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Dear Editor: Dr Rowley must not put Fifa above our laws—even if it is foreign, white, powerful and rich

“[…] I note that in response to Mr [William] Wallace’s indication that Parliament can change our law if it wants, the prime minister responded by saying that he is willing to help wherever he can.

“I trust that that help will not include an official, parliamentary setting aside of our constitution and placing a private corporation, and its rules, above the powers of our Parliament or the sovereignty of our country—even if that corporation is foreign, white, powerful and rich…”

In the following Letter to the Editor, David Christopher Benjamin, a consultant and community activist, responds to Nigel Scott’s legal view of the battle between the TTFA and FIFA:

Photo: Fifa president Gianni Infantino (centre) poses with Sport Minister Darryl Smith (second from left), National Security Minister Edmund Dillon (second from right) and Speaker of the House Esmond Forde (third from right) after an exhibition match at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva on 10 April 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

I saw a letter to the editor on Wired868 titled ‘A legal view’. It seems to try to explore some of the technicalities of legal process according to Fifa’s rules. The title would suggest that it is exploring all the legal aspects of this issue.

For some reason, however, it doesn’t. It takes the position of starting with Fifa’s contractual rules and asking why the TTFA, having contracted, has not followed them.

By now, we have heard of Justice Carol Gobin’s judgment in which she pointed out that a contract between private parties cannot override statutory obligations—a point I have made here quite clearly before.

She went on to point out that such contractual provisions with respect to arbitration are in fact quite normal in many areas (such as construction). And in none of them are they meant to preempt completely, recourse to the courts, despite the primacy given to arbitration. 

We have had enough experience with Cricket West Indies to know the dangers of a body that is accountable to no one. So why are we not starting from the point of the legislation in this jurisdiction where TTFA exists and asking why Fifa has made no attempt to be consistent with it?

Photo: Fifa president Gianni Infantino (centre) and former TTFA president David John-Williams (left) turn the sod at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva while then Sport Minister Darryl Smith pretends to help on 10 April 2017.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

The answer may simply be that each person, having looked at the overall situation, the risks involved and the possible ultimate result, has decided—based on his own appetite for risk—what position he supports. That is very evident here.

This is reasonable and very personal. I understand that the same thing applies to me and the positions I have taken. And I cannot expect anyone else to replicate my desire for justice or my appetite for risk, including the sacrifice that may have to go with the hope of achieving positive long-term change in the international system.

Which brings me back to a comment I saw made by a friend who analysed both sides of this matter. What struck me was the last sentence of his comment. It simply said ‘there are no legal answers to be had here’. And I suspect that he is right.

Legal options have played themselves out; or, at least, soon will. The outstanding issue of achieving justice finally (and by ‘finally’ I mean at an international level that influences Fifa to do the right thing) will require the intervention of parties who have the power to influence Fifa.

The contradictions that exist between the Fifa contract and the local legislation cannot be resolved by anything other than parties deciding which one they will follow, and hopefully coming to some agreement between themselves.

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

Maybe the local powers can seek to assist the TTFA in their justified ‘negotiations’ with the international power that is Fifa.

I note that in response to Mr Wallace’s indication that Parliament can change our law if it wants, the prime minister responded by saying that he is willing to help wherever he can.

I trust that that help will not include an official, parliamentary setting aside of our constitution and placing a private corporation, and its rules, above the powers of our Parliament or the sovereignty of our country—even if that corporation is foreign, white, powerful and rich.

Changing the law in a way that will force the TTFA to simply comply with whatever Fifa says at any time, and in a way which removes the recourse that TTFA has to justice in their own country, will be a massive step backward for a black country.

It was interesting that Mr Wallace pointed out that the United Kingdom is one of the countries whose constitution and contract with Fifa mirror the status in Trinidad. The UK is the jurisdiction which gave the world ‘the beautiful game’ and which passed the (global governance) ball to Fifa in 1904.

Photo: Fifa president Gianni Infantino (left) presents Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley with a personalised football jersey during the opening of the TTFA Home of Football in Couva on 18 November 2019.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/TTFA Media)

Can you imagine, years later, the UK being told by Fifa that they have to go to their Parliament to give up their sovereignty in order to ensure that Fifa can dictate all aspects of football without fetter ? I would want to be a fly on that wall.

Of course in the end, what is required here is for the world to find a way to ensure that Fifa—and CAS—operate in a businesslike, non-corrupt manner with efficient and fair processes, which are subject to accountability and transparency.

And that Fifa operates at all times in the interest of the people that they serve and not see these people as subjects, or as enemies to be fought and destroyed at every disagreement.

Operating in the interest of its membership requires a mindset that honours, as a duty, collaborative interaction among equals.

How did we get here ? Had Fifa taken the collaborative approach to the Trinidad and Tobago matter, we would not be here at all.

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Letters to the Editor
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