Sat, Jan

In a world (cup) of their own. Will Trinidad be left playing Tobago?

The fate of Trinidad and Tobago’s 2020 World Cup qualifying campaign currently looks to be laying in the hands of a Port of Spain High Court judge rather than at the feet of a team on the pitch.

Yesterday Judge Carol Gobin conducted a four-hour virtual hearing that will decide whether a case brought by the former Trinidad and Tobago FA board saw them illegally removed from office by a FIFA Normalisation committee.

FIFA argue that the complaint should be either dismissed or referred back to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

In essence it is a pretty clear case of who has jurisdiction over football on the islands. The one thing that former president William Wallace and his former vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip – all replaced by the Normalisation Committee – can guarantee is that FIFA will not back down. One wonders if they fully understand this and what will happen should they win their case.

Well, it isn’t difficult to work out. FIFA would likely suspend the TTFA, and that would mean no team in 2022 World Cup qualification that starts in three months. After all, if you refuse to recognise the governing body’s role of governing the game, how can you expect to play in its competition? Would they respect those rules even? As one person put it, at this rate Trinidad will be playing Tobago…

FIFA removed Wallace and his crew – and it extends beyond the named parties in the court case – following real concern about the financial management of what was already a financially beleaguered TTFA. After three months Wallace had no believable plan, no bank account (the court froze it), and no money. Staff were unpaid, few teams were playing, and one of his first acts had been to close the only asset the TTFA had, the newly opened House of Football.

More importantly, Wallace had no relationship with the governing body nor seemed to make any attempt to create one. The view of Wallace and his people seemed to be that the FIFA grants were handouts that came with no strings attached and were their birthright. Wallace had fastracked the TTFA into financial oblivion.

What Wallace did have was a series of highly dubious and in some cases fabricated sponsorship promises that propelled his team and their buddies through the election and to power. He also had the prospect of a cut of a land development deal around the Arima Velodrome – property developer or football federation? The Arima questions remain unanswered but point towards the type of personal enrichment scam that Trinidad knows only too well (Football’s Most Wanted, former Concacaf president Jack Warner, still owns the FIFA financed Concacaf Centre of Excellence complex – allegedly a gift to Warner).

All these issues have been covered in Insideworldfootball in recent months – neither Wallace nor his cohorts have responded to questions or answered them adequately in their preferred and unequivocally supportive local media. It is a sad – some might say dishonest – indictment of both. Dishonest is a word that has been used to describe Insideworldfootball when it broke many of these stories, but really, who is the dishonest media here? The Wallace contracts have been there to see, from forged letters of support, to dodgy kit deals,  to dubious and untransparent contracts for land development. Wallace, his TTFA board and his national team coach Terry Fenwick had become a gift that keep on giving for media.

And then there is always the spectre of Warner in a country whose judicial system has steadfastedly protected him from extradition to the US to face multiple corruption charges from bribery to embezzlement to money laundering. One wonders if it is that example that motivated Wallace’s team. After all, Warner got away with filching millions upon millions and members of Wallace’s team and backroom string pullers like Keith Look Loy are closely linked to Warner.

The one thing about Warner that does give him credit was that he genuinely loved football and wanted his islands to do well. However, it does bring to mind the judge’s comment in the Harry Redknapp case when he learned that he had a dog with a £250K Monaco bank account. He said (paraphrased): “You say you loved your dog Mr Redknapp. I would love my dog too if it had a bank account in Monaco.” Jack appears to have accounts all over the Caribbean and perhaps it will take his removal from the Caribbean for football associations like the TTFA to understand that the football world has changed since 2015.

Wallace and co’s legacy for football in Trinidad and Tobago could turn out to be no football. But for them, was it ever really about football? Who knows, they never answer the big questions.


Blatter says ‘untouchable’ Infantino should face FIFA Ethics probe

August 14 – Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has launched another attack on his successor Gianni Infantino, claiming the present incumbent “thinks he is untouchable” and should have an ethics inquiry opened against him immediately.

Infantino is facing a criminal probe in Switzerland by a special prosecutor over those infamous multiple meetings with departing Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber.

“Mr Infantino is in a situation where he thinks he is untouchable,” Blatter told AFP.

Blatter has long held a grudge against the man who ousted him and says that just as he had to face an ethics investigation, so should Infantino.

FIFA’s Ethics Committee, says the ageing Blatter, whose own six-year ban expires next year, “should immediately open an investigation and disclose it as they did against me”.

Blatter also cast doubt, as many observers have, over the independence of the ethics committee which underwent an overhaul when Infantino took over.  Blatter said the current make-up  “is not independent” because “Infantino has locked the control bodies and this is very worrying”.

FIFA’s Safe Caribbean Home: ‘The Caribbean Is A Vote Farm For FIFA – They Don’t Care About Our Football’
By Louis Young (worldfootballindex).

May 2020

In November 2019, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) democratically elected William Wallace as president, replacing David John-Williams.

Following a fact-finding mission into the operations of the TTFA, just four months into Wallace’s term, FIFA announced their decision to impose a normalisation committee which would run the TTFA’S daily affairs.

“The mission found that extremely low overall financial management methods, combined with massive debt, have resulted in the TTFA facing a very real risk of insolvency and illiquidity,” said a FIFA statement.

“Such a situation is putting at risk the organisation and development of football in the country and corrective measures need to be applied urgently.”

One question directed towards FIFA following this action referred to their previous awareness of the TTFA’s financial woes, which have been public for many years. FIFA even froze the accounts of the previous administration, with David John-Williams as president, multiple times.

WFi‘s Louis Young spoke to Lasana Liburd who, along with other investigative journalists, co-authored the book Korruption im Sport which focused on the global phenomenon of corruption in sport.

Lasana is the founder and editor of Wired868 and has covered this story involving FIFA and the TTFA extensively.

Louis Young: Seeing as the financial woes of the TTFA have been public for a long time, why has FIFA suddenly taken the action to suspend a newly elected committee and impose a normalisation committee?

Lasana Liburd: “That would be a good question for Gianni Infantino, and it is for the FIFA bureau to answer really.

“It is true that the TTFA’s financial issues are not new at all. However, it is also true that the financial state the TTFA are in, is three times worse now due to the last administration that was run by David John-Williams, who voted for Infantino in 2016.

“You would say that the financial situation and the handling of the finances has been worse in the last administration, as opposed to this one which is only three months old.”

LY: Infantino and John-Williams had a lot of support from one another and had a fairly amicable relationship, is that right?

LL: “Yes, the relationship for those two dates back to when John-Williams became the first person from the Caribbean to announce support for Infantino.

“A week before the last TTFA election, Infantino was in Trinidad and announced John-Williams as his teammate and praised John-Williams for doing a great job, in his opinion, and asked Trinidad and Tobago to support John-Williams in the next election just a week later.”

LY: Do you feel FIFA has not approached this situation with the intentions of improving the football of the country?

LL: “Well, in the years before John-Williams was elected, Trinidad and Tobago went to two Gold Cup quarterfinals.

“The women’s national team came within a play-off match, away against Ecuador in 2014, from getting to the Women’s World Cup.

“There is no yardstick you can use that football in Trinidad and Tobago has improved in any way when every national team has gone backwards.

“When John-Williams was elected, we were 52nd in the World FIFA rankings and when he left, we were 106th.

“After he was elected, we set new records in every way, like longest period without scoring a goal, longest period without winning a match, longest losing streak…

“The only team we beat in 2019 was Anguilla, the worst-ranked team in football. So when people say that FIFA has not shown an interest in the football here, you’d have to agree. On the basis of these things here that would be the case.”

LY: The newly elected president, William Wallace, has signalled his intention to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), claiming this intervention by FIFA was unlawful and unwarranted. Can you talk me through what part of this intervention he and other members of the board find unlawful and unwarranted?

LL: “Well if you look at the FIFA statutes, for a member association to be suspended or expelled they have to go through the entire membership, which is made up 210 FIFA member associates.

“Implementing a normalisation committee is effectively wiping out the board of a members association. Somehow the seven-person FIFA bureau can decide that themselves.

“To me this is a violation of the spirit of the FIFA constitution. The statutes mean that all 210 members should be involved in the suspension of a country’s membership. So why does this FIFA bureau have this right? The clause is extremely broad regarding stepping into a country’s membership, so it allows them to step in almost at will, as long as Infantino can get three people around the table that agree with him.

“This is something other member associations and the world of football should look at, because this is too much power for Infantino to have.”

LY: From your perspective, and your own research on this topic, does the question become less about the financial operations of the TTFA, and more about the actions of Infantino? To what degree have Infantino’s actions in this situation crossed a line where it looks like a personal act against the TTFA?

LL: “CONCACAF has 35 member nations. That means 35 votes in FIFA. The Caribbean has 25 votes out of the 35 so we are by far the majority in CONCACAF.

“South America has less than half votes with only 10. The Caribbean itself has 25. Politically, we have seen the importance of the Caribbean to FIFA under Sepp Blatter, Joao Havelange, and so on.

“I believe that FIFA’s interest in the Caribbean is all that it has ever been. Votes. That is it. The Caribbean is a vote farm for FIFA and nothing more. They don’t care about football in the Caribbean, they never did. And certainly not under Infantino. That is why he would praise the work of a president of whose team is doing worse than it ever has in its history.

“I believe that when Infantino looks at the Caribbean, with a personal attachment one way or the other, I think that the relationship is strictly geopolitical. Votes.

“I think that the rest of the world looking at FIFA’s action here need to ask what exactly they want FIFA to be. We have seen FIFA’s image over the years and the cost of it.

“Do they want FIFA to treat a vital part in the world like Trinidad and Tobago like this, or do they want to focus on improving [the] sport?”

LY: Is part of the question regarding Infantino’s clear disrespect and lack of interest in progressing the football in the Caribbean, and specifically Trinidad and Tobago, related to the ‘Home of Football‘ FIFA wanted to build in Trinidad?

LL: “Well, the Home of Football is finished. It was Infantino who opened it. It is totally useless.

“It isn’t properly comforted or heated. It isn’t even properly insured. Infantino and [FIFA Vice-President Victor] Montagliani were posing on beds there, but right now it’s a sham and a joke.

“But going back to Infantino, as a journalist, I cannot be sanctioned for simply speaking my mind. When Blatter felt there was talk all over the world about the way he was able to run the body by giving large quantitates of money to member associations, that seemed like something that needed to be looked at.

“When Infantino was elected, he tripled the money that went to member associations without a clear oversight of what they did [with it]. I think this is most evident with Trinidad and Tobago, where the money has been spent, debt soared, but the team has not performed to the way they should. Yet he was happy with what was happening.

“I think one of the first things that Infantino did as president was close down the committee in charge of anti-racism. So in my personal view, there is a lot that Infantino needs to take account for in regards to his actions.

“Just look at the situation with Trinidad and Tobago and ask yourself the question: ‘Is Infantino the man to clean up football?’ It is Trinidad and Tobago today but it could be anyone tomorrow.”

LY: William Wallace has spoken about going to the CAS. How successful do you think Trinidad and Tobago could be in their appeal to revoke the decision?

LL: “Well I believe CAS is always weighted more towards member associations than individual teams, athletes, and member associations.

“Also, the FIFA statutes allow these far-reaching powers in the FIFA bureau to decide where a normalization committee goes. So I would say FIFA have the advantage, but it is certainly not impossible.

“Essentially, I don’t think Trinidad and Tobago can win this without the support of other member associations.

“Football does not belong to Infantino; it doesn’t belong to the seven people in the FIFA bureau, or the four people who voted against Trinidad and Tobago. It belongs to all member associations. And if people see this injustice in the same way as I do, then they need to go to Infantino and ask him what he is doing in the name of FIFA. Is this behaviour something the world wants to see continue?

“The least I would say is, let the 210 members decide whether Trinidad and Tobago’s election last November should stand or not.”

One significant conclusion to take from this situation is the power that has been displayed by FIFA, as well as the clear geopolitical investment Infantino has, specifically in the Caribbean region of CONCACAF.

As Lasana Liburd states, as long as Infantino can get three people around the table at the FIFA bureau to agree with him then, the FIFA statutes, as they are currently written, allow him to step into any member association he wants.

By implementing a normalization committee, FIFA have essentially signalled that they can remove an entire member association, manage their daily operations, and conduct new elections for them, without even consulting the 210 members.

We have to look at this action by Infantino and other member associations have to ask themselves; is Infantino the right man to clean up football?

Moreover, is this the sort of behaviour that we should just expect from the most powerful man in football governance?