A group of former T&T Football Association (TTFA) executive officers, is expected to find out whether they can pursue their lawsuit over FIFA’s controversial decision to remove and replace them with a normalisation committee, on August 13.
After a lengthy virtual hearing on We3dnesday, High Court Judge Carol Gobin reserved her decision on an application brought by FIFA to strike out or stay the lawsuit brought by former TTFA president William Wallace and his executive team.
Presenting submissions on FIFA’s behalf, Senior Counsel Christopher Hamel-Smith repeatedly stated that the local High Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain the lawsuit as the legislation which established the TTFA and the organisation’s constitution states that such disputes should be resolved through arbitration.
Hamel-Smith suggested that the clauses could have been removed from the constitution if the TTFA desired but were not.
Hamel-Smith also rejected Wallace and his colleagues’ complaints about the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which like FIFA is based in Switzerland and is the arbitration body identified by it (FIFA) for such disputes.
Referring to claims that the CAS is biased based on its failure to require FIFA to cover half of the 40,000 Swiss francs (TT$276,000) in costs associated with the appeal to it, Hamel-Smith noted that it (CAS) was merely stating FIFA’s long-standing policy in all cases involving it.
Hamel-Smith stated that while Wallace and his team could have applied for legal aid to cover the full cost of the appeal, as required under the Swiss-court’s rules, they did not.
“You may disagree with the decision but that is not grounds for bias,” Hamel-Smith said, as he noted that court officials who communicated with the parties would not be the arbitrators in the appeal.
Responding to the submissions, Dr Emir Crowne, who is leading the former TTFA board members’ legal team, called on Gobin to look past the clauses which appear to require arbitration as opposed to local litigation.
Stating that such requirements are inoperable and unconscionable, Crowne claimed that FIFA forced their inclusion at the expense of the association and its members.
“The crux of the matter is when FIFA says so, apparently the world must bend to its will,” Crowne said.
In terms of proceedings before the CAS, Crowne noted that his clients opted to withdraw their proceedings due to the gross inequity in bargaining power compared to FIFA.
Stating that the CAS is a private arbitration company, Crowne said his client was uncomfortable with its readiness to accept FIFA’s position on paying costs.
“The familiarity between the parties shown gives us a general cause of concern,” Crowne said.
He also pointed out that Switzerland was an inappropriate forum to resolve such a legal dispute considering the case sole involves T&T.
Crowne also questioned FIFA’s claim that it may withhold funding for local football if Gobin decides to reject its application and hear the case.
“That cannot be a proper argument to a court. That cannot be correct,” Crowne said.
Through the local lawsuit, Wallace and his three vice presidents — Clynt Taylor, Joseph Sam Phillips, and Susan Joseph-Warrick are seeking a declaration that the decision to remove them in March and replace them with a committee headed by businessman Robert Hadad, was null, void, and of no legal or binding effect.
They are also seeking a permanent injunction barring FIFA from meddling in the TTFA’s affair by allegedly seeking to circumvent the democratic process by removing the duly elected executive members.
In the event that Gobin rejects FIFA’s application, the case before her will continue. If the application is upheld, Wallace and his colleagues will have to either abide by FIFA’s decision or attempt to revive their appeal before the CAS.
Wallace and his colleagues are also being represented by Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle, Crystal Paul, and Jason Jones, while Jonathan Walker and Cherie Gopie appeared alongside Hamel-Smith for FIFA.