T&T Internationals, Willis Plaza and Rundell Winchester have spent the last two months unable to play competitive football due to FIFA red tape which is holding up their debut for the local season for Central FC in the Digicel T&T Pro League.
Both players moved from the Couva-based club to Belgium's CSVise where they joined their former coach, Englishman Terry Fenwick.
But things quickly went wrong as their players have not been paid since September as directors left the club with those left behind struggling to find new finance, while Central FC was also chasing money owed by a European club which was to be paid in three tranches for Winchester.
Central FC's operations director, Kevin Harrison said, "When the Belgian club missed the first payment date, we contacted them only to find that the club was suffering from financial difficulties and also learned that the boys hadn't been paid, which was a breach of their contracts."
Three weeks after the first transfer payment was due it was clear it would not be paid in the near future, and realising that Winchester had still not been paid by Vise, Central FC's board decided that they would recall the speedy Tobagonian and pay for his flight home.
Hearing that Winchester was returning to T&T, Plaza also approached the two-year-old Central FC for assistance.
"We spoke to Dexter Skeene at the Pro League and I wrote two letters to T&TFA General Secretary Sheldon Phillips explaining the player's situation, and the latter promised to "look into it" as it appeared to be a straightforward process to bring the guys home and register them with Central," said Harrison.
"Vise had breached their transfer agreement with Central FC and breached their contracts with the players. The Belgian club supported the players return to T&T and even agreed to instigate their international transfers via FIFA's TMS system."
But once the players returned to T&T, the situation became more difficult. "We uploaded their information on the TMS system and waited for approval, but it never came through," said Harrison.
"We kept updating Sheldon and asking about progress. On September 30, Sheldon had still "heard nothing from the Belgian FA."
By this time, both players were in training with Central FC. "We had paid for their flights, provided housing for them and were helping them out with some cash. But they could not play for Central until FIFA authorised their registration," he said.
On October 10, Central FC composed a letter to FIFA's Player's Status Committee, but being unable to locate any contact details, sent the letter to Phillips who informed Harrison that the committee didn't use email, but would forward the complaint to the Belgian FA.
"Three days later, I sent a letter concerning Plaza to Sheldon, asking him to forward this to the Player's Status Committee. On October 26, Harrison said he wrote Phillips again explaining that Central were basically financially supporting both players yet were unable to play them. He also pointed out that both players may well be possible selections for Stephen Hart's Caribbean Cup squad if they were match fit."
Phillips replied that he would follow up with FIFA the next day and that a provisional registration may be the best option.
On October 29, Central received two letters from FIFA's director of legal affairs which stated that the players ordinarily could not be registered outside of the FIFA transfer window, but it did point out that with the support of the "competent deciding authority" it was possible that FIFA could take provisional measures to authorise their registrations.
After discussing the matter with Phillips, Harrison wrote to him on October 31, requesting that FIFA authorise the registrations and on November 7, Phillips sent a TTFA "player clearance and registration" form for each player, which we hoped would allow them to finally register with Central FC.
The forms were completed and emailed back the same day, but despite several attempts to several of Phillip's email addresses, the emails bounced back.
Finally the forms were hand-delivered to the TTFA office. Once the forms were completed, Phillips said they just needed to be sent to the Pro League office to confirm clearance for the players to be registered.
"However, once we sent the forms to the Pro League, we were told by general secretary, Julia Baptiste, that the TTFA forms could not be used to replace the necessary transfer forms and that we needed to obtain transfer certificates or an official letter from FIFA," said Harrison.
"We just couldn't understand why we couldn't resolve the issue. As far as we could tell, both players were free agents. Their basic right to earn their living was being denied and, to us, it was simply a matter of cutting through the red tape to solve the problem," said Harrison.
"Both had not been paid by their club and Winchester's transfer had been null and void due to non-payment of the agreed fee. We thought that the FIFA TMS were supposed to remove these barriers."
Finally, Phillips advised Harrison that it looked like the players could not be registered until the January transfer window.
Harrison said that he had not been copied in to any of the correspondence between TTFA and FIFA or the Belgian FA.
"We put all of our faith in Sheldon, who I have a positive relationship with and we can only assume that FIFA is not interested in assisting these players, which, in itself, is shocking.
With regards to FIFA, Harrison said that something is very wrong with the FIFA systems if clubs can renege on transfers and breach player contracts, yet refuse to assist the victims of such actions. "Where is the protection for local clubs and players when dealing with clubs overseas? We're not sports lawyers. We rely on the guidance of TTFA in these matters.
"There is only so much we can do. After that, we must rely on TTFA to fight our corner."
Meanwhile, Winchester and Plaza continue to watch from the sidelines while their careers are at a standstill.
Source: Central FC