Madame Justice Carol Gobin will proceed with Friday’s High Court case between Fifa and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA), despite a late request by the former party for a deferral.
The main issues for determination by the High Court on 9 October are:
- Whether the purported appointment of a normalisation committee by [Fifa] on the 17th March 2020 was lawful;
- Whether The Federation Internationale De Football Association Statute 8(2) is compatible with the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (Incorporation) Act 1982;
- Whether in any case Fifa has complied with its own Statutes in the purported appointment of a normalisation committee. Whether there were exceptional circumstances to justify the invocation of Statute 8(2);
- Whether on the evidence and in the circumstances of the case, the decision to appoint a normalisation committee was reasonable and made in good faith or whether it was motivated by improper reasons including a bad faith.
By Fifa’s own words, the upcoming court date is an awkward one and, after setting two deadlines, the Bureau of the Fifa Council—headed by president Gianni Infantino—suspended the TTFA for its refusal to squash the case on 23 September.
“The decision of the former leadership to go to a local court to contest the appointment of the normalisation committee,” stated the Fifa Bureau, on 24 September, “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…”
TTFA president William Wallace noted that his team did try to withdraw the case but was punished for being two minutes past the deadline. While, in the other camp, sources suggest Fifa’s real issue was that the the TTFA’s attorneys never officially informed its party of the ultimately short-lived withdrawal.
The TTFA, represented legally by Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle, Jason Jones and Crystal Paul, recently asked permission from the High Court to submit documents related to its suspension by 11am today.
This request prompted Madame Justice Gobin, at midday on Monday, to ask both parties whether there were ‘any additional issues which parties consider are still left for consideration or determination’.
Fifa, represented locally by Christopher Hamel-Smith SC, Jonathan Walker and Cherie Gopie, informed the High Court, at 3.30pm yesterday, that it ‘has necessarily ceased all operational and management functions over the TTFA’—as a result of the international suspension.
In fact, Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura only informed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad on that very morning he was being put on pause.
Fifa’s attorneys suggested yesterday afternoon that, as a result of this ‘significant’ development, Justice Gobin should ‘hold her hand’ until after the Court of Appeal decides, on 19 October, whether the legal dispute ought to have instead been moved to the CAS or dismissed outright.
“In the light of this significant change of circumstances, we are respectfully of the view that there can be no pressing need which might justify proceeding with a trial of this matter on the extremely expedited basis previously directed by Her Ladyship,” stated Gopie. “Rather, we submit that it would be more proportionate and in keeping with the overriding objective to defer the hearing of this trial to a date following the determination of [Fifa’s] pending procedural appeal, which engages the issue of jurisdiction and the validity of the claim at issue.
“Since [Fifa’s] procedural appeal will be heard on 19 October 2020, a deferral of the trial such as we are suggesting would only have to be for a very short period.
“Not only would this result in the most efficient use of the Court’s (and the parties’) resources, but it will also give due consideration and weight to the fact that [Fifa] would be unable to participate substantively in the trial if it were to proceed before the Court of Appeal hears its procedural appeal—since this would risk prejudicing [Fifa’s] position on the issues raised in the procedural appeal.”
Notably, although Fifa suggested that its normalisation committee ceased operating, Samoura also stressed that: ‘the only legitimate leadership of the TTFA, recognised by Fifa and Concacaf, is the one led by Mr Robert Hadad [and] any communication from Fifa with TTFA will continue to be exclusively being (sic) with Mr Robert Hadad’.
Gayle considered the two things to be ‘contradictory’ and said his clients would much prefer to wait a few days for Madame Justice Gobin’s legal determination.
“My view is that this is a matter which is subject to the determination of the court on Friday,” Gayle told Wired868, “and I would have expected Fifa, like the claimant, to wait for the court to rule on Friday rather than attempt to predetermine the judgment.
“My understanding of the issues of the case is that it is broader than [whether or not the normalisation committee is still active]. But the judge will decide on Friday, as a matter of law, who is in charge of the TTFA.”
In response to Gopie’s suggestion, the TTFA’s legal team contended that Fifa was using arguments already dismissed by the High Court, when Madame Justice Gobin, opted to hear the substantive matter on 9 October—before the appeal against her decision to do so.
“It would appear that [Fifa], having been unsuccessful on its application for a Stay of these Proceedings and having not filed a similar Application before the Court of Appeal,” stated Jones, “is now advancing similar arguments in support of its request for a deferral of the trial date. It is the [TTFA’s] understanding that these arguments have already been properly determined by this Court.”
Madame Justice Gobin blanked Fifa’s request.
Intriguingly, TTFA’s attorneys also made a pointed reference to its international suspension by Fifa.
“[The TTFA] finds it unfortunate that [Fifa], after appointing its normalisation committee—the lawfulness of which is a matter for determination by this Court—has suspended the [TTFA’s] membership owing to [Fifa’s] instant claim,” stated Jones, “and now seeks to rely on those circumstances to further delay the trial and/or the Court’s determination of the [TTFA’s] claim.
“[Fifa’s] recent suspension of the [TTFA’s] membership on the 24th September 2020 introduced a new condition to have the suspension lifted; namely, that the [TTFA] ‘bring its own statutes into line with the Fifa Statutes’.
“It is the [TTFA’s] understanding that this new condition attends to substantive matters of law which have properly been and are yet to be determined by this Honourable Court in the instant matter and in light of [Fifa’s] conduct ought not be delayed any further.”
The High Court, according to Madame Justice Gobin, already intends to rule on whether Fifa could lawfully implement a normalisation committee in Trinidad and Tobago without violating its own statutes and the TTFA (Incorporation) Act; and whether there were indeed exceptional circumstances to justify the removal of TTFA president William Wallace—or if the decision was taken for ‘improper reasons’ or ‘bad faith’.
Is the TTFA now inviting the High Court to also look at its international suspension and the new requirements for regaining full membership rights?
Madame Justice Gobin cannot compel Fifa to change its statutes, or assure the Soca Warriors of safe haven within its umbrella. However, it is unlikely to be for nothing that Infantino was keen to preempt a ruling by the Port of Spain High Court.
(Infantino, incidentally, is the target of a criminal investigation by Switzerland courts at present and recently met with France president Emmanuel Macron to discuss opening a Fifa branch in that country.)
Wallace promised to call an extraordinary general meeting after Friday’s hearing, which would give TTFA member delegates the opportunity to weigh in on the body’s next step.
By now, it is beyond dispute that the majority of stakeholders want Wallace to stand down and allow the local body to re-enter Fifa’s fold. Wallace and United TTFA member Keith Look Loy said they are prepared to listen.
However, Wired868 understands that, despite Fifa’s threats, Wallace’s opponents may still be unable to get the required 75 per cent support from delegates to remove him as president.
Yesterday, TTFA general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan suggested that Wallace might retain control of the local body, irrespective of a Fifa ban, and get controversial English salesman Peter Miller to raise the money necessary to run the local game.
Wallace told Wired868 that he does not share Ramdhan’s view.
“This is not an option,” said Wallace.
Fifa’s position is that the TTFA’s suspension ‘will only be lifted when the TTFA fully complies with its obligations as a member of Fifa, including recognising the legitimacy of the appointed normalisation committee and bringing its own statutes into line with the Fifa Statutes’.
Might Wallace’s quest for justice and legal determination lead to a ruling that complicates or hinders the TTFA’s ability to bow to Fifa upon demand? And would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
Despite Infantino and Samoura’s belittling comments towards the Trinidad and Tobago High Court, Madame Justice Gobin’s ruling on Friday is likely to be required reading across the globe by keen observers of Fifa politics.