Even from a distance, it seems impossible not to gawk at the mangled train wreck that has unfolded at the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association and not be overcome with a sense of bewilderment.
In a press conference earlier this month, then newly elected president William Wallace became the latest in a long line of TTFA bosses to firmly plant allegations of widespread corruption at the feet of the previous tenants. The new head honcho pointed to unpaid statutory deductions, bounced checks, a faulty finance structure as partial contributors to the body accruing a towering $US7,370,990 (TT$50,000,000). Wallace also pointed to an incomplete Home of Football in Couva, which he claimed was shown to have structural flaws and lacking proper insurance.
In the midst of the doom and gloom, Wallace then went on to paint a much rosier outlook for the future of the TTFA, after claiming the newly appointed administration had already taken major steps to alleviate some of the issues. A settlement had been reached with television commentator Selwyn Melville regarding the issue of who owns the ‘Soca Warriors’ (Now famous nickname of the Trinidad and Tobago Men's Senior team) and the announcement of an unspecified memorandum of understanding that would clear the debt in ‘two to three years’. The president pointed out that the new body had secured a TT$25-million apparel deal, secured a broadcast and digital rights partner, sealed a domestic sponsor and secured a sponsor for the FA.
Good so far, but crucially, Wallace claimed that the work of a pair of accountants posted within his administration’s new internal finance structure satisfied a recent delegation of FIFA and Concacaf officials and that a better relationship could be expected going forward. The bodies have long been at odds regarding the financial state of the local football body and had delayed its annual subvention. A little over two weeks later FIFA disbanded the Board of the TTFA and appointed a normalization committee to take over affairs. What on earth is going on? Nobody has explained to date.
The timing of FIFA's intervention seems strange, deciding to disband a newly formed executive that seems to not only have implemented structural reform but also pledges for financial support. A perceived sense of chumminess with the former administration, whether real or imagined put this in an even worse light and could be a real black eye for a Gianni Infantino-led organisation, which claims to have taken on the mantle of crusaders against corruption.
The response of the former TTFA members is, however, also interesting.
Any claims about a violation of sovereign and democratically elected officials certainly does not fly as when it comes to football the twin-island republic falls directly under the governance of FIFA itself and not the state. In several instances, countries have been suspended from the organisation for violating just that principle. The charter and ordinances that govern all 211 national associations of which T&T are a part, and the particular article that was quoted, gives them the specific right to intervene in the affairs of a member nation. Normalisation committees are not after all aberrations on the global football landscape with Ghana, Egypt, Pakistan and Namibia among a few of those that have received such ‘assistance’ in recent years. This isn't even the first time this has happened in the Caribbean, with FIFA taking over the Guyana Football Federation and putting in a normalisation committee for a little over a year.
In other words, Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president Randy Harris was right, even if not popular, in pointing out that the appointment of normalisation committees is the prerogative of FIFA and can happen to any of the 211 national associations. With all members agreeing to and playing under those statues it is difficult to see how it can be argued otherwise.
Secondly, it’s hard to imagine supporting the argument that a measure put in place to mitigate against damage the TTFA has admitted exists, is unfair, and to do so with the question, 'why now?'. FIFA should perhaps have intervened long ago, but few could argue with firefighters attempting to save any part of a house that has been engulfed in flames for a prolonged period. We would not advocate them letting it burn to the ground.
Though they may not be required to, FIFA should, in the interest of the transparency they have long sought, give more details on the specifics of these particular circumstances.