FIFA, the world governing body for football, has been issued a yellow card by the judge who has to determine if it acted lawfully when it appointed a normalisation committee to oversee the affairs of local football.
Justice Carol Gobin on Friday suggested FIFA was making a mockery of the rule of law as it continuously cannot, through its local attorneys, say if it would accept the court’s jurisdiction and any declarations it may make.
“Has FIFA changed its position? Is it prepared to abide by any declaration this court makes?” Gobin asked.
“There should never be a question about this. It makes a mockery of the system to be engaging in this if a party will not confirm if it will abide by the rule of law, observe the rule of law and respect the rule of law in this country,” she said in response to FIFA’s attorney Christopher Hamel-Smith’s submission that he had no instructions on a change of position.
The judge’s rebuff came after she was asked to defer Friday’s trial since, according to FIFA, the normalisation committee has ceased to function now that the TTFA has been suspended from international football.
Hamel-Smith said if the TTFA wanted to run the association “that is entirely their business.”
He said there was nothing stopping Wallace and his team from doing so because of the suspension which took effect on September 24, banning TT’s national team and its clubs from participating in any international competitions.
In resisting any deferral of the trial, Dr Emir Crowne, who leads a team on behalf of Wallace and his executive, accused FIFA of constantly changing the goal post by failing to state its position on if they recognised the court’s jurisdiction.
Crowne said it appeared to be a “recurring theme” by FIFA to introduce “self-inflicted frustration” by orchestrating a change in circumstances themselves.
“It is almost as if they don’t know what they want. They say the normalisation committee has ceased all operational and management functions yet when you look at their letter, they say the only legitimately leadership of the TTFA is the one led by Robert Hadad. They are not even saying normalisation committee anymore. Now, they are saying the leadership is Robert Hadad.
“If this is a proper ground for a matter to be deferred, then any defendant can write a letter to itself and introduce material changes.”
Crowne said FIFA was accustomed to getting its way, and so “it tries every maneuver it can to achieve what it wants.”
Gobin said it appeared to be some inconsistency in FIFA’s position by coming to the court to ask it to apply the overriding objectives by deferring the matter “but you make it clear that the fact of this matter remaining for determination before this court really doesn’t make a difference to you in one way or the other.
“How can you reject the authority of the court and then ask it to apply the overriding objective. It seems contradictory. You ask me to await the outcome of an appeal… How do you justify asking me to defer this when we have a claimant who has been anxious, has complied with all the directions of the court, who has applied for injunctive relief when the matter was pending, yet you’re intent to ignore the process. Doesn’t that make a mockery of what we are doing here?” the judge questioned before hearing submissions on the United TTFA’s substantive challenge.
Gobin is expected to give her decision next week Tuesday at 3 pm by e-mail.
She has been asked to determine if Wallace and his executive’s removal from the helm of the local football body in March, and appoint a normalisation committee, was justified or in violation of local laws.
FIFA has said the decision to remove Wallace’s administration in March was because of the TTFA’s mounting debt, which was TT$50 million. A normalisation committee, led by Hadad, was appointed, and then came the suspension last month after the TTFA failed to withdraw its legal action in time. FIFA said the sanction was “due to grave violations of the FIFA statutes.”
In his submissions, Crowne argued that FIFA's statutes on the appointment of a normalisation committee for a member federation was vague and had no legal certainty as it only says it would be done in “extraordinary circumstances but nothing more.”
He said FIFA only said the reason for the appointment was the “high debt and potential insolvency” but did not ask for an explanation. He added that Wallace’s administration inherited the debts and there was no evidence before the court to suggest it was proper to normalise.
“We are not entirely sure what these circumstances were,’ he said, adding that there was “rampant speculation” but no evidence.
Crowne also accused FIFA of using a hammer and chainsaw against the TTFA.
“As has been shown before, FIFA and fairness probably don't go hand in hand,” he said.
In his submissions on the TTFA Incorporation Act, Crowne said it sets out how an executive is elected and the duration of its terms. He admitted the Act did not mention TTFA’s membership in FIFA but argued that parliament did not expressly adopt FIFA statutes.
He said it could not be that a private organisation in Zurich, Switzerland, can override this country’s parliament.
Crowne argued that the change in the law in line with FIFA’s statutes and which has been advocated by FIFA for the lifting of the suspension was out of his clients’ hands and was solely the remit of Parliament.
He also said FIFA statutes were inconsistent since, on one hand, it spoke of the nornalisation committee but still noted that the world governing body would only recognise duly-elected representatives from member associations.
On FIFA’s insistence that the TTFA’s complaints be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), Crowne said that was not an option because of that tribunal’s unreasonable requirements. He also said the CAS was a private arbitration body for-profit and not a court.
Crowne also, in response to a question by Gobin, said the TTFA went to the CAS on the suspension issue.
He was questioned by Gobin over an inconsistency in his statement with the fact that TTFA went to CAS over the suspension, saying a stay application was significantly less costly there than its appeal against the normalisation committee.
The CAS was rejected by the United TTFA during the early stages of the legal battle as it claimed that a number of irregularities have arisen, irregularities that have caused the association to believe its right to a fair hearing has impinged.
After the normalisation committee was appointed in March, Wallace’s team took FIFA to CAS.
Two weeks later, the ousted executive turned to the High Court in its fight, although, according to FIFA’s statutes, the matter was mandated to be heard at CAS.
FIFA has not entered a defence in the matter.
The TTFA is also represented by attorneys Matthew Gayle, Crystal Paul, and Jason Jones.