The ongoing controversy involving FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the FIFA-appointed Normalization Committee and the local governing body for football, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) should provoke serious concerns in all our citizens.
The issue goes beyond national pride and the legitimate right that our national footballers have to participate in international competition.
The TTFA, under new leadership, was suspended by the world-governing body on September 24, 2020. Among the charges against the TTFA was that of mismanagement, including one that the Association had accumulated a debt of TT $50 million.
The new TTFA administration, elected legally to office mere months before, was deemed to be responsible for this state of affairs although the debt had been incurred under previous administrations.
The new TTFA management committee was unceremoniously booted out of office by FIFA which then appointed the Normalization Committee, comprised of individuals chosen by FIFA, to look into the affairs of our national body.
When this move was challenged in our local High Court, FIFA threatened suspension, unless the legal challenge was withdrawn by the TTFA. The deadline for withdrawal of the challenge was not met and suspension was immediate. Under its Statues, FIFA’s claim to the right to the imposition of this suspension, until it deems that the ‘punishment’ can be lifted, ensures that TTFA national teams and clubs will not be allowed to participate in FIFA-sanctioned international competitions.
In addition, they will not be eligible for any benefits, including funding and development programmes, from FIFA or from CONCACAF, the regional body.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup is scheduled for July 2021. Trinidad and Tobago is carded to play in the preliminary round of the Gold Cup, despite FIFA’s ruling. This will most probably change once FIFA insists on its suspension being recognised by CONCACAF.
The 2022 World Cup qualifiers, which start in March 2021, will be closed to the Trinidad and Tobago National team, as the situation obtains at this time.
National and club coaches and footballers and their representative bodies have been crying foul at this exclusion of our players by FIFA.
Football is a sport that invokes national excitement and passion and gives the country the opportunity to shine on the regional and international fields of play. The pain, the outrage is understandable. Training programmes have been years in the execution and players’ expectations have been cruelly dashed. The country has been made into an international football pariah.
A major issue, one of grave national importance, however, remains the fact that our High Court has ruled that the recently appointed TTFA has legitimate grounds to challenge FIFA’s rulings in the local court. The Court made it clear that “FIFA could not presume to be above the law (of our land).”
This is not a trifling matter. This country must ensure that the rulings of our local courts be recognised, clearly and unequivocally, by national and international bodies and organisations.
We are a sovereign nation and we must not sell our souls to any bidders, however alluring the ‘rewards’ that may follow. This principle applies not only to sport but to religious, educational, and business institutions and to every organisation in our country.
Our independence as a nation must never be dishonoured or disregarded by any external body or even by seemingly philanthropic organisations offering ‘help’ in economically straitened times.
Should we fall prey to this, there will result unprecedented national weeping and gnashing of teeth.