By Paul Nicholson
November 20 – FIFA has lifted the suspension of the Trinidad and Tobago FA (TTFA) and re-instated its three-person Normalisation Committee to run the local association.
It is at last some good news for the nation’s national team players – the almost forgotten parties in this dispute between local officials and the regional and global governing bodies. That FIFA has moved rapidly to lift the suspension (it seldom reacts this fast in these matters) will now enable a focus on a return to international competition and in particular preparation for the World Cup qualifiers beginning early next year, and participation in the US in the knock-out preliminary round of the 2021 Gold Cup in July.
It decision also sees a loosening of FIFA’s purse strings, allow the funds desperately needed to get the TTFA operational again. $1.4 million is expected within the next week.
FIFA had replaced the former president of the TTFA William Wallace, his board, and a number of senior officials in March 2020, just three months after. It was a three months characterised by an inability to deal with mounting debt (historic and new), failure to turn up to court hearings over that debt, the loss of control over the FA’s bank accounts, faux announcements of multi-million dollar sponsorship and the dubious involvement in a $50 million property development plan.
National team coaches were fired and hired as the TTFA’s financial situation spiralled out of control and debt was built seemingly uncontrollably to unsustainable levels – now between TT$35 million to TT$55 million depending on which of the debt is accepted as being legitimate. Staff went unpaid.
Wallace and his allies challenged FIFA’s decision and took their complaint to local courts (they refused to follow through on initial Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) proceedings saying the sports court was fixed) claiming that they had been removed illegally.
A very bitter and public row ensued with the local court, on appeal, eventually ruling that the jurisdiction for the case was CAS and not Trinidad and Tobago, and that FIFA had not acted illegally. This open the doors to a return to world football for the TTFA. FIFA had not recognised the legitimacy of the case in Trinidad but had appealed the jurisdiction saying that CAS was where the case should be heard
The deadline for appeal of the final Trinidad and Tobago decision was November 16. Wallace has not submitted an appeal – after having been unanimously requested by TTFA stakeholders to drop his case and step back.
In a letter to Normalisation Committee chair Robert Hadad from FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura, she acknowledged the passing of the appeal deadline as being a catalyst “to lift the suspension of the TTFA with immediate effect.”
“This means that all of the TTFA membership rights have been reinstated and TTFA representative and club teams are again entitled to take part in international competitions. The TTFA may also benefit from development programmes, courses and training provided by FIFA and/or Concacaf,” said Samoura.
Samoura also said that two more members would be appointed to the Normalisation Committee after the completion of eligibility checks.
She also let Hadad know that his performance will be under scrutiny – he has been heavily criticised locally for his inability to move the needle on progress within the TTFA – saying “the FIFA administration, in consultation with Concacaf, reserves the right to revoke the mandate of any of the members of the TTFA normalisation committee and/or to appoint further members at any time.”
She tempered this warning saying: “It is worth mentioning that FIFA never recognised the pretentions of the former executive body of the TTFA which was properly and permanently removed by FIFA on 17 March 2020 and regrets the stances and actions taken by such individuals and which significantly and negatively impacted all aspects of Trinidad and Tobago Football. Such actions, taken by the removed TTFA executive committee, greatly misdirected the attention of the normalisation committee and hindered its work and execution of its mandate, as the efforts of the normalisation committee in the past months had to focus on countering such actions. FIFA is, however, confident that the normalisation committee will now be able to focus on the execution of its assigned tasks.”
First amongst those will be establishing a credible plan to deal with debt while at the same time managing a return to the playing of football on the island and preparing competitive teams for the upcoming internationals.
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