KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: FIFA’s muddled attempt to take over the running of football in Trinidad & Tobago has landed the world football federation in a legal mess and an accusation of showing a ‘disregard for the rule of law.’
Early this year FIFA and regional governing body CONCACAF ordered a so-called normalisation committee to replace president William Wallace and his executive committee in charge of the debt-battered local association.
Wallace refused to go quietly, considered protesting to the Court of Arbitration for Sport then – fearing bankrupting costs – complained instead to the local High Court.
Taking action in civil courts over football business is prohibited by FIFA statutes yet the world federation, oddly, decided to object. The due outcome was a slap in the face for FIFA from Judge Carol Gobin.
In ruling in favour of Wallace’s right to stay in power, she judged the removal of the TTFA’s properly-elected executive as having been illegal, null, and void and of no effect.
She also declared that the appointment of a normalisation committee to “interfere in the affairs of the TTFA” was also null, void, and of no effect and that the FIFA statute which allowed the appointment was inconsistent with the provisions of the TTFA Act of 1982.
Gobin declared FIFA’s appointment of a normalisation committee to have been made in bad faith and “for an improper and illegal motive.”
In March, FIFA removed the William Wallace executive (which includes vice-presidents Clynt Taylor and Joseph Sam Phillip) because of the TTFA’s increasing debt, which was $50 million.
The TTFA began legal action against FIFA, but then withdrew the matter at 3.02 pm (TT time) on September 23, two minutes after FIFA’s final deadline. FIFA has insisted that the TTFA dispute should be heard before the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS).
FIFA suspended TT from international competitions (both club and country) on September 24 for grave violations of the FIFA statutes, and the TTFA, in return, decided to reignite its legal challenge against the global governing body.
Gobin said the TTFA’s pursuit in court for redress “was perhaps the only appropriate response which avoided capitulating to the demands of FIFA and thereby elevating the status of FIFA statutes above the laws passed by our Parliament.”
However she described the repercussions as “worrying” since Trinidad & Tobago is now suspended from world football which means no more FIFA grants and no presence for any of its teams in international competition.
Judge Gobin also suggested that FIFA had flown close to the wind in its campaign against the TTFA.
She said: “The overt aim of [the campaign] was to force it, as a litigant before the courts of this country, to withdraw its case. Its threats were pointed. It is well settled that conduct which is calculated to impair access to the court is punishable as a contempt of court.
“Throughout these proceedings, FIFA has persistently paraded its disdain for the authority of our local courts. In doing so it has demonstrated a disregard for the rule of law.
“The defendant’s conduct regrettably calls into question the sincerity of its vaunted commitment to achieving its objectives to promote integrity, fair play, and friendly relations in society for humanitarian objectives as well as its commitment to respecting internationally recognised human rights and striving to protect them.
“Disregard for the rule of law is inconsistent with these objectives.“
‘Law unto itself’
She also added, “If it is the case as FIFA continues to insist that it will not accept the jurisdiction of the court of any member country, and that CAS is the only dispute resolution forum that it will recognise then, given what the evidence has disclosed and which it has not denied, that FIFA generally does not comply with a basic rule regarding the payment its share of the costs of arbitration, even when its non-compliance can have the effect of denying parties access to the arbitration process,(as it did in this case), then there is every danger that FIFA will become a law unto itself if it hasn’t already become one.”
FIFA was ordered to pay the TTFA’s costs.
Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle, Jason Jones and Crystal Paul were the legal team for the TTFA led by ousted president William Wallace. The FIFA’s lawyers were Christopher Hamel-Smith, Jonathan Walker and Cherie Gopie.