By Gregory Bryce
Let’s talk FIFA. And no, I’m not referring to the video series but rather the Zurich-based non-profit organization and the world governing body for the ‘beautiful game’. Across all platforms, FIFA has not been the most cherished sporting organization. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In recent years, FIFA has become synonymously known for being rife with corruption, mismanagement, political engineering and bribery. In fact, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter was knee-deep in multiple scandals during this time at the helm, from sexist statements, insensitive racial remarks, financial mismanagement and outright corruption. Blatter left the organization disgraced in 2015 when he was forced to step down following a six-year ban from all football related activities.
But regardless of the scandals that seem to follow the organization, it is a well-known fact that FIFA is the main authority regarding football. In essence, they are the be-all and end-all when it comes to football decisions and the various member nations under their mandate must follow FIFA’s rules and regulations.
Or at least, that was the case until the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) decided that they would not be cowed by FIFA’s laws. The TTFA and FIFA have been embroiled in hot legal tensions for months following FIFA’s takeover of the TTFA earlier this March. William Wallace, president of the TTFA, did not take this decision lightly and contested the takeover and now seems to have grabbed the legal advantage after it was recently ruled that the case will not be judged by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) as Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, had wanted. Wallace is taking FIFA to court about – what he feels to be – the hasty decision to remove him and the TTFA vice-presidents from power and replace them with a FIFA normalization committee headed by Robert Hadad.
But what sparked this takeover? What prompted FIFA into making the decision to intervene in the operations of the TTFA and appoint a normalization committee on the island? Does the TTFA, as member states under FIFA, have the right to challenge FIFA laws? And finally, should TTFA win their case, what would it mean for the future of football administration?
To fully understand the situation, it is important for you to be aware of what the normalization committee is and the scope of their power. The normalization committee, as stated by FIFA, stands as a separate entity from the TTFA and with immediate effect, has taken over the operations and duties of the TTFA for a time period decided by FIFA. During their time, the normalization committee has the power to review and change the various rules and protocols of the TTFA to make sure they comply with FIFA’s regulations.
FIFA went on to state that the main reason they felt the need to intervene on the island was due to financial concerns. In essence, Wallace, in his role as the president of the TTFA, has been judged to have a lack of any feasible financial plan for an already indebted organization – no bank account (frozen by the court), unpaid staff, and overall poor management. Wallace has boasted what has been judged as suspicious or, outright fake sponsorship deals and has drawn comparisons to former TTFA secretary and FIFA vice president Jack Warner, who was banned from all football-related activity for life.
The back and forth between the TTFA and FIFA has led to many contentions over the past months, when after Wallace made statements saying that the only legal representative of Trinidadian football is still the disposed TTFA, FIFA responded by saying that the only authoritative power that they will recognize is their appointed normalization committee.
But now, with the High Court ruling in the favour of the TTFA, Wallace is confident of overturning FIFA’s decision, despite the consequences that might occur.
Simply put, if FIFA is unable to exercise any sort of authority over Trinidad and Tobago, what could this spell for the future of FIFA and for countries that may fall into a situation like that of Trinidad and Tobago? Make no mistake, Trinidad is not the only country under a normalization committee, and should Trinidad win their case against FIFA, this could set a precedent for other countries to follow.
The Caribbean Football Union’s boss, Randy Harris, spoke on that briefly when he said, “I can tell you, this is a big, big decision in the football world, because all of the MAs (member associations) affiliated to FIFA are at this time believing they play under the FIFA statutes and their governance. And this plays a different tune, so we will wait and see what FIFA has to say about it and, of course, I hope that everything runs well for Trinidad and Tobago.”
“This decision really turns this over on their heads, because all the MAs in FIFA are of the opinion that we follow the FIFA statutes and abide by the rules and regulations of FIFA.”
In the case of this happening, it is expected that FIFA will suspend the TTFA from any FIFA sanctioned competition. This means that there will be no World Cup, no Gold Cup nor any other international competition for the Trinidadian team to take part in. After all, if you cannot follow FIFA’s rules, how will you be expected to compete in their competitions?
With all this said and done, what is Wallace’s stance? At this point in time, he is determined to see this case through to the finish regardless of the backlash that it might bring.
If the TTFA does win their case, I would not be surprised should they be suspended by FIFA from international competitions soon after. Right now, it is simply of matter of waiting for the next shoe to drop.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist