JELANI BECKLES and JOEL BAILEY
AN African proverb warns that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. Former TT footballer Kerry Baptiste shares a similar sentiment as he fears local-based players would bear the brunt of the damage in the ongoing battle between the TT Football Association (TTFA) and the FIFA normalisation committee.
Baptiste credits the embattled TTFA president William Wallace and his executive for fighting FIFA on their decision to appoint a normalisation committee to run local football, but believes it would be an uphill battle for the former TTFA executive.
“Anybody will put up a fight for that but like I said, this is FIFA…this is not just some local body you putting up a fight against, this is FIFA,” Baptiste said.
On March 17, FIFA removed the freshly-appointed TTFA executive and appointed a normalisation committee led by Robert Hadad. The main job given to the normalisation committee is to eliminate the TTFA's huge debts, which is said to be $50 million.
Wallace inherited most of the debts as he was only elected president in November 2019. The former Secondary Schools Football League boss decided to take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but on Monday switched strategy, instead taking their fight to the TT High Court.
Baptiste hopes a situation does not arise where FIFA prevents TT from playing in tournaments because of the current battle for power.
“I really hope it does not reach that level where FIFA wants to ban TT from participating in tournaments from the youngest age groups to the senior level…If FIFA is here to improve and upgrade, all well and good because at the end of the day we cannot think about us."
Baptiste continued, "We cannot be selfish in this situation here…it will affect a lot of players, not a manager, not a coach, not a physio, not a trainer, the players are going to feel it…the players well-being we have to focus on.”
Baptiste said Wallace was put in a difficult position when he came into office. “Unfortunately Wallace was given the opportunity to try his best in the position that he got to try and help local football, but at the end of the day there were so many things before Mr Wallace (came into office), so no disrespect to him.”
The former national player is counting on FIFA to fix TT football. “Let’s hope at the end of the day that a lot of things get resolved peacefully and they bring some of kind of stability and tranquillity to football in the country. A lot of people depend on football locally. There are a lot of things that need to be resolved, so many things were upside down back in the days and today we fighting the same battle.”
TTFA board member and chairman of the technical committee Keith Look Loy, on Tuesday, said the move by the former TTFA executive to take their case from CAS to the High Court was not a last resort in their battle against FIFA.
"FIFA regulations permit one to appeal to CAS, so we followed the rules," Look Loy said. "Then CAS orders us to pay the entire legal costs, although the said regulations require FIFA to pay half. So we protested and forced CAS to ask FIFA to pay their half. FIFA refused so we now resort to the local High Court, because of FIFA's behaviour."
According to Look Loy, "(FIFA) have no authority to remove an elected executive."