TTFA in crisis as debt hits $50m, accounts frozen and new House of Football remains closed

By Paul Nicholson

March 13 – Coronavirus is proving to be the scourge of world football but in Trinidad and Tobago the financial failure of the organisation and its new leaders to work their way out of or deal with a series of court cases is proving far more dangerous to the sport on the island.

William Wallace, new president of the Trinidad and Tobago FA (TTFA), held his first press briefing after 100 days in office last week. It was his first time speaking to the press since his election and he outlined both the bleak position the TTFA is in, but also pointed to some important new developments. Though in reality exactly how green those new shoots are remains to be seen.

“I am not here to cast aspersions on anyone corrupt or say anyone did anything,” said Wallace, who then went on to do just that outlining the bleak financial position the once all-powerful Caribbean nation had now found itself in.

Wallace came to power in December last year as part of a slate of candidates under the United TTFA banner. David John Williams, the former president of the TTFA was ousted by Williams and his United TTFA group in elections last November. John Williams had himself inherited debt when he took over and on losing the election he handed over a significant amount of debt to Wallace and his cohorts.

What was unclear was exactly how much debt there was and how it could be dealt with. “Debt is now TT$50 million and counting,” said Wallace. “Right now we have no money to pay staff. NIS and PAYE (social and income taxes) have not been paid since November 2017. This money has been reflected in employee pay (slips) but has not been paid to the relevant authorities.”

“We have travel agencies owed $850,000. We have a loan from Concacaf of US$600,000 from 2017 and interest of $2,500 monthly. $600,000 and interest of $63,000 is still outstanding. We have 29 bounced checks totalling TT$345,000,” continued Wallace.

The one clear asset that Wallace had been left with was the newly opened House of Football that attracted the visit of FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Concacaf president Victor Montagliani shortly before the election. Neither Wallace or any of his team attended the opening in the presence of Trindad and Tobago prime minister Keith Rowley. On winning office, one of Wallace’s first acts was to close the centre.

Whichever way you look at the TTFA’s money it is an ugly financial picture, but just how much Wallace is in control of it must be doubted following the failure of the TTFA or its legal representative to attend a High Court session to rule on a garnishee order against it on Tuesday. That session was rescheduled for this coming Monday and is crucial for the TTFA if it is to regain any form of control of its accounts.

The garnishee order was taken out by Kendall Walkes, the former TTFA Technical Director who was fired in 2016 but has since sued and won over $5 million for wrongful dismissal. When the TTFA failed to pay the court order, Walkes took out a garnishee order to freeze the TTFA accounts on February 13, preventing the TTFA conducting any business through those accounts.

Walkes has requested a $2.5 million payment to lift the garnishee order, but the TTFA made clear, it could not pay. Wallace said in his press briefing last week that the TTFA was “able to pay creditors TT$1 million in December as well as the technical staff and player match fees.” It is unclear who paid this money as TTFA accounts are frozen.

It is a situation that is being watched very closely by FIFA and Concacaf who are concerned that under Wallace the TTFA has spiralled out of control with one governing body insider who asked not to be named suggesting that they are “getting to the point where the only thing to do is shut it down and resurrect with something new.”

House of Football

FIFA and Concacaf have jointly visited the TTFA to conduct a forensic audit. As part of that audit there was an inspection of the House of Football.

Wallace outlined a catalogue of fire safety breaches – from “no detection or alarm system, no fire alarm, no voice system, no fire extinguishers, no fire hose reel, no dedicated water supply – as well as insurance liability costs over 72 door frames with bases sitting above floor level, as the reason the facility was closed.

“I saw disappointment on the faces of FIFA and Concacaf on their inspections visit,” said Wallace. He may have mis-read the look on their faces with a FIFA insider telling Insideworldfootball: “I heard he said that but if he saw the look on their faces it was the complete opposite i.e. why would they close this down? Looks like having it open would save you money.”

If Wallace had money then perhaps the repairs could have been made on a building Wallace said still has TT$2 million outstanding to pay. “The building is up and we have to find a way to use it. It might be a profit sharing going forward…if it is a partnership so be it,” said Wallace.

Wallace did say that they have a TT$25 million there-year budget that, if sponsorship money is achieved as predicted, would enable the TTFA to operate with a manageable loss of about TT$200,000. But getting to that point is the hard part and not getting easier with no cash to operate with.

Wallace talked about having signed an MoU with an unnamed financial group (repeated requests for information on this MoU from the TTFA have been unanswered) to deal with the debt. Speculation is that the House of Football is the leverage being used to raise that finance though the legality of whether this is possible is unsure as the land for the House of Football was provided by the government and is not the TTFA’s to give away.

There were some bright spots on the TTFA’s horizon and Wallace did promise that things would get better. A new kit sponsor has been signed with AVEC (though doubts exist over how good this deal actually is) as well as a TT$1.5 million sponsorship with a chemicals company. This week an exclusive retail partner was also unveiled with new TTFA national team manager Terry Fenwick front and centre encouraging fans to come on down and buy shirts.

“We are doing the best we can do under the circumstances,” said Wallace. It might not be enough.

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