By Paul Nicholson
November 25 – The Trinidad and Tobago FA has a new president and three new vice presidents following elections yesterday that removed incumbent David John-Williams and replaced him with United TTFA candidate William Wallace (pictured).
It is an extraordinary change of power on the Caribbean islands with Wallace and the three new vice-presidents being swept in under the ‘United TTFA’ banner – a power grab that is more representative of an election on political party lines, rather than as individuals standing for election to positions to fulfil roles in what is essentially a volunteer football association.
The election results are also significant in that they send a clear snub – described by one leader as “giving us the finger” – to FIFA, Concacaf and the Trinidad and Tobago government coming just a few days after the leaders of all three bodies were present for the opening of the new House of Football in Trinidad.
Wallace – a retired school teacher who held several team manager positions between 2012 and 2016 and was supported by world football’s most notoriously corrupt official Jack Warner – overcame John-Williams by 26 votes to 20 in the second round of voting. He was then followed into office by Clint Taylor, who was head of referees during the Warner years, as first vice president; Suzanne Warwick who was head of women’s football as second vice president; and Sam Phillip, who also managed several teams under Warner, as third vice president.
All were elected under the ‘TTFA United’ banner that had former influential Warner acolytes Anthony Harford and Keith Look Loy lobbying voting members behind the scenes.
While there is not necessarily any clear link to Warner, the fact that they were all linked to his various tenures (though not necessarily to his corruption) will raise alarm bells across the Caribbean and within the governing bodies, not least regional body Concacaf which has worked hardest to clean the stain on world football left by Warner.
The United TTFA campaign was built around a campaign dissatisfaction over John-Williams management style which they said lacked transparency, was dictatorial and too often ignored the advice or decisions of his board. This was all at a time when the TTFA was struggling with more than TT$40 million of debt and the performance of the men’s national team had plummeted with poor showing in the Gold Cup in June and relegation from the top tier of the Concacaf Nations League in the last window of international fixtures.
There is no doubt that John-Williams’ tenure was hamstrung by the debt he inherited – ironically from the regime that made up most of United TTFA’s support. However, he did manage to build a new ‘House of Football’ training facility.
What is perhaps most concerning for outsiders looking at the election is the depth of deception around the United TTFA campaign that claimed it had sponsorship commitments of $30 million from international sponsors alone but proved to be lies.
Nike were said to be going to outfit national teams and set up a store at one of the four main stadia in the country. Nike refuted this boast immediately and sent a letter accordingly. Further claims of financial support 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.
But the majority TTFA stakeholders were clearly prepared to forgive these lies when it came to the votes.
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.
The use of sponsor promises – whether real or fabricated – to engineer regime change is a dubious election tactic and one riddled with numerous governance issues.
Whether that money comes through remains to be seen but it is certain that the new leadership will need it to survive as there is no guarantee that it will receive its FIFA grants or Concacaf support.
John-Williams’ board had put a plan to FIFA to reschedule and ring fence debt and allow the TTFA to move forward with development programmes and rebuild its national teams (rather than lose its grants – or portions of – to repay the debt).
That debt plan is awaiting approval but looks unlikely to be approved any time soon while the governing bodies assess the trustworthiness of the new leadership and the colour of their integrity and alliances – which currently look a little dark. Certainly Concacaf and FIFA will take step to safeguard against a return to the bad old days of Warner’s financial management philosophy of personal enrichment.
Certainly if you are judged by the company you keep then the new leadership are going to attract significant attention. It may also mean an increased focus from the US Justice authorities whose investigators said in March at the SIGA Forum in New York that they hadn’t finished with the FIFA cases in their region. The US is still waiting and expecting the extradition of Warner to face charges in the US.
The one asset the new board do have is a brand new training complex on land donated by government and building financed in part by FIFA, and built significantly below market cost under John-Williams’ construction management expertise. That facility is in the name of the TTFA.
The last training centre built in Trinidad was on land purchased by Concacaf and constructed with FIFA money. The deeds of ownership for that property are now the names of Warner’s wife and sons.
Of course, the new TTFA leadership would know nothing about that. But, given their previous connections, will they do something about it?
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