Less than six hours after threatening to refer the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) to the Gianni Infantino-led Bureau of the Fifa Council for daring to call an election in keeping with its constitution, the world governing body had its response.
Not for the first time, the TTFA’s members are unwilling to risk suspension from the international fold—so Fifa will have its way.
At an online meeting yesterday evening, the TTFA members, according to Eastern Football Association (EFATT) president Kieron Edwards, agreed to ask the Fifa-appointed Normalisation Committee to allow them to reverse an earlier decision meant to force out the Robert Hadad-led body.
It was not a unanimous decision but Edwards insisted that it was a majority view. Presumably, he would quickly support his letter to acting general secretary Amiel Mohammed with the requisite signatures to call an EGM.
The immediate repercussion is that the normalisation committee’s term will run until 31 March rather than, as members insisted, 18 March.
However, Fifa’s insistence that administrators in Zurich—rather than stakeholders in Trinidad and Tobago—would decide when the global body ends its occupation of the two island republic is likely to mean that Hadad will receive a second extension.
On 17 March 2020, the Bureau of the Fifa Council gave its normalisation committee two years to fulfill the following mandate:
- run the TTFA’s daily affairs;
- establish a debt repayment plan that is implementable by the TTFA administration;
- review and amend the TTFA Statutes (and other regulations where necessary) and ensure their compliance with the Fifa Statutes and requirements before duly submitting them for approval to the TTFA Congress;
- and organise and conduct elections of a new TTFA Executive Committee for a four-year mandate.
As of 21 January 2023, the three-member committee of Hadad, Nigel Romano and Trevor Nicholas Gomez has completed none of the above.
Concerned by the perceived lack of competence and consultation at the helm—presumably reflected too in poor results on the field and a complete absence of domestic senior football—the members were anxious to put the “Hadad era” behind them, despite the possible ramifications to creditors.
On Thursday, TTFA trustee Maria Daniel reiterated a threat to the local membership that they would be denied an interest-free US$3.5m loan from a still undeclared backer, believed to be Fifa, if they persisted with plans to remove Hadad.
Failure to secure the loan would put the TTFA at risk of bankruptcy. Still, the members hesitated to reverse their decision taken at last month’s EGM and insisted on time to consult with each other on Friday evening.
However, a despatch yesterday evening by Fifa Chief Member Associations officer Kenny Jean-Marie broke any lingering resolve.
“If the TTFA’s normalisation committee convenes the requested Extraordinary General Meeting [on 18 March], before all tasks assigned to them have been accordingly carried out,” stated the Fifa missive, “this would go against the mandate of the normalisation committee established by the Bureau of the Fifa Council.
“Please be advised that, should the elections be held before all other tasks are completed, we would be obliged to submit the matter to our relevant decision-making body for further consideration and possible decisions based on the Fifa Statutes.”
In keeping with Fifa’s recent relationship with the southern Caribbean island, Jean-Marie emailed only Hadad and left it for him to relay the governing body’s view to the membership.
The only football officials that Fifa recognises on the island are the ones directly in its employ. No direct communication is held with Trinidad and Tobago’s stakeholders—from whom a president will eventually emerge.
Jean-Marie’s email was issued barely half hour before yesterday’s membership meeting and, in keeping with the inefficiency of Fifa’s rule since March 2020, everyone did not have a copy when members sat down to discuss their possible response to Daniel’s threat.
Once Fifa’s position was properly relayed though—by Trinidad and Tobago Football Referees Association (TTFRA) vice-president Boni Bishop, rather than the Acting TTFA General Secretary—there was nothing else worth discussing.
Veteran Footballers Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago (VFFOTT) president Selby Browne suggested that members save face by forcing the normalisation committee to approach them with a plea for time.
At 9.18pm, Browne wrote Mohammed and requested deadlines for payment to creditors, completion of the NC’s mandate, and the name of the TTFA’s secret financial backer.
“[…] We look forward to your early action in keeping with the Fifa letter,” stated Browne, “and ensuring the early completion of the mandate of the Normalisation Committee for the TTFA to return to active administration and management of football as the Fifa member in good standing within the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.”
His colleagues did not have the heart—or stomach—for such gamesmanship. At 11.45pm, Edwards wrote Mohammed, Browne and the TTFA Members and insisted he spoke “on behalf of the majority of the membership”.
“At tonight’s meeting, the email letter from Fifa to the TTFA […] was discussed and notice taken of its contents,” stated Edwards.
He further advised that the members now resolve that:
“In view of the contents of Fifa’s letter of 20 January 2023 to the TTFA, be it decided that a letter be sent to the TTFA’s Normalisation Committee advising that the Members would be pleased if the Normalisation Committee, pursuant to Article 29.1 of the TTFA’s Constitution, were to urgently convene an Extraordinary Meeting of the TTFA to consider an item to review the decision taken at the EGM of the TTFA of 10 December 2022.”
Ironically, Edwards’ boss at Pro League outfit, Terminix La Horquetta Rangers, Richard Ferguson, was the person whose letter assured Fifa of the TTFA’s “acquiescence” in the first place, on 25 October 2020—when, again under the threat of suspension, Members voted 33-0 (with five non-votes) to stop all legal action against Fifa, and to replace then president William Wallace with the Hadad-led committee.
“The TTFA must advise that its members have agreed to abide with the conditions of the normalisation committee and will co-operate fully to ensure that the mandate of the committee is realised,” Ferguson wrote to Fifa, via Hadad. “In addition, let me take this opportunity to humbly apologise to you, the other members of the normalisation committee, Fifa, Concacaf and CFU for any embarrassment and inconvenience caused by TTFA representatives over the last year.
“I also hope that a strong positive relationship can be re-established as we move forward for the betterment of football in Trinidad and Tobago. This information is conveyed to you for relay to Fifa, at your earliest convenience.”
In the interim, Ferguson’s influence within the domestic game soared as the Northern, Eastern, Eastern Counties, Tobago, Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) and Women’s League of Football (WoLF) all either have sponsorship deals linked to Ferguson or have his employees or associates in elected posts.
Ferguson, a clever but controversial figure, would have been an early favourite with a March election. That appears unlikely to take place now.
Fifa will leave only when Fifa is ready to go.
Edwards, Ferguson and the local football membership accepted defeated on that score yesterday.
Hadad’s tenure—“the era of the Ice Cream Man”—is not over yet.