Pirates in the Caribbean: Warner-linked treasure hunters seek regime change at TTFA

By Paul Nicholson

November 23 –Trinidad and Tobago, the home of FIFA’s most-wanted Jack Warner, will see FA elections tomorrow for a new president and three vice-presidents.

The election campaign has had something of a Warner-esq feel with opponents of incumbent president David John-Williams having formed themselves into a ‘political’ party under the United TTFA banner and fielding candidates for all the positions as they bid for control of a federation that has seen its performances on the field wane in recent years.

Indeed, many of the supporters behind the United TTFA campaign, were key supporters of Warner in his years of power as president of Concacaf and were working within the previous administration that saddled the federation with crippling debt of reportedly up to TT$40 million, and outstanding lawsuits that resulted in two judgements against the TTFA for payment of outstanding monies to former National Coach Stephen Hart for TT$5 million and former technical director, Anton Corneal for TT$3.4 million.

That United TTFA can be serious contenders to regain power, shows how football politics plays out over time in the Caribbean. That they should be trying to take over as an organised group, rather than win at the ballot box as individually elected officials, committed to working in an individual capacity for the future of the organisation, raises serious governance questions.

The thirst for power has seen a dirty campaign with claims from the United TTFA party that they had commitments of US$30 million from in­ter­na­tion­al spon­sors alone, with Nike ex­pect­ed to out­fit na­tion­al teams and set up a store at one of the four main sta­dia in the coun­try. The claims of commitment for financial support also included monies from road construction company the Junior Sammy Group. How­ev­er, the fol­low­ing day, those claims were found out to be false with the company confirming the doc­u­ment which United TTFA pro­duced was fake and that they had not giv­en any such com­mit­ment.

Some of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­pa­nies that were said to have pro­vid­ed the United TTFA with let­ters of com­mit­ment were Spec­trum Brands, which was said to have agreed to con­struct six small-goal/Fut­sal fields across T&T for a three-year pe­ri­od, VAR­TA, Ul­tra PRO, Pfis­ter, PRO-SENSE, Rem­ing­ton, Din­go, FOR­TIS, Bir­dola and Sports­man.

While the politics has revealed the dark side of football in Trindad and Tobago, John-Williams scored a major achievement with the opening of a new TTFA Home of Football facility – those that follow football politics will know that the first training centre on the island, funded by FIFA money, was taken into personal ownership by Warner and never returned to either the TTFA or Concacaf.

In Trinidad for the opening of the facility – which includes a 72-room hotel, two youth dormitories, medical and anti-doping rooms, three full sized training fields and a Beach Soccer arena – were FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Concacaf president Victor Montagliani. They joined Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for the official unveiling.

Having initially been sceptical about the project, Rowley eventually bought into the idea with government land and support.

“Having partnered with football to make this public asset land available to you and money available to those involved in the management of the game, the taxpayers will expect no less than a dramatic improvement and the full use of this facility, in the vision it was presented and in the way it was built for the purpose it was designed,”he  said.

The core expectation from Rowley is for an improvement in the performance of the Trindad and Tobago national team. It is a demand the United TTFA is saying they would prioritise, and it is a source of frustration and pain for John-Williams who says that when he took over in 20015 he was left with a “shambles” of a federation that was financially crippled, had no domestic development infrastructure and a player talent pool that was not at the same level as its past teams.

The national men’s team’s performance has been widely criticised and after a poor showing at the Gold Cup in June, dropped out of the top tier of Concacaf’s Nations League in the most recent round of international matches.

John-Williams argues that with the building blocks in place the work can begin in earnest on building competitive competitions internally and competitive teams internationally.

Tomorrow TTFA stakeholder will vote whether it will be John-Williams who will be given a mandate to continue and build that future. The alternative looks dangerously like a return to the old ways with – whether they are or not – a group form the outside looks to be mored in the old ways of Warner. With Infantino and Montagliani having been in Trinidad to take a first hand look and show support for John-Williams, his removal would unlikely be smiled upon by those that control the purse strings – the real key to Trinidad’s football future. It is a vote that is as much in the balance as the nation’s  immediate football future.

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