IT's a foul for FIFA.
The world governing body for football received a red card from High Court judge Carol Gobin on Tuesday.
In a late-night decision, Gobin ruled that the removal of the TT Football Association’s (TTFA) duly-elected executive was 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.
In her decision, which was e-mailed to attorneys just before 9 pm, Gobin declared the decision of FIFA to appoint the normalisation committee was 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.
Wallace was elected TTFA president on November 24, 2019.
In her ruling, Gobin said the TTFA’s coming to the 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.”
She also said the repercussions of FIFA’s suspension were “worrying,” as she listed what they were.
“One can therefore sympathise with the views of the many persons who believe that such far-reaching consequences should be avoided, perhaps at all costs.
“The wisdom of the challenge by the claimants of the actions of FIFA is not for the court. But it has to be said that the law expects the TTFA to do what its statutory duty requires even in the face of unlawful pressure.”
She said she was not insensitive to the anguish that the saga had wreaked on TT.
“Our government, all sports administrators, clubs, players, aspiring footballers, young people, fans, I daresay the entire population is rightly concerned about the future of the sport.
“The request for the EGM identified the following grave and devastating consequences that the members who requested the meeting feared the fraternity would suffer if TTFA did not withdraw the action.”
However, Gobin did not accede to a request by the TTFA to find that FIFA’s interventions were orchestrated by its agents to undermine the matter before the court.
She also said of a plea by Sports Minister Shamfa Cudjoe, “I am not prepared to ascribe improper motives to the honourable minister for her intervention to 'find a way forward' nor indeed to the delegates who requested the EGM. These were concerned parties who would not have been cognisant of the negative legal implications of their actions, which I do believe were well-intended.
“The same cannot be said for Mr Hadad (businessman Robert Hadad, who heads the normalisation committee). On the evidence, I am however left in no doubt that Mr Hadad, as FIFA’s appointee, was actively encouraging the campaign of pressure on the claimant, and this gentleman’s conduct is harder to ignore.
“I find that he, in his role as chairman of the normalisation committee, deliberately engaged in conduct that was calculated to subvert the adjudication of the claimant’s claim. His actions prompted the claimant to seek injunctive relief. FIFA did not resist the application.”
Gobin also noted that FIFA’s threats throughout were widely publicised and it encouraged, from many quarters, pressure and clamour for Wallace and his team to comply with the demands of the international body.
She also said there was a sustained unrelenting campaign against the TTFA, “the overt aim of which 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.”
She said the TTFA rules, which FIFA was aware of, already mirrored FIFA statutes and its appointment of the committee to have it amend its rules to “bring it in line with FIFA statutes” was a threat which the TTFA could not deliver.
The only amendment that can produce the result that FIFA command is an amendment to the TTFA Act, and if it insists on blocking access to TT courts in favour of the CAS, then it should be put on notice there might be constitutional hurdles.
She again gave FIFA a dressing-down for its apparent derision of the local court’s jurisdiction.
“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.“
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,’ she said.
FIFA was ordered to pay the TTFA’s costs.
Wallace, in a Newsday report on Friday, vowed to stick to his word and immediately convene an annual general meeting with the TTFA membership to chart a way forward if Gobin’s decision went in favour of the TTFA.
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.