his predecessor, David John-Williams, who came in for glowing praise from Infantino as early as last November—just days before the TTFA election.
That notwithstanding, Fifa is asking the High Court to rule that it is not the appropriate body to decide the matter. And it wants Wallace to pay legal costs for its supposedly ill-advised excursion to an ‘ordinary court’.
If the High Court disagrees with Fifa, Hamel-Smith requested another 28 days to file a response to the TTFA’s injunction.
Fifa hinted too at the possible consequences for thwarting its normalisation committee.
“The members of the normalisation committee were carefully selected for their various skill sets, which Fifa believes maximises the chances that the TTFA can recover from its present financial predicament,” stated Fifa. “The removal of the normalisation committee before appropriate controls, policies and procedures are in place at the TTFA will not only jeopardise the achievements to date and reintroduce the threats to the solvency of the TTFA; but it will be a disincentive to Fifa to provide any further funding to the TTFA given the absence of appropriate controls.”
The optimistic view is that, if the TTFA can somehow implement appropriate financial controls in short time and convince Fifa of such, there might be room still to save Wallace’s position at the helm of the body.
But, first and foremost, Wallace’s attorneys must resist Fifa’s attempt to convince the High Court that he and his vice-presidents acted improperly in moving their legal battle to Trinidad.
Otherwise, it may not be not only a dispiriting loss—but an expensive one as well.