Wed, Aug

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) vice-president Joanne Salazar.

I95.5FM sport reporter Andre Baptiste stands accused of operating like a hired gun for beleaguered Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams, as the latter’s attempts to survive an internal enquiry appear to have taken an explosive turn.

John-Williams, who was elected to office on 29 November 2015, has failed to provide answers to a slew of financial questions from the TTFA’s membership over the past six months, including queries related to work on the US$2.25 million Home of Football project, legal fees, coaching salaries and a deal with I95.5FM—which appeared to have been done without Board knowledge or approval.

However, a threat by Board member and Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president, Keith Look Loy, to initiate a Police investigation into John-Williams’ financial management of the local football body—if stakeholders’ questions remain unanswered—appeared to have provoked a two-pronged response from “Team DJW.”

First, TTFA vice-president and John-Williams’ former slate colleague, Joanne Salazar, issued an eye-raising email to the Board, via general secretary Justin Latapy-George, in which she not only refused to answer some questions—raised by Veteran Footballers Foundation (VFFOTT) president Selby Browne—but appeared to be directing the president about the queries he should tiptoe around.

“Did the Board of Directors of the TTFA provide approval for the unprecedented TV Rights negotiations of the TTFA?” asked Browne, in one question about the football body’s legal impasse with United States television network, Telemundo.

Salazar’s response was written in bold, with red ink and then underlined:

“David, you need to decide what you are going to say if this is asked—please keep it short and to the point.”

Salazar’s replies, including multiple prompts regarding where John-Williams should tread carefully, were relayed to Board members by Latapy-George. And, according to sources, there was no follow-up missive to suggest the draft was issued in error.

Arguably, Salazar’s answers encapsulated the tone of John-Williams’ executive, as she gave obscure responses, suggested members did not deserve certain answers and misrepresented other incidents.

When asked to name the signatories of the TTFA’s four active bank accounts, Salazar said: “A combination of officers and directors of the Board.”

It is uncertain who would be considered “officers […] of the Board” while there have been over a dozen Board directors over the last two years including John-Williams and Salazar. Yet, she did not give a single name.

On the question of why the TTFA erroneously claimed rental expenses at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in a court matter with Ramesh Ramdhan last year, and if the football body had attempted to mislead the High Court, Salazar responded: “This matter has been addressed and resolved.”

It certainly had not been addressed and resolved at the level of the football membership.

Browne also asked the TTFA to list “all individuals and companies that have received any remunerative compensation for services rendered since January 2016 to present.”

Salazar, a vice-president at Phoenix Park Gas, did not think the TTFA’s members—and/or Board directors—deserved to know which companies John-Williams had entered into financial relationships with, on behalf of the football body.

“The information is not for public consumption,” stated Salazar, “making it publicly available cannot be achieved without violating the expectation of confidentiality of the person concerned.”

Browne asked too about the TTFA’s hosting of over two dozen Caribbean Football Union (CFU) officials on 17 and 18 June 2016—a week before John-Williams announced his ill-fated campaign to become CFU president.

Ostensibly, the meeting was about the formation of a Caribbean Professional League (CPL), which could also benefit John-Williams personally as owner of the W Connection football club. Yet, the invoices from that meeting went to the TTFA and, although the football president claimed to have financial support from UEFA and FIFA, it is uncertain if the money spent by the local body was ever reimbursed in part or full.

Salazar claimed, without an explanation, that the CFU meeting—in which the TTFA paid for airfare, hotel and meals for at least 25 officials—fell within the “ordinary business of the TTFA” since it was a “milestone” for Caribbean football.

(Notwithstanding the fact that, after John-Williams was defeated in the CFU polls, the Caribbean club competition was not formally raised again).

Even more remarkable, though, was Salazar’s response to whether the CPL meetings were approved by the TTFA Board.

“Yes, the Board of Directors were aware of the planned session,” said Salazar. “No, the relevant Board meeting was not recorded, as none of the TTFA Board meetings are recorded. The event was funded by FIFA and CONCACAF, as agreed.”

Salazar’s response was untrue and contradicted statements she and John-Williams made during a I95.5FM programme with myself on 7 July 2016.

At the time, John-Williams pointed to an email on 13 June 2016, which showed that the CPL conference was on the agenda for an upcoming Board meeting. However, that Board meeting was cancelled and, as I pointed out then, the TTFA president despatched invitations to the CFU presidents on 3 June—a full 10 days before he even put the item on the local agenda.

So how could Salazar, two years later, claim to have Board approval?

Even as Board members mulled over Salazar’s missive, an audio promo for a two-hour Baptiste show on I95.5FM, on the eve of the TTFA’s next EGM, turned the heat up again.

Baptiste, who refers to himself as “The Fearless One”, named John-Williams, Look Loy, Browne, Northern Football Association (NFA) president Anthony Harford and former TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee; and suggested he had “signed documentary evidence, emails, letters and recordings” involving some or all of the aforementioned persons.

“The state of football,” Baptiste claimed, “is [being] threatened once again.”

Look Loy, Browne and Harford have been John-Williams’ most vocal critics while Tim Kee, according to sources, has been quietly canvassing members in a bid to reclaim power.

The I95.5FM programme is due to run from 7pm to 9pm on 12 June.

Browne, Harford and Look Loy suggested collusion on the part of Baptiste and John-Williams.

“I find it very surprising the choice of the programme date,” said Harford, who said Baptiste did not invite him to defend himself against any allegations. “[…] You are supposedly going to buss files and the people named are those who have been asking David hard and legitimate questions, including the question of his relationship with I95.5.

“We have been told—and it was confirmed to us—that the TTFA or Mr John-Williams has been paying for travel and negotiating rights fee waivers for I95.5 to cover all their football games [for the last two years]. And other stations are saying that they carry football for years and were not allowed to bid.

“[…] Nobody is against I95.5 but show us the contract; because Board members are saying they know nothing about that.”

I95.5FM was paid to cover all of T&T’s football matches, inclusive of travel and accommodation, rather than the other way around.

Look Loy was dismissive of Baptiste’s upcoming show, which he referred to as a desperate, smear campaign. And he insisted that it would not save John-Williams from accounting to members.

“That show is prompted by a desperate man and will be delivered by another desperate man singing for his supper,” Look Loy told Wired868. “This is what that contract or arrangement between DJW and I95.5 is all about. It was never discussed or approved by the TTFA Board and is intended to make a once respected media house [become] the protector of a despot’s irreparably tarnished image.

“So in his desperation, the despot intends to apply a scorched earth policy. But after all is said and done, he had better produce the documents and verifications that I, Selby and the general meeting have demanded for one year now—or he will face consequences.”

Next Wednesday’s EGM marks the sixth successive general meeting by the John-Williams-led administration in which the controversial administrator will try to pass the financial statement for his first year in office.

John-Williams initially planned to travel to Moscow this weekend for next week’s FIFA congress and World Cup bid vote—despite having missed last week’s EGM on medical grounds. However, he is understood to have changed his mind, after Look Loy’s threat to involve the Police.

Although Salazar attempted to answer questions posed by Browne in July 2017, there was no such response to Look Loy’s queries last December—which included requests for transparency on construction work at the Home of Football.

Wired868 understands too that Board member Richard Quan Chan will take John-Williams’ place for the trip to Russia this weekend, and should accompany Salazar, Latapy-George and first vice-president Ewing Davis on the flight out of the country. It is uncertain why Quan Chan, who is also the Southern Football Association (SFA) president, was selected for the expedition.

Coincidentally, Quan Chan, Salazar and Davis are the entire TTFA Tendering Committee for the Home of Football project. It means only John-Williams will be in Trinidad next week to answer questions on the controversial venture on 13 June.

First, almost certainly, would be the spectacle of Baptiste’s radio show, which has appeared to match the will of the football president on almost ever matter since the surprise sacking of former Soca Warriors coach, Stephen Hart, in late 2016.