The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) traditionally depends on funding from two main sources to carry out its operations: international governing body, Fifa, and the Ministry of Sport—via the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT).
Besieged TTFA president William Wallace could potentially lose both patrons with just one vote, on the eve of the Fifa Congress on 18 September.
Fifa secretary general Fatma Samoura advised that, unless Wallace withdraws a High Court case against the Zurich-based body by 16 September, it will initiate the process to formally suspend the TTFA at the upcoming congress.
For the suspension to be ratified, Fifa president Gianni Infantino must get 75 percent of its 211 member associations—at least 160 MAs—to agree to bench the Soca Warriors.
Infantino and his team are believed to be canvassing diligently to get the requisite number of backers, including from among the Caribbean’s 25 full member associations. However it is not necessarily cut and dry.
While Fifa expects to get the support of the Caribbean nations to admonish one of its colleagues, there is a hint that some countries less enamoured by Infantino at present might use the impasse to embarrass the president, who is facing criminal charges in his homeland of Switzerland.
Do Wallace and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Susan Joseph-Warrick and Sam Phillip—whose defiance of Fifa earned the initial support of High Court Judge Carol Gobin on 13 August—hold their nerve and risk suspension in the face of Infantino’s bullying tactics?
Minister of Sport Shamfa Cudjoe yesterday raised the stakes higher still. If the TTFA is suspended, Wallace can expect little more financial support than what the likes of the scrabble and ballroom dancing associations get by on.
“There are 54 recognised sporting disciplines [under the Ministry of Sport] including bodies like Scrabble and Ballroom Dancing,” Cudjoe told Wired868. “Football is among 12 sporting bodies that qualify for higher investment under SporTT and which we work with to help their athletes to attain the highest possible level within the world.
“[If they are suspended] there certainly will not be that level of investment we put in right now, which is to get them to the highest international level of their sport, following a certain growth path.
“[…] You can’t feel you will turn your back on the funding and support from Fifa in this guava season and expect the taxpayers to support you. That will not be happening.”
Sports Company chairman Douglas Camacho echoed Cudjoe’s view. The Ministry of Sport puts a dozen ‘special’ sport bodies under the SporTT for support, but Camacho said that one must be ‘in good standing with your international governing body’ and have ‘a legitimate expectation of making it to the top level’ to qualify for the privilege.
“As the chairman of the Sports Company, I would support anyone having the opportunity to go to the highest level of the international game,” said Camacho. “Anyone who doesn’t have that aspiration should not fall under the Sports Company.”
He suggested that government funding offered to domestic football competitions like the Pro League would also end, with diminished support going instead to the grassroots game.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Sport held an online discussion on ‘the way forward for football in Trinidad and Tobago’ and invited Wallace and his vice-presidents, Fifa-appointed normalisation committee chairman Robert Hadad and several football stakeholders including: acting Pro League chairman Brent Sancho, Women’s League of Football (WoLF) general secretary Jamilya Muhammad, acting Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) president Phillip Fraser, Morvant Caledonia United co-founder Jamaal Shabazz and former TTFA president and W Connection president David John-Williams.
Neither Wallace nor his vice-presidents attended.
“Some of the people at the meeting said it was disrespectful that none of them attended,” said Camacho.
Cudjoe said that, based on what she was told by stakeholders at the meeting, the non-appearance of Wallace and his colleagues may have been a deliberate snub or ‘boycott’.
“It was the right and proper opportunity for them to speak on their plans,” said Cudjoe. “Should they win a battle and lose the war, what is their plan for football?”
Wallace said he was invited to the Ministry of Sport’s discussion via a phone call at 10am on Thursday. He said he was awaiting an emailed invitation with the meeting’s agenda before he decided whether to attend.
“I received a call at 10am [on Thursday] and was told that an invitation would be sent,” Wallace told Wired868. “Nothing came to my email. However, late that evening in a discussion with someone, they told me to check my spam mail; and the invitation was there.”
Cudjoe, who forwarded proof of her staff’s attempts to reach Wallace, was not convinced by the former Carapichaima East Secondary vice-principal’s explanation.
“My deputy PS contacted Wallace and spoke to him and them sent him an email,” said Cudjoe. “At about 4pm, when we recognised he and his vice-presidents were not present, she called him again and sent him Whats App messages. He did not respond to any until much later. So that talk about spam is a really strange claim.”
On Friday evening, Wallace wrote to the Ministry of Sport to say that he is unavailable to meet the minister due to ‘legal advice’. The TTFA’s legal team is headed by Dr Emir Crowne and Matthew Gayle.
“Based on legal advice, unfortunately, it would be inappropriate for us to meet with the minister at this point in time,” stated Wallace, who complained earlier this year about Cudjoe’s perceived reluctance to meet him, “to have any discussions pertaining to a matter presently before our honourable courts. I do hope the minister understands.”
The minister does not understand.
“At the end of the day, it seems they are adamant about going forward with the case—but it is a selfish move since it doesn’t redound to the benefit of our athletes,” said Cudjoe. “In a recent radio interview, Mr Wallace said it doesn’t matter if we lose two or three years [to suspension]. I think that is a very unfortunate position for the people who rely on football as an income generator.
“[…] Two to three years might not be a long time for someone like Wallace, but it is a very long time if you are an athlete. At the end of the day, it is not the managers who suffer; it is the players.”
In the absence of Wallace and his colleagues—Super League president and United TTFA member Keith Look Loy said he was not invited—the meeting was described as almost universally in condemnation of the TTFA officers’ court action. Selby Browne, who heads the Veteran Footballers Foundation (VFFOTT), led the charge while Hadad also petitioned Cudjoe for support against Wallace.
Although Hadad bears the responsibility for talking Wallace out of the court case, the HadCo Limited co-CEO has not spoken to the TTFA president since March. And persons who attended Thursdays’ meeting said Hadad used part of his speaking time to defend the controversial tenure of Wallace’s predecessor, John-Williams.
If the growing number of persons unhappy with the court action—or at least its potential ramifications—failed to get overt support from the government, Thursday’s meeting, coupled with Wallace’s no-show, might have galvanised their view.
On Monday, unhappy stakeholders intend to hand Hadad a petition of support for his normalisation committee, which insists that they are not in favour of the actions of the TTFA’s elected officers and were never consulted on the issue.
“Despite several attempts to use moral suasion to have [Wallace, Taylor, Phillip, Warrick, Look Loy and Anthony Harford] cease these aggressive legal manoeuvres, they have continued to do so without the support of the members of TTFA,” stated the petition. “We the delegates and members of the TTFA are fully aware of the contractual agreements between TTFA and Fifa and as such we totally support any sanction that Fifa deems necessary to implement on the United TTFA.
“However, we are a football loving nation in Trinidad and Tobago and we kindly ask that you continue to assist the growth and the development of football in this country. And we humbly request that you do not ban Trinidad and Tobago […] as a result of the erratic, arrogant, irrational and selfish behaviour of the minority, namely the members of the United TTFA.
“They clearly lack transparency, accountability, humility and the desire to take football forward for Trinidad and Tobago.”
Notably, Wallace said prior that he and his vice-presidents filed as elected officers—but not as the TTFA itself—so as to shield the local game from sanction. Infantino and Samoura failed to make that distinction so far, even as they claim that the quartet are ‘former’ officials.
The TTFA Constitution requires the consent of 66 percent of the football body to suspend a member or 75 percent to expel the offending party. There should be 49 voting delegates, according to the constitution, but the Players and Coaches Association (one vote each) are both defunct, which leaves 47 eligible delegates at present.
Wired868 understands that the status of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA), which has two delegates and generally leans in favour of United TTFA, is under threat by TTFA and could also be stripped of its ability to vote. But that is far from a done deal.
So, at present, a maximum of 45 delegates to decide the fate of Wallace and his team. Sancho and his party would need 30 members to suspend the elected officers and 34 to eject them from office outright.
However, article 29.2 states that: ‘an extraordinary general meeting shall be held within 30 days of receipt of the request’.
If Sancho, Browne or any of the other dissidents wanted to remove Wallace according to the constitution and in time to stave off a Fifa ban, the deadline to request an extraordinary general meeting was on Monday 17 August.
But then Fifa’s insistence that it effectively seized control of the TTFA on 13 March arguably complicated things. If Wallace was already the ‘former’ president, why would Sancho and company need to vote him out?
Still, if the TTFA’s members show that they have enough support to make Wallace’s removal a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’, would the president step aside before he is constitutionally obliged to do so?
At present, Wallace is on the right side of the constitution and the High Court. But he is unlikely to feel as though he is winning.
Cudjoe suggested that Wallace must have known Fifa’s rules when he ran for president. Is the implied suggestion that Infantino’s view ultimately counts for more than the ruling of Trinidad and Tobago’s High Court?
The minister of sport tried to be careful as she framed her response to Madame Justice Gobin’s ruling.
“What the High Court says is what the High Court says,” said Cudjoe, “but the government has made significant investment in football over the years, in the Super League, Pro League and with national football teams. Then you can talk about the government’s plans to expand sport tourism, utilising our football infrastructure.
“So to make that kind of investment and then be told that they care more about making a point to Fifa is very unfortunate.”
Camacho offered a viewpoint that matched Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s recent quip about a frog crossing the road in Tobago, who refused to yield to an incoming truck since he felt he had the right of way.
“I want to be right,” said Camacho, “but not dead right.”
Although Wallace turned down the chance to talk to Cudjoe, the sport minister offered him counsel anyway.
“My simple advice [to Wallace], from one Tobagonian to another,” said the Tobago West Member of Parliament, “head ent make to wear hat alone. Let good sense prevail.”
Rejected by Fifa, Wallace and his team are served notice that they will be abandoned by the government next—and maybe their membership before that.
“I don’t know if they thought that Fifa is an institution that bluffs,” said Camacho. “If anything Fifa has demonstrated the opposite; that it is more likely to act harshly first and then give an ease later.”
The United TTFA is in a bind.