On Wednesday evening, Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace applied to withdraw his case against Fifa for their implementation of a normalisation committee on the twin island republic.
By Friday morning, Wallace had twice as many cases running against the world governing body in as many countries.
The TTFA has not only ‘withdrawn its withdrawal’ of the substantive motion against Fifa but also filed an appeal against its international suspension at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Wallace, in a 980-word statement, explained that his United TTFA slate—now minus second vice-president Susan Joseph-Warrick, who resigned this morning—are responding to yesterday’s ruling of the Bureau of the Fifa council, led by president Gianni Infantino, to suspend the TTFA.
(United TTFA is the slate under which Wallace successfully contested the TTFA elections on 24 November 2019.)
The local football body missed Fifa’s deadline to withdraw the High Court case by two minutes on Wednesday and did not directly notify the governing body, through its local attorneys or normalisation committee.
“I believe that the recent punitive action taken by Fifa against the TTFA because the TTFA is engaged in a legitimate action before the Trinidad and Tobago High Court, even after the TTFA filed documents to discontinue the action before the Court,” stated Wallace, “is high-handed, unreasonable, and does not accord with the principle of ‘fair play’ which lies at the heart of the sport of football; but instead is consistent with ‘fear play’.”
United TTFA member and Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president Keith Look Loy was even more blunt.
“Fifa caused all of this,” said Look Loy. “They could have said: ‘allyuh were two minutes late but we win’. But that wasn’t enough for them. They wanted to put our faces in the mud and humiliate us.
“This would have all been done yesterday but they prolonged it because of their vindictive attitude. They wanted to show us and the rest of the world who is boss, despite the fact that we followed our membership’s wishes and Fifa’s wishes—they still went ahead and ban.”
Trinidad and Tobago has not competed in a Fifa tournament since hosting the Women’s Under-17 World Cup in 2010, while the Soca Warriors’ only Men’s World Cup appearance came at the 2006 Germany edition.
Yet, Infantino may be hearing the words ‘Trinidad and Tobago’ far too often these days, and he probably shudders every time.
Wallace explained that the TTFA filed an injunction with CAS this morning, which was meant to overturn Fifa’s suspension and safeguard the Warriors’ participation at the 2021 Gold Cup tournament.
That request became, arguably, moot at 11.55am today, when Concacaf announced that it would save a space for Trinidad and Tobago at next year’s Gold Cup—so long as they satisfy Fifa’s requirements and their international suspension is lifted by 13 December.
Had Fifa and Concacaf reversed the sequence of their respective pronouncements, Wallace and his team might have still walked. However, although grateful for Concacaf’s ‘wiggle room’, Wallace has a second wind now.
“Concacaf’s announcement this afternoon that Trinidad and Tobago will remain in the draw was welcoming news,” said Wallace, “and I have since instructed the attorneys to inform CAS that we are withdrawing the application for injunctive relief. But our appeal against Fifa’s decision to suspend Trinidad and Tobago will remain before CAS.”
Why did the TTFA return to CAS after complaining of bias and being priced out of justice by the body in May?
Look Loy noted that the new cost of the application meant it was a worth a shot. Their initial tussle with Fifa over the latter’s right to remove the TTFA’s officials carried a bill of between 40,000 to 50,000 Swiss francs (TT$277,000 – TT$366,000).
In contrast, the TTFA’s request for a second opinion on their suspension is apparently a straightforward disciplinary matter and should only cost 1,000 Swiss francs (TT$7,314).
Why resume the High Court case though? Why not deal with CAS exclusively?
“Well, if Wallace dropped his claim to be the legitimate president of the TTFA,” asked Look Loy, “under what authority could he approach CAS to stop the suspension?”
So the United TTFA can now justify using the High Court to determine whether they remain the local body’s bonafide representatives, as a means of saving Trinidad and Tobago from suspension—a suspension brought on by their late withdrawal from the very same court case.
“We can’t drop [the High Court case] because we have to have standing before CAS,” said Look Loy.
It is left to be seen what the TTFA’s member delegates make of Wallace’s new legal manoeuvre, which was again taken without consultation. Yet, simultaneously, Infantino might be facing a whisper campaign of his own within Fifa’s corridors.
Already facing criminal charges for corruption in Switzerland, Infantino has proved utterly incapable of dealing with a virtually bankrupt association in a country of 1.3 million people.
Is Infantino really the most capable person to lead a company with cash reserves estimated at US$2.7 billion?
“The decision of the former leadership [of the TTFA] to go to a local court to contest the appointment of the normalisation committee,” stated Fifa, on Wednesday, “jeopardises not only the future of football in Trinidad and Tobago but also endangers the overall global football governance structure, which relies on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as the exclusive forum for resolving disputes of this nature.”
Yet, the court case is back on stream now. If Wallace and the United TTFA are likely to face some backlash for it, will the same be true of Infantino?
On 9 October, High Court Judge Carol Gobin is due to rule on whether Fifa was justified in removing the TTFA’s Board. Fifa has not filed a defence and Infantino’s attempt to strong-arm the TTFA into abandoning the case has backfired spectacularly.
So what next for the TTFA?
“If Justice Gobin comes on the 9th [of October] and says Fifa had the right to bring in a normalisation committee,” said Look Loy, “then it is done and we will ride off into the sunset. The membership will then have to find a way to invite Fifa back into Trinidad and Tobago, through a normalisation committee or whatever.”
Concacaf’s extended deadline of 13 December means there would be still plenty time for the TTFA’s members to acquiesce to Fifa’s demands.
But what if Justice Gobin declares that Fifa is wrong and Wallace remains the rightful head of the TTFA?
“If Justice Gobin says we win and Wallace and his elected officers are the legitimate leaders of the TTFA,” said Look Loy, “then the elected officers will call a bonafide EGM and ask members what they would like to be done. If the members want the normalisation committee to be in charge at that point, then it will be in charge.
“By the ninth, this will be settled one way or the other and I assure you that this will be all done long before December 2020.”
Look Loy said he has already written his resignation as TTFA technical committee chairman and Super League president.
“My resignation has been pending for weeks now—from the TTFA, from the Super League, from everything,” he said. “[…] I have reached my limit. I am just waiting on the right time to send it.
“After that, whoever wants to jockey for position and so on can go right ahead, and everybody can be happy.”
At this stage, it may still be too early to guess how local football history will remember the United TTFA. But, at this rate, Fifa—and Infantino in particular—will have a hard time forgetting them.