Believe it or not, I was about to start my column on the stunning victory of the Los Angeles Lakers over the Miami Heat in the NBA finals. Since the visit of the legendary Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to T&T’s shores, I have always been a fan of the Lakers.
I had prepared how my entry into basketball came about etc., but then I was stopped in my tracks and made aware of another victory - one that is being referred to as “victory to the independent and sovereign people of T&T”.
Quite a number of people may be confused as victory and T&T football seem to be two combinations that haven’t co-existed for quite some time. Perhaps “we are banned for sure now” is one view while some may counter, “So what? We can’t even beat St Kitts & Nevis”.
Whatever your point of view, it doesn’t really matter as Justice Carol Gobin handed down her 23-page judgement on Tuesday night in favour of the United TTFA against the mighty and powerful FIFA. To be open and honest, I expected her to hand down this judgement considering some of the facts which were set out in her previous ruling in the matter.
Since I am not an attorney, there is little need for me to deal with the 23 pages of her judgement and before I address the conclusion, as that is the most important part of the ruling, I must pay respect to the United TTFA members for the fortitude they have exhibited in the face of staunch criticism.
They must be some of the most vilified individuals in football in recent memory - they have been maligned, called names, cast as liars, accused of not caring about youths, not caring about football in T&T and probably sworn at face-to-face by individuals who thought that their motive was downright selfish. Yet, they ignored the criticism, fought and stood up for what they believed in.
Admittedly, I have grown to admire them for their resilience to withstand all the pressure for the stance they have taken. In a zoom meeting in which I was a part of, I congratulated Osmond “Mr Constitution” Downer for a question he tabled by inquiring who exactly is FIFA suing since the United TTFA is not recognised by FIFA and as far as FIFA was concerned, (William) Wallace and company had no standing in T&T’s football.
Before I informed the meeting about my own club’s football committee’s decision, I congratulated the United TTFA in my personal capacity for the principled stance that they were adopting. But I honestly thought they would have backed down. It takes individuals of real steel to withstand what they have gone through in the last couple of months but it also says that when you are not in a fight and in someone else’s shoes, you really would not understand how they feel. In other words, you have to be part of the movement to understand the fight.
From day one, I said what FIFA did to our duly elected executive was wrong. In fact, everyone, including those persons against the stance that Wallace and company was taking, agreed with me.
However, there was always a “but” followed by “we will get banned by FIFA unless we take this matter out of court”. The fear of T&T being banned was definitely a huge factor that influenced why many individuals and clubs backed down. I recall from early on the thought process was that FIFA can’t do this to a democratically elected body and fight them we must.
When FIFA realised what was happening to their case, suddenly panic set in and the one weapon they had was to threaten little T&T with being banned. Nobody in their right mind (including me) wants to see us get banned, but at the end of the day, where do you draw the line? While the point has been made to think about the youths and their future, sometimes, one has to make some harsh decisions. I remember Wallace was severely chastised for saying there might be collateral damage and based on this latest judgement, there will be collateral damage.
Three things stand out for me with the judgement and I did not need a court of law to guide me. 1 - “The Court declares that the removal of the duly elected executive on 17/3/20 by the defendant is illegal null and void and of no effect”.
I preached that months ago - FIFA was wrong after three and a half months following a democratic election of the TTFA to remove the elected officers. 2 - “The Court declares that the appointment of a normalisation committee to interfere in the affairs of the TTFA is null and void and of no effect”. I preached that months ago as to where did this normalisation committee come from? What was their standing in the football fraternity and who did they represent? FIFA?
Thirdly and certainly the most damning, “The Court declares that the decision of the Defendant dated 17/3/20 to appoint a normalisation committee was made in bad faith and for an improper and illegal motive”.
Dear me! That one hit hard but is it surprising? Any right-thinking individual knew that FIFA acted in bad faith and the feeling was that there was some ulterior motive behind FIFA’s actions. If you are around the football circles, you would hear all sorts of reasons but trust me, there are those who know exactly why FIFA removed the executive and moved in with their normalisation committee.
So where do we go from here? I expect the next move will be from FIFA, but I also expect that Wallace and company will also make some moves of their own. The Prime Minister’s history lesson on social media last night comparing the court victory of the United TTFA against FIFA to a Pyrrhic victory can only be described as naive. Is the PM suggesting for a moment that T&T is too little and insignificant to take a principled stance against FIFA for fear of backlash?
This period of uncertainty may very well give us the opportunity to rebuild our football from the grassroots level as now will not be the time to turn our backs on football. I would expect the Ministry of Sports would step forward and even corporate T&T to try to build our football, our leagues, associations, clubs etc so when we do get back on the international stage, we will be ready. Let's stand as one for our nation just as our motto taught us - together we aspire, together we achieve.
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of any organisation of which he is a stakeholder.