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Fifa ‘welcomes’ T&T courts decision; Downer: TTFA in ‘constitutional limbo’

Fifa president Gianni Infantino and general secretary Fatma Samoura have spent the past six months saying that the governing football body has ‘no intention to recognise [the Trinidad and Tobago] courts’.

It is a position that changed yesterday evening with the ruling of the court of appeal, which declared that the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) was wrong to take its grievance with the Fifa-appointed normalisation committee to the local courts.

Photo: Fifa president Gianni Infantino.

At 6.15am (12.15pm Zurich time), Fifa suggested a change of heart about the local judiciary. After refusing to accept their prior court defeats, the Swiss-based body publicly acknowledged support for their legal triumph—on the back of the ruling by Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Justice of Appeal Nolan Bereaux.

Fifa said the appeal court’s ruling ‘fully recognises the established global football governance structure’.

“Fifa welcomes the decision of the Trinidad and Tobago court of appeal, which ruled that the former leadership of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) had acted unlawfully,” stated the Fifa missive, “by appealing to a local court to contest the appointment of a normalisation committee for the TTFA.

“Among other relevant legal considerations, the court of appeal stressed that in accordance with the TTFA statutes and the Fifa statutes, the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) is the proper forum to resolve such dispute.

“The ruling, which has been served to the parties yesterday, fully recognises the established global football governance structure, which relies on the CAS as the exclusive internationally recognised tribunal for the resolution of sports-related disputes.”

Photo: (From left) Former TTFA vice-president Susan Joseph-Warrick, president William Wallace, general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan and press manager Shaun Fuentes.

It was not the only change by the Infantino-led body. Fifa, for the first time, suggested that it implemented a normalisation committee in Trinidad and Tobago ‘after it was established that the former leadership of the TTFA had engaged in various acts of serious mismanagement’.

In fact, Fifa said nothing of the kind on 17 March when it declared that TTFA president William Wallace and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip were removed.

At the time, Fifa said the decision to ‘normalise’ the TTFA was due to: ‘extremely low overall financial management methods, combined with a massive debt, have resulted in the TTFA facing a very real risk of insolvency and illiquidity’.

However, since then, Wallace’s administration was found to have given secret contracts out to controversial British salesman Peter Miller and persons recommended by him. The TTFA president also signed deals with Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick and general secretary Ramesh Ramdhan on terms not approved by the board.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Men’s National Senior Team head coach Terry Fenwick gestures to the media after training at the Police Barracks in St James on 3 July 2020.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

Wallace called the Fenwick contract a mistake while he insisted that he had the authority to unilaterally decide on Ramdhan’s contract.

Whether any of those pacts had anything to do with Fifa’s intervention is another story, and neither the Infantino-led Bureau of the Fifa Council nor Samoura said anything of the sort at the time.

Fifa did not say whether it will re-install a normalisation committee in the twin island republic and might be waiting on the outcome of the TTFA’s extraordinary general meeting tomorrow.

Exactly who is in charge of the TTFA at present, after the court of appeal set aside Madame Justice Carol Gobin’s rulings?

Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) vice-president Osmond Downer, one of the framers of the TTFA constitution, said the EGM was constitutionally called and remains a valid event.

Photo: Madame Justice Carol Gobin.

“Tomorrow’s meeting was constitutionally called by what was a legitimate board at the time; and Fifa has not in any way interfered, stopped or banned the constitution of the TTFA,” Downer told Wired868. “The very constitution of the TTFA states that the general meeting is the supreme parliamentary body of the institution… I’d even say that tomorrow’s meeting is one of the most significant general meetings in the history of the TTFA.”

Downer said the court of appeal ‘obliterated’ Gobin’s ruling, which had reinstated the TTFA Board. However, Fifa subsequently withdrew its normalisation committee while, paradoxically, saying it continues to recognise its former chairman, Robert Hadad.

So what now?

“At the moment, the TTFA is in a constitutional limbo with only one man, Hadad, having any kind of authority as far as Fifa is concerned,” said Downer. “They removed the committee and left Hadad, as the only means of communication. Hadad himself is not in a position to call a general meeting because the normalisation committee does not exist, while the elected officers have been removed but I don’t know that they are replaced…”

And what if Wallace does not show up for the meeting or resigns? 

Photo: Businessman Robert Hadad was appointed by Fifa on 27 March 2020 as head of Trinidad and Tobago’s normalisation committee.

Downer said there is precedent when former president David John-Williams skipped an AGM; and all his vice-presidents were also absent. At the time, John-Williams was faced with a barrage of financial questions about his stewardship.

The constitution allows for members to take charge in the absence of the elected officials. So the general meeting selected Downer as chairman. Once word got around that the AGM was underway, then vice-president Ewing Davis turned up and took over the chair.

“If none of the officers turn up, the meeting among itself selects a chairman,” said Downer, “and the meeting continues.”

Downer suggested that Wallace remains the ‘titular head’ of the TTFA, in the absence of further clarification. Notably, the court of appeal ruled yesterday that Wallace did have the authority to bring legal proceedings against Fifa, although he did not get the approval of his board before doing so.

“Certainly we would expect that any action taken by a corporate person will first have had the sanction of its board of directors,” stated Bereaux. “But there is nothing in the evidence to suggest that Mr Wallace did not have the authority…”

Photo: TTFA president William Wallace poses during a staff photoshoot on 9 January 2020.
(via Allan V Crane/TTFA Media/CA-images)

It was the only decision taken by the court of appeal yesterday that went the way of the besieged president; and it was more than a consolation prize.

Had the court of appeal ruled that Wallace did not have the authority to initiate the matter against Fifa, then either the elected officials or their attorneys may have been asked to pay Fifa’s legal fees at the high court and court of appeal.

Instead, the TTFA is indebted for the costs to the body that supplies at least 60 per cent of its income in the first place.

Tomorrow, the TTFA members will discuss ‘the way forward’ for the local body. And, quite likely, Fifa will have its say shortly thereafter.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read the response from Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace.

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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