By Paul Nicholson
August 14 – Trinidad and Tobago High Court judge Carol Gobin has ruled against FIFA’s application to dismiss a lawsuit brought against it by former TTFA board members over their replacement with a normalisation committee.
This was a ruling over whether jurisdiction should be with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, as FIFA argued, or whether it was an issue for the T&T courts – whether the TTFA is subject to national law over and above FIFA’s statutes, even if those statues had been recognised by the TTFA when it joined the organisation.
The impact for football in Trinidad and Tobago will be far reaching and potentially immediate if FIFA choose to move towards banning the TTFA. If a ban happened before next week then Trinidad and Tobago would be removed from the draw for the World Cup qualifiers, hence ending chance of going to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022 before a ball was kicked.
Also upcoming is the draw for 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup as well as various age group competitions and women’s competitions. If banned Trinidad would not be included in any of them with no senior team likely to be seen participating in any major international championship until qualifiers begin for the 2023 Gold Cup – assuming they are reinstated by then.
Judge Gobin referenced this in her judgement saying: “I do not expect FIFA to walk off the field or to take its ball and go home if after full ventilation of the issues, this court were to confirm the primacy of an Act of the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago over the FIFA Statutes.”
FIFA had already warned that it could implement sanctions, potentially immediately. On a simple, if neither the ousted TTFA board or the Trinidad and Tobago government are prepared to respect FIFA’s statutes then how can they expect to play in FIFA or Concacaf’s competitions against other countries that have signed up to those codes – whether they like them or not.
Perhaps more importantly in an FA that has shown itself too often to be more motivated by money than football, how can it hold its begging bowl for FIFA’s money – realistically the only chance it has of clearing debt built up over a number of years and for which the ousted TTFA officials had shown no credible plan of eliminating, but had only added to in their short three months at the helm.
One option mooted two months ago to Insideworldfootball was that it might make more sense to shut the existing TTFA down completely, leave the individuals personally responsible for the debt mountain and start a new federation from scratch.
FIFA will not want to go to court – even though they would probably like to expose the corruption within football in this twin island republic – as on a practical level it potentially opens them up to national litigation from any other federation that refuses to accept its decisions. The legal costs could potentially bankrupt the world governing body.
What looks most likely is that there will be a discussion between FIFA and the ousted TTFA board with a compromise sought. However, it is unlikely that there will much movement from FIFA’s side. The FIFA Ethics investigations that are currently ongoing into the former TTFA board regarding the multiple corruption allegations (from election fraud to contract and financial fraud) will likely be a determinant in any negotiation and, perhaps unfortunately, prevent any full airing in the Trinidad courts.
Locally Judge Gobin’s decision is being hailed as a major victory for the country. “…it is a massive statement in the sense of our national sovereignty and democracy,” said TTFA technical committee chairman Keith Look Loy told local news service Newsday. Look Loy, the puppet master behind the administration of former TTFA president William Wallace (pictured), continued: “The depiction that FIFA could just do what it wants and disrespect local courts, local law, the constitution of local associations – the court has said it cannot do this and that the rule of law must be upheld and it stands in the defence of the TTFA in that regard.”
While it seems pretty unlikely that FIFA have any burning ambition to run the Trinidad and Tobago government or its judiciary (Trinidad and Tobago obtained independence in 1962), it is clear that football’s patience is wearing thin and ultimately time is running out for players in the country who now look like losing any opportunity of playing for their country and potentially moving into the professional game in more serious football nations and leagues.
Judge Gobin gave FIFA 21 days to file a defence against the claim that it illegally introduced a Normalisation Committee. While Look Loy says that there is now a second half to this game to be played, as the top coach and football guru in his country he will also be aware that the best form of defence is very often attack. FIFA’s might be nuclear in a country whose judiciary is still protecting world Football’s Most Wanted, former Concacaf president Jack Warner, who five years after being indicted in the FIFAgate scandal is still avoiding extradition to the US to face multiple bribery, corruption and money laundering allegations.
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