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What Wallace won—why the prime minister is shortsighted on TTFA-Fifa tussle

The correlation between intelligence and education is a fascinating subject, although one I don’t feel well positioned to explore at present. Perhaps Earl Best, a lifelong educator and highly competent editor, would accept that challenge.

However, I do believe I am on strong ground when I say that being able to recite a quote from Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, is not in itself a credit to one’s schooling. Analysis is where the rubber meets the road.

Image: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s Facebook post, after the TTFA’s legal triumph over Fifa.

On 13 October 2020, High Court Judge Carol Gobin ruled that Fifa was wrong on every conceivable level—in terms of legality, procedural fairness, and logic—to attempt to replace the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s (TTFA) Board of Directors; and, in particular, president William Wallace and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip.

Wallace is a retired vice-principal at Carapichaima East Secondary and was barely four months in charge of an association that is over US$10 million in debt. Fifa president Gianni Infantino is an attorney by profession while his organisation has cash reserves of over US$2.7 billion.

Yet, there are more than a few Trinidad and Tobago citizens—including Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley—who appeared to be rooting for the foreign power. They were hoping that Goliath wiped the floor with David.

Dr Rowley mocked the TTFA’s ‘success’ on Facebook, while the Trinidad Guardian greeted the landmark result with the headline: ‘Still suspended’.

What does it matter, critics asked, if Wallace wins a court matter if there seems to be no obvious benefit to the TTFA? What use is a win that does not make you immediately better off in a tangible way?

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) plays with a football while Fifa president Gianni Infantino (centre) and then TTFA general secretary Camara David busy themselves during the opening of the TTFA Home of Football in Couva on 18 November 2019.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Such a response suggests a crisis of imagination, and a lack of understanding about the nature of struggle. (A trait that would serve students at Bishop’s High School and everywhere else well.)

But for those genuinely interested in an answer, I offer two words in rebuttal: ‘Bosman Ruling’.

A former Belgium national youth player, Jean-Marc Bosman’s professional career stalled pretty early. At 25, he had become a fringe player at RFC Liege in the Belgian top flight and the only serious offer for his services came from equally anonymous France Second Division club, Dunkirk.

Bosman’s contract had already expired with Liege. However, the rule in those days was that the employer retained your registration—even after the expiration of your deal. Liege demanded a figure from Dunkirk that the latter club refused to pay. So, the Belgians offered Bosman a new contract with a 75 per cent pay cut.

He could either take it, or he would be unable to play professional football at all.

Instead, a 25-year-old player that was unknown outside of Belgium—and probably in much of his homeland too—took his club to the European Court of Justice for ‘restraint of trade’ in a case that would pit him against the Belgium Football Association and Uefa.

Photo: Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman (right) and his lawyer Jean-Claude Dupont wait for a ruling by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on Friday, 15 December 1995.
The European Union’s highest court ruled that football’s transfer system and quota system on foreign players at the time was illegal.
(Copyright AP Photo/Jean-Claude Ernst-Luxpress)

Five years later, on 15 December 1995, Bosman won. But by that time, no club would touch him and he was a divorcee—bankrupt and living with his parents. His £312,000 judgment was gobbled up in legal fees and, largely abandoned by his fellow players, he never reaped the tangible rewards of his fight.

Yet, Bosman changed the game forever.

In the summer of 1998, Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Shaka Hislop became one of the early England Premier League players to utilise the Bosman ruling when he refused to sign a new contract at Newcastle United, but instead moved as a ‘free agent’ to West Ham United.

Normally, West Ham would have to haggle with Newcastle to arrange a fee for the player. Freed from that financial headache, the ‘Hammers’ instead gave Hislop a sizeable ‘signing-on’ bonus to join them at Upton Park, rather than take his services elsewhere.

Bosman’s case is the reason why Argentine superstar Lionel Messi, one of the world’s greatest ever footballers, can decide where he wants to play in 2021 and Barcelona are powerless to prevent it.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Shaka Hislop calms things down during their goalless draw with Sweden at the 2006 World Cup.
Hislop was one of the first top flight players to cash in on the Bosman Ruling when he moved from Newcastle United to West Ham in 1998.
(Copyright AFP 2014/Roberto Schmidt)

It may seem bizarre that an employer can determine where an employee is able to work, even after the contract between the pair has expired. But it was normal business, three decades ago.

And maybe one day, it would seem equally laughable to think that Fifa could just waltz in to any country on the planet and toss its elected officials out without a plausible explanation.

On 17 March, the Bureau of the Fifa Council pointed Wallace and his team to the exit door. Seven months later, the TTFA’s elected officers are still standing. Whatever one might say about the scale of Wallace’s ‘win’ (and of course the Court of Appeal will have the final word), only a dishonest person would say that Infantino has come out of this much better.

By Fifa’s own admission, its entire governance structure is under threat at present. Infantino’s attempt to ‘normalise’ Trinidad and Tobago has created an even bigger problem for the world governing body.

If Infantino could not sit across the table from Wallace and get him on board with his plans for the region, then the Swiss-Italian does not have the smarts to manage a parlour, let alone a billion dollar global enterprise.

Photo: Fifa president Gianni Infantino interacts with journalists after an executive committee meeting in Rome on 27 February 2019.
(Copyright AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

I’d wager that Infantino’s floundering in the twin island republic would not have gone unnoticed by those within football’s cosa nostra who see themselves in Fifa’s big chair.

Wallace will almost certainly not be around to see it. Odds are the TTFA will be under new management before Christmas. But that does not mean the besieged administrator won nothing.

In April 2016, talented Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams was controversially withdrawn from the Rio Olympic Test event by the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) and replaced by Marisa Dick.

Williams sued for TT$11.3 million in damages. On 26 November 2018, she prevailed in court; but Justice Frank Seepersad awarded her TT$50,000 in general damages and TT$150,000 in exemplary damages.

Two years later, Williams still has not been paid a cent. She said the fight was worth it though. She knew she was unfairly treated, and Justice Seepersad’s ruling confirmed she was right.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams (right) is welcomed home from Rio by her godmother and entertainer Nikki Crosby at the Piarco International Airport on Wednesday 20 April 2016.
(Courtesy Wired868)

Wallace can say the same. Whatever he goes on to do when he leaves the ‘beautiful game’, he has a judgment that shows he did not get a fair shake.

Fifa, like the TTGF, will think more carefully before it attempts to disenfranchise another member. If they do not, it would be a level of stupidity that cannot be blamed on either Williams or Wallace.

Perhaps in time, the world governing body would quietly slip in an amendment that better clarifies the ‘exceptional circumstances’ by which the normalisation committee can be invoked.

Maybe the Fifa Council or general membership will rein in its Bureau of the Council and curb the powers of an emergency committee that appears to be a weapon of its president.

Time will tell. The Bosman Ruling did not immediately change the game. But once it sank in, players and their agents used it appropriately, as did football clubs, who were no longer constrained by laws that treated non-nationals from fellow European countries as foreigners.

Photo: (From left) Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry and Ashley Cole during Arsenal’s 2013-14 season.
Cole was one of just two Englishmen who were guaranteed starting roles in the famous England team alongside Sol Campbell.

Arsenal’s famous ‘invincible’ season of 2003-4, when they became the first club of the England Premier League era to go unbeaten, would not have happened without Bosman. Manager Arsene Wenger would have had to choose three players from goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, defenders Lauren, and Kolo Toure, midfielders Patrick Vieira, and Gilberto Silva, Robert Pires, Frederick Ljungberg, and forwards Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, to play alongside Englishmen.

Instead, thanks to the European Court’s ruling, Wenger often started as many as nine non-English players that season.

Trinidad and Tobago can begin to reap the benefits of Wallace’s win straightaway. For one, it should encourage a more enlightened view of the constitution; and a sense of self-worth.

It is not that Wallace cannot be removed from the helm. It is only that Fifa cannot do it in such a manner. Madame Justice Gobin has put the power back in the hands of the TTFA’s 47 member delegates.

Photo: TTFA president William Wallace.
(Courtesy TTFA Media/Allan V Crane)

Interim Pro League chairman Brent Sancho responded to the ruling by proclaiming that he will write Fifa and beg their forgiveness—rather than, as a re-instated board member, immediately drawing up a request for an extraordinary general meeting, to push for a change of direction for the local football body.

French philosopher Voltaire once said: ‘It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.’ They should teach that in Bishop’s too.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and 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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22 comments

  1. Comparing a player going to court to fight a case against a club side..is in no way the same as a country going to its local court to fight a case against the worlds Governing body for football FIFA..
    Your have just wasted my time..

  2. This is an enlightening report on the matter… This view needed to be shared to shed light on this whole FIFA and TTFA matter. Thanks, Lasana!!!

  3. I haven’t been following this situation very closely but this article brought home the issue in such a balanced way. I now see it differently…

  4. I don’t mind if this is published. A great positive piece written Lisana. I am a dedicated followers and sponsor of football. I can assure you if the TTFA members does not keep Wallace I am through with any spirt in Trinidad and Tobago. I am very disturbed and disappointed with our Prime Minister. He has shown that he believes in friendship before honesty and truthfulness and the law.Wallace did nothing wrong except fight for his rights. Sancho is looking for himself and not betterment as a team.

  5. Great article, well reasoned, well balanced and written by someone seized of a sober mind and temperament.

  6. Excellent and timely editorial. It is mind boggling that a duely elected Prime Minister can scoff at the ruling of his own local judiciary system, that even he should be proud and comforted, in the fact that the rule of law prevailed and not any individual. Comments by the TT Pm and Sancho, reminds of the slave traders and our African chiefs who saw more profit and value in betraying thier own citizens for plastic beads, alcohol and a few rusted muskets. 400 years later the FIFA still believes it has the right to corrupt and enslave free people and our chiefs are riding along in support. Shameless and corrupted are we against our own. This Godless trend persists in many of the Caribbean MAs, so the victory by President Williams and Co. is one for the ages. It signifies that the plight of the innocent and the just will be justified and that the David versus Goliath 3000 yrs event was simply good against evil. God against devil led men. Guess who always wins? Dr. Rowley get your act together. God is watching us from a distance, he has the last say.

  7. ‘Interim Pro League chairman Brent Sancho responded to the ruling by proclaiming that he will write Fifa and beg their forgiveness—rather than, as a re-instated board member, immediately drawing up a request for an extraordinary general meeting, to push for a change of direction for the local football body.’

    Getting the Normalization Committee up and running, maybe with himself as a member seems to be a much more attractive proposition than standing up for the Nation, or doing some work to help football. But two positions still left to be filled on that committee and US $3500 per month for 24 months is a nice inducement. So maybe he can help from that position.

    Incidentally, The membership will have no say in who the additional two members of the committee are either but you don’t hear a murmur from anyone about that. Fifa in consultation with Concacaf knows better than the members, as they did with the three already appointed.

    Bow to Fifa and let them decide which laws they want to obey in the Republic Mr. Sancho, then win the World Cup President Hadad, show the people of the Republic that some coups are worth it. Keep the PM in line or no trip to Qatar for him.

    The money that Fifa gives to Trinidad & Tobago Football Association should amount to about $20 per TT citizen every year. Let them spend it wisely please President Hadad, for you have a country to run now and TTFA’s debts to pay.

    But seriously, thanks to Wired868.

    Excellent coverage for the citizens of Trinidad & Tobago. Vote wisely now, if Fifa will allow you.

  8. Wonderful editorial; I think the PM would be wise to pay attention to.
    Without struggle, there can be no progress; without sacrifice, there can be no achievement. What Wallace and his team did goes well beyond the scope of win or lose, or even Pyrrhic victory or not. It is a definite plus for the sovereignty of the twin island republic that many in the global village didn’t believe existed. It is a slap in the face of short sighted folks like Sancho, R Hadad, Ms Cudgoe, Shanice and even our PM. Now everyone knows that we have the right to run our own affairs rather than have a foreign entity dictate to us what we can or can’t do.

  9. This was well written… Front of the class for you Mr. Liburd…
    I posited a couple months ago that you had to be either stupid or corrupt to agree with what fifa was doing…
    I stand by my hypotheses, and people jus proving my theory…..

  10. This is a well developed treatise with which I agree. The real problem is that an organization such as FIFA should challenge the sovereignty of TT and receive tacit justification from no less a personage as than the PM of TT can be perceived as going against his oath of office. The issue is not Wallace and the TTFA but the sovereignty of TT. It might be a phyrric victory but the integrity of TT is intact. You’re quite right to look at the bigger picture rather than the short narrow minded views of the football prostitutes.

  11. As a concerned Trini with only a concern for justice and fair play, I cannot accept the Prime Minister’s view of the consequences of Mr Wallace’s challenge of FIFA’s action. Whatever comes of the matter, T&T’s football will have benefited, if only in a greater knowledge of how strong we are as a people when faced by an overwhelming force.

  12. Trinidad’s high court is not the European Court of Justice. While you, Mr. Liburd fantasise about the Bowman case, FIFA can easily and fully sidestep any Trinidadian judgment by pulling out entirely from T&T, as it seems intent to do.

    FIFA has double the incentive to isolate the TTFA as a signal to other countries that it can do as it please. FIFA will also be confident doing this knowing that TTFA wil drown under it’s current pile of debt.

    The Fifa council and general membership will not bat an eye, for to do so is suicide in the cut throat world of football politics. But we can dream right?

    Perhaps you, Mr. Liburd, did not read enough Voltaire at Bishops to reach: “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities”.

    Keep believing Mr. Liburd!

    • Lasana Liburd

      Everybody seems to be experts about Fifa these days. I’ve only been covering the sport and Fifa politics for over two decades now. Yes, anything is possible. But not everything is likely.
      I’m not sure why you believe that what you read was ‘absurdities’. But, like I said, everyone is an expert these days. Maybe you should stick to the Trinidad Guardian.
      We will see whether the sky falls in on Trinidad and Tobago’s football in the end. Or if the real tragedy were the people running around like headless chickens when sound analysis and firm action was needed.

    • Shanice,
      Did you train to be this dotish, that cyar be natural!
      What is wrong with you? Do you know?
      If you were in the position of Wallace and the United TTFA executive, would you have acted differently? If the man who is the PM of this country, was in the same position as fifa placed Wallace when they installed the normalisation Committee for the reasons they stated, would he have acted differently to Wallace?
      Stupid or corrupt… Take yuh pick

  13. I think Mr. Wallace can hold his head high for standing up for principle; in my view, that still matters.
    To those who do not understand the concept of sovereignty, or who do not accord it much importance, Justice Gobin offered a timely reminder.
    Yes, FIFA is rich and powerful, but we must be careful that we do not sell our souls “for a mess of pottage”.
    FIFA has been shown to be a bully and I am sure that others in the football world will sit up and take notice.
    We were proud when we were the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup, and now we are the smallest nation to give the all powerful FIFA a bloody nose.

  14. Earl Best

    “ Perhaps Earl Best, a lifelong educator and highly competent editor, would accept that challenge.”

    In Calypso History month, my answer is Chalkdust’s 1972 classic, “Ah fraid Karl.”

    So thanks but no thanks. Ah fraid Keith.

    I do know a Wired868 contributor who is very well placed to tackle the topic of schooling vs education. But he also went to QRC and I doubt he would be willing to feed the Bishop’s inferiority complex any further.

    Right, Noble?

  15. Didn’t Rowley get mad at Kamla when she “carried news” on him to the US government regarding the sale of fuel to Aruba that might have ended up in Venezuela? Now he is siding with an international entity over the decision by the High Court of the country of which he is Prime Minister. That’s why I keep saying there is no difference in ideology between the PNM and the UNC.

    • Earl Best

      Worse, not for the only time, he trumpeted from the rooftops all kinds of stuff about sovereignty.

      If Justice Gobin’s decision was not seen as a boost for national sovereignty, I don’t know what national sovereignty really is.

      But I already knew that the PM is a SHELL, as I have reminded Wired868 readers several times. You work out for yourself what the second letter stands for.

      • Mr Best.
        I know what it means… I went to town school too… Even though Anil does embarrass we., sovereignty is not a topic that challenges the past students of that institution!