AFTER almost five years of litigation, members of the national team which represented Trinidad and Tobago at the 2006 World Cup in Germany have received a favourable ruling in the High Court. This is nothing less than they deserve.
Last week Friday, Justice Devindra Rampersad ruled that an interim amount of US$1.14 million be paid to the 13 players who stayed the course over a long and drawn-out battle to get what they claimed was promised to them by T&T Football Federation (TTFF) special adviser and current Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner.
Mr Warner, also a FIFA vice-president, allegedly made the promise amidst the euphoria of Trinidad and Tobago's goalless draw with Sweden in their first-ever game at the World Cup Finals. The players claimed Mr Warner said he would give them a bonus of 50 per cent of all commercial revenue generated by qualifying for the tournament, which was later estimated to be more than $100 million. But on their return from making the nation proud in Germany, the players were forced to seek arbitration, after no bonus money was forthcoming from the TTFF.
In May 2008, the London-based Sport Dispute Resolution Panel (SDRP) eventually ruled that, under the terms of a contract agreed to by Mr Warner, the Soca Warriors, as the national footballers are popularly known, were indeed owed a share of the money earned from making it to Germany. And since then the matter has been bogged down in the local court, testing the patience of the players and their legal advisers, until finally Justice Rampersad ruled in their favour.
But the matter is still not over as Justice Rampersad expressed deep concern over the Football Federation's financial accounts, hence the interim payment to the players, which could increase if the TTFF ever gets its books in order. The High Court judge, who has some experience in the accounting field, said he took "great issue with the accounts filed and I feel there has been no compliance with the precedent set out".
"It is totally unaccountable," he stated, adding that money received from FIFA is a "mystery" and there was no accounting for one million francs. "I cannot understand why it is not accounted for," said Justice Rampersad.
His observations raise a very serious concern over the TTFF's affairs as this is a sporting body which receives substantial support from the Government, or rather taxpayers, and a decision should be taken to stop any further payments until the Federation can sort out its accounts.
It should not be as simple as that, though, as if the body which controls arguably the most popular sport in Trinidad and Tobago cannot keep its accounts in proper order then something is drastically wrong.
And the response of TTFF president Oliver Camps also raises alarm bells, Mr Camps claiming that the Federation may have to file for bankruptcy in order to pay the players.
So where is the money, more than $100 million, which the TTFF gained from the Soca Warriors qualifying for the 2006 World Cup? This is nothing less than a national disgrace and someone has to be held accountable.