(From left to right) TTFA President William Wallace. Photo:TTFA Media/Allan V Crane | FIFA President Gianni Infantino. Photo: FIFA
Port of Spain – October 1, 2020
by Rudolph Williams
Football fans who now miss attending their favourite matches in large crowds because of COVID – 19 restrictions can follow an interesting side-line game in which FIFA, the world football authority, takes on minuscule Trinidad and Tobago in an on-going contest of un-equals where the mighty has been caught stumbling.
The awkward situation has arisen out of a feisty challenge being put up by the twin-island Caribbean state (population 1.3 million approximately) against the suspension of this country from world football by FIFA.
Football is the main game which the people here deeply identify with and find a passionate expression of their sense of national pride. TT’s biggest moment in the history of the game was its qualification as the world’s smallest country by population and size (population 1.3 million approx.) for World Cup Germany in 2006
This signal honour was later eclipsed by Iceland (population: 300,000 approx.) which qualified for Russia 2016.
On September 24, FIFA suspended TT, ostensibly for breaching its rules, but under a cloud of concern and suspicion by some observer here about the organization’s modus operandi.
Interestingly, the suspension was imposed after about six months of wrangling between FIFA and the newly elected executive of the TTFA (Trinidad and Tobago Football Association), this country’s governing football body.
It was a period of great tension between the two groups in the aftermath of FIFA’s obvious disappointment with events surrounding elections for a new TTFA executive on November 24, 2019.
In a dramatic turn of events on that fateful day, FIFA’s highly favored TTFA President David John-Williams – a big businessman in TT – was unceremoniously booted out of office by a former Secondary Schools Vice-Principal named William Wallace.
Against a background of persistent probing by the new Wallace-led TTFA executive into “suspicious” dealings by former president into the construction of a FIFA-financed “Home of Football”, FIFA made what many saw as a highly unusual and unwarranted move.
On March 17, 2020 – faced with reports of questionable spending by the new TTFA coupled with probes into its previous president’s activities – FIFA unceremoniously swooped down on the four-month Wallace-led executive and installed a Normalization Committee to handle the affairs of TT football.
In its intent to annihilate the neophyte Wallace-led executive, FIFA met the stumbling block that would change the direction and dynamics of the relationship between the world football authority and what had been normally expected to be just another small, financially-dependent, subservient member nation.
In a response that caused great consternation to FIFA, Wallace’s “United TTFA” riskily departed from FIFA law and tradition by deflecting its original March 17 appeal for legitimacy away from FIFA’s statutorily-authorized Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) and applying to the Trinidad and Tobago High Court for redress on May 18.
This is the story now quietly unfolding on the field of world political football as the parties prepare to present their arguments on different occasions in both the Switzerland-based CAS and in the Trinidad and Tobago High Court later this year.
However, the heart of the story continues to throb in events surrounding “The Home of Football”, a FIFA-financed football-hospitality hotel constructed in Couva, central Trinidad as what many saw as a pet, private project of then president David John-Williams whose tenure lasted from 2015-2019.
Evidence of FIFA’s molly-coddling with the then TTFA incumbent president was obvious in the way FIFA Gianni Infantino laid his neck on the line for John-Williams when, at the grand official opening of the “Home of Football” .
On November 18, 2019, just six days prior to TTFA elections for a new executive, Infantino told the distinguished group, including TT Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, that had gathered for the opening of the eagerly-anticipated project:
“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”
The toppling of the John-Williams team from TTFA leadership on November 24, 2019 and its persistence in probing the former president was seen as many as the cause for FIFA to rush to install the Normalisation Committee.
This was echoed by Shaka Hislop, a former TT world footballer and current ESPN analyst in an interview with CNC3 TV’s Ryan Bachoo.
“All signs (pertaining to FIFA’s sudden move to install a Normalization 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”
To compound FIFA’s image problem, a report surfacing about the project which had already failed to shoo- in John-Williams back into office, began posing a major threat of embarrassment to the world respected football authority.
On September 9 , Guardian Media Limited (GML) Lead Investigator Mark Bassant offered “forensic evidence” to support charges 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.
It’s against this background that while the proverbial story of David challenging Goliath has not made world headlines, it triggered the concern of some persons here whose opinion have sway in the country and possibly in the region.
“ I Cannot Breathe”
Reverend Dr Iva Gloudon, a former senior TT sports administrator and former TT Ambassador ferociously attacked both FIFA and Infantino in a letter published in the on-line sport paper “Wire 868” on September 24.
“Shame on you, Mr Infantino! I CANNOT BREATHE!”, Gludon shouted as she drew a parallel between FIFA’s actions against TT with the killing of George Floyd, a black American man who suffocated under the heel of a white policeman in Minneapolis in May, 2020.
“You represent the worst of what sport has become: a mighty conglomerate which is focused on making money; wielding power and imposing your superiority and power on the athletes and fans who have now become mere pawns and no longer the central players in sport…”
She also used the issue to cast aspersions on FIFA’s leadership style by stating:
“Good leaders do not wield power just because they have power. Good leaders do not demand that their subjects bow to their every whim and fancy.
Good leaders do not demand that we go to a court that we cannot afford and which is certainly prejudiced towards us smaller nations”.
According to the Reverend: “So, the mighty Fifa is bigger than prime ministers, presidents, ministers of sport, athletes and, I daresay, God? Your laws, articles and clauses can be executed and applied in all situations without regard for human beings and the diversity of peoples?”
Kwesi Attiba, a popular talk-show host on Radio 1 95.5 added fire by likening the move by FIFA to a mind-set throw back of the European colonizer mentality of the days of slavery.
“This looks like (an attack of) the 500-year old white pandemic (of European colonization”, he said on September 25.
One cruel note of irony which was not lost to a number of radio show hosts was the fact the auspicious day which FIFA had chosen to unleash its whip of suspension on Trinidad and Tobago’s back.
That fateful day, September 24, marked TT’s celebration of its 44th Anniversary as a democratic republic freeing itself from the last shackles of British slavery.
So what’s the current state of play in this political football game of unequal adversaries?
There now appears to be a subsiding of the initial rage of interest groups which saw the moves by the new Wallace-led TTFA as placing TT football in serious jeopardy.
People appear to have become mainly watchful, perhaps with a sense of optimism that matters will eventually resolved in TT’s favour and without FIFA losing too much face.
Court of Arbitration
In this regard, indicator of hope for an amicable solution may be gleaned from the following developments:
- FIFA’s discontinuance of its appeal against the lawsuit filed by the TTFA before Justice Carol Gobin filed on May 18 in the Trinidad and Tobago High Court seeking the disbandment of the Normalisation Committee;
- The new willingness by FIFA’s Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to give the TTFA a second chance for a hearing after its original rejection on March 17;
- The agreement by CONCACAF (FIFA’s Caribbean “subsidiary”) to shift the deadline for allowing Trinidad and Tobago to hold its place in the CONCACAF 2021 Gold Cup from September 28 to December 18.
By then, it is speculated, the matter should be resolved.
As the proud people of Trinidad and Tobago watch and wait in confident expectation of a positive result, they can take courage from a former TT national football team captain, Clayton Morris who waxed philosophical on the issue when he said in an article by the “Trinidad Express” published September 27:
Morris sees TT playing an important part in a bigger picture when he noted:
“I think that it is something that augurs well for us going into the future. I think a lot of smaller countries, like in Africa and those places, would take strength from the position that we just took against FIFA”.
He also felt happy that the GML investigation which spurred on a police investigation, would help further “the accountability factor”
in TT football.
As a people and country which cannot possibly imagine itself standing forever standing on the side-lines of world football, citizens here and in the diaspora will be watching and waiting.
Such a wait can only be filled with a sense of confident expectation and burning optimism that this temporarily troubling FIFA versus TT problem will be amicably resolved with a win-win result as both sides emerge unscathed and with full dignity from this noble battle in the beautiful game of football.