Port of Spain – September 13, 2020 by Rudolph Williams
FIFA – the all-powerful Goliath of world soccer – seems in danger of outplaying itself at its own game amid the eruption of a major scandal involving recalcitrant member Trinidad and Tobago as the proverbial David in a contest involving the giant versus a pint-sized opponent on the football battle field.
FIFA has now come under the spotlight for apparently casting a blind eye on a number of secret, self-serving deals alleged to have been carried out by David John-Williams, former President of the TTFA (Trinidad and Tobago Football Association), the governing body for football here, especially during construction of a heavily FIFA –supported hotel facility for the football fraternity from 2018 to 2019 in central Trinidad.
David John-Williams’ tenure as President ran from 2025 to 2019.
In an extensive report broadcast on CNC Television and published in the “Trinidad Guardian” on September 9 – 12, Guardian Media Limited (GML) Investigative Editor Mark Bassant offered “forensic evidence” to support his story of “ a complex web of suspicious financial transactions involving millions of US dollars” done in the name of the “Home of Football” under the tenure of John-Williams.
“A financial trail of secret Panama deals, a hidden Panamanian bank account and a hefty CONCACAF loan no one had an inkling about are just some of the things unearthed…” said Bassant in the “Guardian” report.
The report comes in the wake of several months of previous rumblings of discontent and concern expressed by some TTFA board members about John -Williams’ lack of transparency in running the TTFA with particular reference to his handling of the “Home of Football” project.
This culminated in a shock wave of rejection of the FIFA-favoured John-Williams team when it sought re-election to the TTFA’s Executive Committee in November 2019 to be replaced by a “United TTFA” team led by new President William Wallace whose probes into the previous administration allegedly unearthed “gross financial mismanagement”.
Bassant’s investigations claim that on February 2, 2020, Wallace wrote to FIFA Chief Member Association Officer Veron Mosengo-Omba enquiring about the FIFA Forward Funding for 2019-2020.
In response, Mosengo-Omba was reported as acknowledging FIFA’s awareness of “the financial situation and existing debts of the TTFA” with the promise to dispatch a joint mission of FIFA-CONCACAF “which will be comprised of financial experts to work with the (TT)FA, so that we can have clarity, and to work with you for the next move”
FIFA’s exposed its wrath over the rejection of John-Williams as their preferred “man-of-business” combined with probing questions from the new TTFA about his tenure with a sudden-death draconian move against the TTFA just about six weeks after Wallace had started communicating with Mosengo-Omba.
On March 17, 2020 FIFA took a decision to intervene into TT’s national football affairs by installing a Normalisation Committee to run local operations, thus virtually booting out the new Wallace-led TTFA administration – after a mere four months in office.
FIFA justified its decision by stating:
“The decision follows the recent FIFA/Concacaf fact-finding mission to Trinidad and Tobago to assess, together with an independent auditor, the financial situation of TTFA. “The mission found that extremely low overall financial management methods, combined with a massive debt, have resulted in the TTFA facing a very real risk of insolvency and illiquidity.
“Such a situation is putting at risk the organisation and development of football in the country and corrective measures need to be applied urgently”.
In response United TTFA has suggested that FIFA is trying to hide something and “shield” former President David John-Williams. It stated:
“The necessary assessment of TTFA finances in the immediate aftermath of our election victory brought facts to light that some wished to remain under cover of darkness. The revelation of these facts…provoked an oppressive reaction by FIFA – the imposition of a so-called normalisation committee.”
United TTFA proceeded to further enrage FIFA by shifting its avenue for objection against the imposition of the Normalisation Committee from FIFA’s statute-appointed Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to the Trinidad and Tobago High Court which confirmed its right to hear the case – a decision against which FIFA has filed an Appeal.
In response to this apparently unexpected surprise move by the ousted TTFA executive to challenge FIFA’s actions in the local High Court instead of using FIFA’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) , FIFA has been speaking in ominous tones about the possibility of TT being in great danger in its stature in international football standings if the TTFA does not withdraw its challenge.
“The insistence of the TTFA former leadership to bring this matter to a local court instead of the established dispute resolution forum at CAS greatly endangers the overall football structure in the country and endangers the position of Trinidad and Tobago football internationally” FIFA stated.
“The absence of a resolution that is in line with the statutes of both FIFA and TTFA will result in the matter being brought to the attention of the relevant FIFA bodies for consideration and potential further action.”
On August 26, FIFA’s Senegalese general secretary wrote a letter through its Normalisation Committee Chairman Robert Hadad to “firmly request” the “former” TTFA executive withdraw its claim at the Trinidad and Tobago High Court by September 16 “at the latest”.
According to Samoura: “We deem that a failure to comply with this directive would result in the commencement of suspension proceedings via the relevant FIFA bodies”.
This timing has aroused concern among some members of the TT football fraternity in light of FIFA’s Annual Congress being due on September 18 with the inclusion of a listing on the agenda of an item (f) – Suspension or Expulsion of a Member (if applicable).
This current draconian FIFA stance is at great variance with the warm, embracing mood of FIFA President Gianni Infantino when he personally attended the opening of “The Home of Football” on November 18, 2019, an event which was expected to serve as a fillip for then incumbent President John- Williams to receive a shoo-in for re-election.
“Well, this president, David John-Williams, has shown wisdom and vision because he’s investing in the future. And the results of this investment will be seen very clearly in the very near future”, said FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
Former TT world footballer and now ESPN analyst Shaka Hislop gave his views on the FIFA move in an interview with Ryan Bachoo on CNC3 TV when he said:
“All signs (pertaining to FIFA’s sudden move to install a Normalisation Committee in TT) point to only one thing. It’s that both the FIFA hierarchy and the CONCACAF leadership were in favour of the John Williams administration.
“I have my own feelings (about why this was done) …but you don’t overturn your legal democratic election because you’re disappointed that your man on the inside lost”.
It’s against this background that the September 10 surfacing of GML’s potentially FIFA-embarrassing scandal presents a possible life-line for Trinidad and Tobago whose football fabric was shot into a state of tatters by FIFA’s installation of a Normalisation Committee last March.
Yet even as Wallace’s “United TTFA” may be able to boast of “having a leg up” in its fight against FIFA because of the Bassant investigation, the local football fraternity’s fear of “Goliath” FIFA sanctions remain a key factor that’s working against TT’s “David”
In the face of FIFA’s pressure-cooker warnings delegates representing national football clubs were reported on September 1 to have signed a petition demanding that the “United TTFA” faction of the local football association drop its case against FIFA in the Trinidad and Tobago High Court.
The delegates expressed a willingness to seek a removal of Wallace as the TTFA President if necessary, indicating that “United TTFA” represented a minority view in its approach to the FIFA situation.
Former TT Sports Minister and national player Brent Sancho was quoted in the “Trinidad Express” as stating::
“This is a democracy and you should have full support of your membership to take on something that will have such damning implications. These guys (“United TTFA”) do not have the majority support. They are moving on their own accord and making decisions that will have drastic implications on football in this country”.
A report by Lasana Liburd, Editor and CEO of the “Wired 868” on-line sport publication stated that TT Sports Minister Chamfa Cudjoe had also weighed in on the issue by suggesting that the TT Government would “drastically reduce” funding for the TTFA if the local body is suspended by FIFA.
Indications from a number of radio interviews suggest that Cudjoe is quietly monitoring the situation in advance of the September 18 FIFA Annual Congress where, it is surmised by many, the questions of sanctions against Trinidad and Tobago can arise.
“United TTFA” President William Wallace has also indicated his willingness in at least one radio interview to discuss the matter.
The “battle” between the tiny twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago (Population 1.3 million approx.) and FIFA is of some significance because of TT being able to take credit for playing a role in the world of football that is significantly large in relation to its small size.
TT made a big impression on the world football by playing in the World Cup in Germany in 2006 as the smallest country by population and by geography to reach this level of the game. A number of TT-born players have since made their mark by playing with big foreign clubs.
Trinidad and Tobago citizen Austin Jack Warner has distinguished himself by serving as a Vice President of FIFA from 1997 to 2011.
While the current mood in TT suggests that most would prefer that Wallace and United TTFA would fold up their tent and walk away in peace from this fight with FIFA in service to the larger interest of TT football, there may be a lesson to be learnt from this “David and Goliath” football story.
Namely: The glory to be found in taking on the fight against the seemingly invincible giant, and the example you can set as to what is possible.
Therefore, the beleaguered and semi-exiled TTFA President Williams Wallace – a retired vice principal and president of TT’s Secondary Schools Football League – may have provided us all with valuable food for thought when he was quoted in a “Wired 868” report as saying:
“My thing is we can’t forever sit back and accept injustice and bullying, because the guy is bigger than you. He [should not be able to] get away with everything he does to you” “We can’t just give up—just like with our crime situation here in the country. We have to fight back and people have to understand that; and I hope they see it that way.
“The feeling on the ground is that something is wrong with this move from FIFA and when there is injustice, people must stand up. This is a clear case of that.”