WAS FIFA’s decision to remove William Wallace and his executive from the helm of the TT Football Association (TTFA), in March and install a normalisation committee a violation of TTFA’s democratically elected process? Or was it justified?
These questions are expected to be answered when attorneys representing both organisations appear before High Court judge Carol Gobin in a virtual court hearing at 9.30 am on Friday.
Justice Gobin’s ruling, if any, may return Wallace’s regime to the top of local football, although the sport’s global governing body, in a letter issued on Tuesday, insisted “the only legitimate leadership of the TTFA, recognised by FIFA and CONCACAF, is the one led by Robert Hadad,” chairman of the normalisation committee.
Gobin is not mandated to give a final decision on this matter on Friday.
FIFA’s decision to remove Wallace’s administration was due to the TTFA's mounting debt, which was TT $50 million.
On September 24, T&T was indefinitely suspended from all FIFA-sanctioned tournaments “due to grave violations of the FIFA Statutes.”
FIFA’s statement said the suspension was prompted by the ousted administration lodging a claim before a local court to contest the decision of the FIFA Council to appoint a normalisation committee for the TTFA.
“This course of action was in direct breach of article 59 of the FIFA Statutes, which expressly prohibits recourse to ordinary courts unless specifically provided for in the FIFA regulations.”
FIFA’s September 24 statement also said, “The decision of the former leadership to go to a local court to contest the appointment of the normalisation committee jeopardises not only the future of football in TT but also endangers the overall global football governance structure, which relies on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as the exclusive forum for resolving disputes of this nature.
“The relevant parties were initially given until 16 September to withdraw the case but failed to do so. This deadline was then extended until 23 September, which was not respected either. In the circumstances, the Bureau of the FIFA Council has decided to suspend the TTFA.”
On September 25, Wallace’s United TTFA team, after previously questioning the impartiality of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland, has returned to the Swiss-based court to fight FIFA’s suspension.
Wallace’s team initially complied with FIFA’s request but withdrew from the legal fight at 3.02 pm on September 23 – two minutes after the 3 pm deadline set by the world body – to escape suspension proceedings. FIFA, however, showed no leniency.
On Tuesday, it issued a reminder that the suspension must be lifted by noon (TT time) on December 18 or else T&T will be withdrawn from participation in the Concacaf World Cup qualifiers.
United TTFA will now fight the FIFA suspension at CAS and, on September 24, “gave instructions to the TTFA attorneys to file an emergency appeal with CAS, challenging the sole issue of suspension.”
This was revealed in a document Wallace issued on September 25, which said, “The TTFA attorneys also filed the relevant documents to continue with the claim before the High Court of Justice (TT) since this is the only way that we can legitimise our application to CAS.”
CAS was rejected by the United TTFA during the early stages of the legal battle, as its attorneys Dr Emir Crowne and Matthew Gayle claimed that a “number of irregularities have arisen, irregularities that have caused their clients to believe their right to a fair hearing has been impinged.”
After the normalisation committee was appointed in March, Wallace’s team took FIFA to CAS.
Two weeks later, the ousted executive (which includes vice-presidents Clynt Taylor and Joseph Sam Phillip) turned to the High Court in its fight, although, according to FIFA’s statutes, the matter was mandated to be heard at CAS.
Justice Carol Gobin presides over FIFA/TTFA matter today
Ian Prescott (T&T Express).
EXILED Trinidad and Tobago Football Association president William Wallace and vice-presidents, Clynth Taylor and Sam Phillip, will finally have their day in court today.
High Court Justice Carol Gobin will, at 9.30 a.m. today, preside over a claim brought by the former TTFA officials who have challenged their dismissal in March by football’s governing body, FIFA.
After removing Wallace’s executive, FIFA appointed a normalisation committee headed by local businessman Robert Hadad to run the Association which is some $100m in debt. Today’s case is not expected to run a protracted course. FIFA has indicated it will not contest the matter, leaving the appellant — the TTFA — likely to win by default.
“Please be informed that FIFA did not file a defence in the case against the TTFA in the Trinidad High Court,” a spokesman from the Communications Division of the FIFA Media Department confirmed in response to Express enquiries last month.
“FIFA’s position remains that we do not recognise the claim at the Trinidad court, and that the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) is the only correct tribunal to consider this dispute,” the FIFA spokesperson added.
FIFA’s only involvement in the case so far has been to argue jurisdiction during earlier hearings. However, on August 13, Justice Gobin ruled in Wallace’s favour by ruling that the local High Court was the appropriate venue for hearing of the TTFA’s claim. Legal representatives of both parties argued their positions during a virtual High Court hearing before Justice Gobin.
Representing the TTFA were attorneys Dr Emir Crowne and Matthew Gayle, while Christopher Hamil-Smith represented FIFA.
Hamel-Smith argued that FIFA’s statutes prohibited the TTFA from taking the matter to a local court and that the Switzerland-based CAS was the only appropriate forum to decide such disputes.
Quoting FIFA’s statutes extensively, Hamel-Smith also argued that in becoming a member of FIFA, the TTFA agreed to abide by those statutes.
“(Article) 59.3 says the Association shall insert a clause in its statutes or regulations stipulating that the association, meaning the TTFA, is prohibited to take the disputes of the association or disputes of League members and clubs to ordinary courts unless the FIFA regulations, all binding regulations, specifically provide.”
Crowne’s argument centred around the constitutional protection afforded to the TTFA by it being incorporated by an act of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament.
He argued that such protection cannot be completely stripped away by the statutes of an outside body such as the Swiss-based FIFA.
Further, Crowne termed a key clause in FIFA’s statutes as being “unconscionable” because of the inequality in bargaining power between FIFA and its members when they join the world organisation.
“When FIFA says so, apparently the world must bend to its whim. But we submit that is not appropriate,” Crowne stated.
TTFA case reaches juncture.
By Derek Achong (Guardian).
Embattled T&T Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace and his United TTFA executive team’s lawsuit against FIFA is expected to kick off on Friday with Justice Carol Gobin as referee.
During the virtual hearing, Gobin is expected to hear submissions in the case before delivering her decision or reserving it until a later date.
Guardian Media Sports understands that FIFA’s legal team attempted to make last ditched tackle on the eve of the case as they appealed to Gobin to defer her ruling earlier this week.
In correspondence to Gobin and the opposing side, attorney Cherie Gopie suggested that the expedited resolution of the case was not necessary in the circumstances as the Normalisation Committee, appointed by FIFA in March to replace Wallace and his team, had essentially ceased to function as a result of her client’s decision to indefinitely suspend the TTFA’s membership because of the case.
Gopie also reiterated FIFA’s position that active participation in the case before Gobin could compromise its position in its pending appeal over her jurisdiction to hear the substantive case on October 19.
Responding to Gopie, the TTFA’s lawyer Matthew Gayle objected to the postponement as he noted that the issues to be resolved are wider than suggested by FIFA.
He noted that FIFA had previously attempted to have the proceedings stayed on similar grounds but was denied.
Gobin eventually agreed with Gayle and rejected the proposed move.
On Monday, Appeal Court Judge Malcolm Holdip granted the TTFA’s application for security of costs for the appeal.
Holdip ordered FIFA to pay $60,000 to the court in the event that the TTFA successfully defends the appeal and is entitled to reimbursement of the legal costs incurred in defending it.
Through the lawsuit, Wallace and his three vice presidents — Clynt Taylor, Joseph Sam Phillips, and Susan Joseph-Warrick are seeking a declaration that the decision to remove them in March and replace them with a committee comprising of businessman Robert Hadad, attorney Judy Daniels, and retired banker Nigel Romano was null, void, and of no legal or binding effect.
They are also seeking a permanent injunction barring FIFA from meddling in the TTFA’s affairs by allegedly seeking to circumvent the democratic process by removing duly elected executive members.
Gobin has also been asked to decide whether FIFA’s statutes, under which the replacement was done, are in conformity with the local legislation, which established the association.
Wallace and his team initially brought proceedings against FIFA in the Court for Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but were forced to withdraw as they could not pay the 40,000 Swiss francs (TT$276,000) in associated costs.
Their position was partly due to FIFA’s policy to not pay its share of the fees and CAS’s rules, which require the other party to pay the full costs when the other fails in its obligations.
After the case was filed, FIFA applied for it to be struck out as it claimed that the TTFA by virtue of its membership with FIFA agreed to forgo all legal action in local courts in favour of proceedings before the CAS.
The application was initially blanked by Gobin, who ruled that the local courts are the appropriate forum to resolve the dispute.
While the appeal against her ruling still pending, Gobin set the date for the trial of the case as October 9 and gave FIFA an extension to file its defence. FIFA failed to meet the deadline as it maintained it position that it did not accept the jurisdiction of the court in the matter.
Wallace and his team also obtained an injunction against the normalisation committee after it attempted to facilitate a extraordinary meeting among members to vote to withdraw the case.
The injunction, which will remain in place until discharged by Gobin, was not opposed by FIFA and was granted.
Wallace and his team attempted to withdraw the case on FIFA’s extended ultimatum of September 23 but filed the application to withdraw, which still had to be determined before the case could be considered officially withdrawn, 23 minutes past the deadline (3 pm TT time).
After FIFA’s suspension the following day, Wallace and his team filed another application to withdraw the withdrawal application, in which he admitted that he was grudgingly discontinuing the case based on a majority vote during an emergency meeting between his team and stakeholders.
The legal manoeuvre coincided with an announcement from second vice president Joseph-Warrick, that she was resigning from her post and as president of the Women’s League Football (WoLF) on September 25.
The United TTFA also approached the CAS for a temporary stay of this country’s suspension to allow its participation in Concacaf’s 2021 Gold Cup draw on September 28.
The hearing of the injunction application was deferred after Concacaf announced that its council had met and agreed to conditionally keep T&T’s place in the draw.
In the event, that the suspension is not lifted by either FIFA or the CAS by 5 pm on December 18, T&T will be replaced by Antigua and Barbuda as the next highest ranked team based on performances during the 2019 Concacaf Nations League.
Wallace and his colleagues are also being represented by Dr Emir Crowne, Crystal Paul, and Jason Jones, while Christopher Hamel-Smith, SC, and Jonathan Walker are also appearing for FIFA.