KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- FIFA has landed in a further legal muddle, only two weeks after the Swiss judicial authorities opened a criminal investigation into its president Gianni Infantino.
The latest setback is unconnected to Infantino’s meetings with Swiss Attorney-General Michael Lauber but concerns the world federation’s bid to impose a normalisation committee on the heavily-indebted Trinidad & Tobago Football Association.
The Trinidad & Tobago High Court, pending a full hearing, has granted the TTFA a temporary stay preventing both the imposition of the normalisation panel and being forced to take the row to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Although the case may appear a local dispute in the Caribbean, it raises serious issues about FIFA’s heavy-handedness with its minnow members and an inappropriately cosy relationship with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Justice Carol Gobin criticised not only FIFA for “thumbing its nose at its obligations” but also the apparent complicity of CAS in regularly allowing FIFA to ignore its financial regulations.
Such collusion, in this case, had the damning effect of denying access to dispute resolution “by the weaker of the parties.”
The judge also left no doubt that she did not expect FIFA to suspend Trinidad & Tobago from international football as punishment for the TTFA’s defiance.
Such action would contradict FIFA’s own “lofty objectives” and “commitment to respecting internationally recognised human rights [and] non-discrimination of any kind.”
Trinidad & Tobago was once the football fiefdom of former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner who remains a high-profile personality.
Warner, also a former president of regional confederation CONCACAF, is wanted by United States Justice Department investigators pursuing the long-running FIFAGate scandal. He has revived his political career in an apparent attempt to strengthen his fight against extradition.
The genesis of the current court action lay back in March when William Wallace, the newly-elected TTFA president, was told FIFA was not satisfied with his proposals to resolve the financial crisis. CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani took his concern to Infantino and FIFA duly ordered up a normalisation committee to replace Wallace and his team.
Wallace considered an appeal to CAS but pulled back because of its upfront financial demands and addressed the local High Court instead.
Civil legal action is prohibited by FIFA statutes and Wallace thus risked seeing Trinidad suspended from all international football. FIFA might appear to have overridden its own rules by contesting Wallace’s application but this was not a substantive hearing.
Justice Gobin ruled that the imposition of a normalisation committee “appears to be in breach of FIFA Statute (19) (2) which provides [that] each member association shall manage its affairs independently and without undue influence from third parties.”
Refusal to pay
She criticised FIFA for not demostrating “that it is ready and willing to do all things necessary to the proper conduct of the arbitration” and also the manner in which it had “unequivocally refused to pay its share of the advance of [CAS court] costs under the [relevant] rule.”
Justice Godin thought FIFA had been “thumbing its nose at its obligations” and questioned the manner in which CAS regularly allowed FIFA to ignore its financial obligations.
Finally she avered that international suspension would be self-contradictory behaviour by FIFA with its “lofty objectives” and “commitment to respecting internationally recognised human rights, non-discrimination of any kind against a country for any reason and its commitment to promoting friendly relations in society for humanitarian objectives.”
She concluded: “I do not expect FIFA to walk off the field or to take its ball and go home if after full ventilation of the issues, this court were to confirm the primacy of an Act of the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago over the FIFA Statutes.”
FIFA did not comment while CAS preferred “not to comment this preliminary judgment of a local court considering the strong probability that this same matter be submitted again to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”