FIFA has lost its bid to have a lawsuit by a group of former T&T Football Association (TTFA) executive members over their removal dismissed before it even kicked off.
Delivering a judgement electronically on Thursday, High Court Judge Carol Gobin rejected FIFA's interim application to strike out the claim based on its rule, which precludes member federations and associations from taking legal action against it in their local courts.
Gobin ruled that FIFA's rule, which it says the TTFA agreed to when it joined the organisation, could not oust the jurisdiction of the local courts to determine whether its rules are in conformity to the Act of Parliament, which established the TTFA.
She also said that arbitration, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as the referee, as suggested by FIFA and initially attempted by former TTFA president William Wallace and his executive could not resolve the dispute.
"This is a matter which falls squarely within the jurisdiction of the High Court of this country. This is not a matter for the CAS," Gobin said.
Gobin also noted that FIFA's policy of refusing to pay its share of the 40,000 Swiss francs (TT$276,000) required for the arbitration before the CAS rendered the process inoperable.
She said that at the eventual trial of the case Fifa would have to prove that its removal of the board and the appointment of its normalisation committee was in conformity with its own statutes which speak to respecting the independence of member associations.
"FIFA may yet have to justify its purported assumption of extraordinary power to control the day to day affairs of the TTFA, including the authority to amend to review and amend its statutes and to organise and conduct elections of a new TTFA Executive Committee for a four-year mandate," she said.
In her judgement, Gobin made noted of FIFA's open threat that former board's continued pursuit of the matter in court may lead to the suspension of the country's membership and funding cuts.
Gobin noted that while FIFA has a duty to ensure the enforcement of its rules, she noted that its lofty objectives in Article 3 and 4 of its statutes include a commitment to non-discrimination and humanitarian objectives underpinned by the rule of law.
"I do not expect FIFA to walk off the field or take its ball and go home if, after full ventilation of the issues, this court were to confirm the primacy of an Act of the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago over the FIFA Statutes," she said.
FIFA was ordered to pay the former board's legal costs for defending the application.
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 duly elected executive members.
Wallace and his colleagues are being represented by Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle, Crystal Paul, and Jason Jones, while Christopher Hamel-Smith, SC, Jonathan Walker and Cherie Gopie are representing FIFA.
A date for the next hearing of the case is yet to be fixed.