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Photo: (Left to right) Lt Ryan Ottley (TTSL interim VP), Keith Look Loy (TTSL interim President), Minister Darryl Smith, Camara David (TTSL Secretary), Kester Lendor (TTSL interim Assistant Secretary) and Quincy Jones (TTSL interim Board member). (Courtesy TTSL)
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Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams and his board of directors face more accusations of operating in poor faith and being a law unto itself, as the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) and the Central Football Association (CFA) have complained of being snubbed by local football’s governing body.

For close to year, CFA general secretary Clynt Taylor tried unsuccessfully to replace his zone’s representative, Samuel Saunders, on the TTFA’s board of directors—a straightforward procedure according to the constitution.

While, for the fledgling Super League, it is going on four months that its 24 prospective clubs—all already TTFA affiliates—have petitioned the local football body for formal recognition. Without that endorsement, the League and everyone associated with it would be open to sanctions from FIFA.

TTSL interim president Keith Look Loy claimed the TTFA is attempting to hoodwink the public into believing that the delays are down to “process and constitutional requirements.” He suggested otherwise.

“Since January 2017, TTSL has submitted every documentation requested by TTFA,” Look Loy told Wired868. “We have satisfied every requirement of the TTFA Constitution and the laws of Trinidad and Tobago. The delay in the approval of TTSL’s membership not procedural. It is the frustration of democracy.

“The collective democratic will and right of TTSL’s twenty-two members to form their own league is being frustrated by a very small group of people at the top of the TTFA hierarchy for their own reasons.”

The National Super League was formed in 2003 and was the brainchild of All Sports Promotions director Anthony Harford. However, the competition—which was meant to be a bridge between zonal competition and the Pro League—always belonged to the TTFA and was merely run by All Sports.

The seed for the eventual breakaway of the TTSL was planted in 2015, as the local football body approved a new constitution.

“When FIFA came in 2015 and went through the whole constitutional exercise with [then TTFA president Raymond] Tim Kee, they mandated the TTFA to form a proper league with the Super League clubs,” said Look Loy, “because the Super League is really a competition and not a league. FIFA brought that to us.

“Then in November 2016, [current TTFA vice-president] Ewing Davis introduced the issue of restructuring the league and we took that bit between our teeth and ran with it.”

Look Loy tried to explain the difference between a competition and league and why the clubs felt compelled to act.

“A competition is something that we fully understood that the TTFA could decide to play or not to play [on any given year],” said Look Loy. “Last year, somebody in a bathroom decided not to hold the FA Cup and they simply didn’t. That was never explained to us.

“Similarly, they never held the Champions of Champions Cup [for zonal teams]. And they could simply decide not to have a Super League this year and we would be forced to take a year off.

“So, based on the FIFA mandate and our precarious position as a competition, we decided we would get together and form ourselves as a league.”

The fact that All Sports Promotions had a one-year contract from the TTFA which ended on 13 December 2016 and was up for review, rather than guaranteed automatic renewal, did nothing to soothe the anxiety of the clubs.

On 13 December, 13 clubs decided to take fate into their own hands and the Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) was formally created. The number of stakeholder clubs has almost doubled since.

The League intends to kick off its inaugural season on Sunday 11 June 2017 and, last month, unveiled a two year sponsorship deal with global sporting company, Umbro.

Harford, who had some health issues in 2016, said the departure of key All Sports employee, Richard Piper, to the TTFA would have left his company needing to source new administrative talent to run the competition anyway. He said he “gracefully accepted” the parting of ways from the competition he founded.

“If I am completely honest, after doing it for 14 years I am ready to give it up anyway,” said Harford. “For me, there is absolutely no issue or problem. It is just that it has evolved.”

The TTFA has not been as warm to the fledgling body so far.

After a heated meeting between the two parties last month, TTFA general secretary Justin Latapy-George issued a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on 13 March, which drew up the criteria under which the football body would allow the TTSL to operate.

Latapy-George described the TTSL as: “the entity applying for permission to administer the National Super League.”

Look Loy said he and his clubs rejected any notion that the Super League clubs were applying to run a TTFA competition. And, remarkably, the TTFA intended to charge the clubs for the right to their own competition which would remain wholly owned by the local football body.

Look Loy insisted that the TTSL wanted to be an autonomous body operating under the TTFA’s umbrella, just like the Pro League. It intended to accept nothing less than that.

Thus far, no motive has been advanced by either side to explain the TTFA’s supposedly adversarial approach.

At present, the TTFA’s constitution assures the National Super League of eight from 49 voting delegates at its elections or 16 percent of the local football electorate. It is two less than the 10 delegates afforded to the 10-club Pro League.

Should the Super League teams retain this political bargaining chip, it will remain the second largest voting bloc in local football and could be viewed as a potential headache for an incumbent TTFA president.

Also, the TTSL’s commercial gains could be viewed as a threat to the Pro League in a sport industry often starved of resources. While the Pro League’s 10 clubs play most of their games at four or five venues—all in Trinidad—and often to paltry audiences, the Super League’s 24 clubs are spread across nearly two dozen venues in the country including four in Tobago.

Guayaguayare-based club, Guaya United, has a support base which dwarfs that of most Pro League teams while Siparia United, Petrotrin Palo Seco, Matura United, Bethel United and champions FC Santa Rosa also boasted of getting hundreds of fans out for important match-ups.

John-Williams is the owner of Pro League club, W Connection, which is being run by his daughter, Renee John-Williams, in his absence. Losing a grip on the TTSL could feasibly have implications for the Pro League down the line, particularly as the top flight competition depends heavily on a government subvention that has become unreliable in recent years.

There is a similar suspicion that it suits the John-Williams-led TTFA board to ignore the CFA’s attempts to replace Saunders as its representative on local football’s decision making body.

Saunders was appointed to the TTFA board in 2015 by the CFA executive led by then president Bryan Layne, who subsequently left office in a matter of weeks. But, according to Taylor, Saunders showed no interest in dealing with the newly elected zonal executive.

“We came into office in 2015 and there was no intention then to move Saunders,” Taylor told Wired868. “But we kept sending him messages to meet with us, to join us at various events and to report back to us after board meetings. And he has never once even acknowledged our messages…

“In fact, he has never responded to us until after we voted to remove him. He has never showed that he wants to work with us. And someone told us that his position is when he is on the [TTFA] board, he is there to represent the board and not the CFA.”

The CFA wrote to the TTFA in June 2016 and informed the local football body that it wanted to replace Saunders as its representative on the board of directors.

By then, Saunders, who is an attorney, had already emerged as a key ally for the John-Williams-led administration.

Just days after John-Williams took office on 29 November 2015, Saunders was the only person outside of the new president’s slate who was appointed to a committee meant to stave off potential strike action by the Soca Warriors.

Saunders has since become a go-to-guy for the TTFA’s sticky legal situations. When the National Futsal Team threatened legal action against the local football, Saunders was put on a committee to liaise with them. And, ironically, he is also on the committee entrusted with handling the TTSL’s petition for recognition from the TTFA.

Taylor claimed that the CFA’s letters to the TTFA were either ignored or, when John-Williams did respond, responses were not copied to the Central zone and he had to rely on other members to forward them to him.

“They have not responded to us officially since June last year,” said Taylor. “Everything we hear was sent via a third party and not sent directly to us… The only thing that would happen is [former TTFA general secretary] Azaad [Khan] would acknowledge our letter and [current general secretary] Justin Latapy-George would acknowledge it. But beyond that there is nothing.”

On 13 March 2013, the frustrated CFA general secretary informed the TTFA president that he had received support for an Extraordinary General Meeting from the required 51 percent of delegates, so as to regain his body’s voice on the board.

The TTSL was named among the CFA’s backers and their quest for formal recognition is also scheduled for discussion at the EGM. However, Taylor said a source tipped him off that John-Williams allegedly intended to ignore the letter on the grounds that the TTSL was not recognised by the TTFA,

Taylor responded by having each of the TTSL’s member clubs write in to pledge their individual support.

Look Loy reiterated the TTSL’s support for the Central zone.

“More than half of TTFA members, the constitutional requirement, have called on the TTFA to call the meeting,” said Look Loy. “It is important to note here that three regional associations with representation on the TTFA board have supported the CFA petition. The fact that they should do so is a clear indication that there is dissatisfaction with the board’s handling of these two matters.”

Taylor said he was unhappy to deal with this issue in public but felt the TTFA board left him with no choice.

“We don’t like it because it is not good for football and it is not good for the image of the TTFA when one of your regional members is fighting with you,” Taylor told Wired868. “We were trying to do it quietly but, seeing as how we were being ignored, we had to involve the media. None of us were happy about having to use this means to get a representative on the board like everyone else.

“If we had a choice we wouldn’t do this but what else can we do?”

Look Loy urged John-Williams and his fellow board members to carefully consider their role in local football as they go about their duties.

“The TTFA must decide if its mandate is to develop football or to kill it,” said Look Loy. “If we are not granted approval urgently, 22 of the country’s top clubs will be forced to forget football for 2017. TTSL is of the view that what applies for the TT Pro League should be good enough to apply to the TT Super League. If their 10 club league is recognised, so too should our 24 club league be.

“We want the MOU to be signed urgently so we could proceed with our business, as our operations are being stymied by the lack of official TTFA membership.”

Harford said he is confused by the TTFA’s position.

“I don’t think the TTFA has a choice,” said Harford. “I think they do have to accept the Super League and they should accept the Super League. They cannot afford to let 23 or 24 clubs not play football. That is nonsense.”

The question is when will the TTFA accept the new body.

Wired868 asked John-Williams for the TTFA’s position on the petitions from the Super League clubs and the Central FA and a date for the proposed AGM.

John-Williams, who is believed to be in Guyana with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, did not respond up until the time of publication.

The current TTFA board of directors comprises: David John-Williams (president), Joanne Salazar, Ewing Davis and Allan Warner (vice-presidents), Samuel Saunders (Central FA), Sherwyn Dyer (Eastern Counties Football Union), Karanjabari Williams (Northern FA), Richard Quan Chan (Southern FA), Anthony Moore (Tobago FA), Joseph Taylor (Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association), Sharon O’Brien (Women’s League Football), Wayne Cunningham (Eastern FA) and Sheldon Phillip (TT Pro League).