Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace said today that their legal fight with Fifa has reached to its end game, with the local football body set to reject an invitation to return to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Yesterday, TTFA attorney Dr Emir Crowne told Chief Justice Ivor Archie that his client would return to CAS if Fifa withdrew its international suspension and proposed normalisation once more. Wallace said he understood Crowne’s legal argument before the court of appeal, but he and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor and Sam Phillip believe the suggestion is a non-starter.
“Our attorney was put into that position based on the questions put to him by the judges,” Wallace told Wired868. “But for me—and this will be discussed with the lawyers—we have reached the point where we think we have done enough, and that’s it.
“Going back to CAS is not an option; even financially we have used up all the money.”
Wallace, his vice-presidents, and the TTFA Board of Directors were removed from their respective posts on 13 March, when the Bureau of the Fifa Council, headed by president Gianni Infantino, declared that it had appointed a normalisation committee in Trinidad and Tobago—due to the poor financial state of the local body.
The TTFA’s elected officers initially filed with CAS but made an acrimonious departure in May, after complaining of ‘inherent bias’. Since then, even Fifa attorney Christopher Hamel-Smith SC admitted that his client breached CAS’ rules by refusing to pay its fees upfront. It was an infraction that its fellow Swiss-based body facilitated.
Fifa’s refusal to follow the rules of the arbitral body led CAS to ask the cash-strapped TTFA to pay upfront fees for both parties, at a cost of 40,000 Swiss francs (TT$300,000).
The world governing body eventually offered to pay its share, if the TTFA returned to CAS, during high court proceedings. However, the local body rejected the proposal.
Crowne informed the court of appeal that they might be minded to have a rethink. However, Wallace said it was too late now.
“For Fifa to offer that now is an attempt to make themselves look good,” said Wallace. “We have had enough of this; this has gone on long enough. It is time to come to the end of what we have started.
“For Fifa not to follow the rules of its own process shows the kind of organisation it is. I will like to find the suitable word to describe them but it might not be suitable for print. (Laughs.)
“This is their process, you started it, and yet you refused to abide by the rules. We would not have gone to the high court if they [paid their share] from the start. This thing might have been over a long ago.”
On 13 October, Madame Justice Carol Gobin ruled in the high court that Fifa’s normalisation committee was invalid and its removal of Wallace was done in ‘bad faith’.
“On the evidence, I find that the decision to activate the normalisation was improper and made in bad faith,” stated Gobin. “The conclusion that it was a contrivance to subvert the outcome of the November 24th elections is in my view inescapable. In the end it defeated the will of the persons who had elected the new board into office.
“In the circumstances Fifa’s claim that it remains neutral in matters of politics (within the sport) is demonstrated to be patently false.”
Gobin’s decision could potentially be voided on Friday evening, if court of appeal judges Archie and Nolan Bereaux rule that Trinidad and Tobago did not have jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place. However, Wallace said he will continue to be comforted by the decision of the high court—no matter what Archie and Bereaux say.
The retired Carapichaima East Secondary vice-principal said all he ever wanted was the chance to be heard on the perceived wrong done to him. He feels Gobin gave him that opportunity when it appeared to be too expensive or onerous to get it elsewhere.
“Whatever happens after the high court is an anticlimax,” said Wallace. “Fate happened to decide that the matter was heard before it went to the appeal court, and that was enough for me. I always wanted a chance to be heard and fate had it that I was heard at the high court, and I am happy with that.
“I think what we set out to achieve was achieved. Basically, we are at a point where we don’t expect much more than where we have gotten to.”
Wallace remains committed to chairing the TTFA’s extraordinary general meeting on Sunday, however he did not offer any clues on his future within the local game beyond that.
Apart from his own vindication by the high court, Wallace hopes Fifa’s 211 member associations pay attention to the governing body’s conduct in this affair: from its sketchy reasoning for normalisation and the open-ended justification of ‘exceptional circumstances’ that Infantino used to attack the TTFA, straight to its refusal to follow CAS rules and decision to suspend the twin island republic while Fifa’s own appeal was in the court.
“It is unfortunate that an international organisation that espouses these lofty ideals of fair play would treat with its nations in this way and not cooperate with a process that it directs all members to sign up to,” said Wallace. “It showed up Fifa clearly; and it shows that if they want to frustrate a member that they can do that at any point in time. I hope our actions will have helped such things to come to the fore and international bodies can zone in on that. If so, our actions would not have been in vain.
“[…] I don’t think that the football fraternity should continue to accept those things. I think this is [something] for the membership to look at in terms of the Fifa processes going forward.”