Members of the United T&T Football Association are claiming round one in their battle against the sport’s supreme body - FIFA, after High Court Judge Justice Carol Gobin, ruled that T&T courts can hear the matter. In her 24-page electronic judgement on Thursday Gobin wrote: “This matter is not a matter for the Court of Arbitration for Sports.”
The United TTFA is seeking to have FIFA-appointed Normalisation Committee which was appointed on March 27 to govern the affairs of T&T football be removed. FIFA on March 17 removed the duly elected executive of the TTFA headed by president William Wallace and his thre vice presidents — Clynt Taylor, Joseph Sam Phillips, and Susan Joseph-Warrick.
Wallace told Guardian Media Sports on Thursday that: “We are extremely happy with the ruling of the judge. We just wanted the opportunity to be heard that is what we were always asking for. So, this is the first step and we are grateful and elated.”
Asked if he feeling that he vindicated he responded, “I will not say that myself, this is just the beginning and the end of it all if I have to be vindicated then, then I will be vindicated then. It’s just the begining so I will not toot my horn until the end.”
The matter was initially set to be heard in the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) situated in Lausanne, Switzerland in May, but the William Wallace-led TTFA opted to take its fight to the High Court in Port-of-Spain on May 18, citing institutional bias.
Justice Gobin, in handing down her decision, urged the FIFA to not exercise discrimination of any kind against the TTFA, saying: “65. As for the concerns about irreparable fallout or adverse consequences to TTFA and T&T I am encouraged by the lofty objectives identified in FIFA statutes and particularly articles (3) and (4) of FIFA’s commitment to respecting internationally recognised human rights, non-discrimination of any kind against a country for any reason and its commitment to promoting friendly relations in society for humanitarian objectives all of which are underpinned by an appreciation for the rule of law. I do not expect FIFA to walk off the field or to 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.”
Following the ruling as Keith Look Loy, who served at chairman of the TTFA Technical Committee in Wallace administration said the fight is about national sovereignty and democracy. “This is a struggle about national sovereignty and democracy. The court has said that T&T’s law is supreme. The court has said that it has the absolute right to hear this case, irrespective of what FIFA may say. The second case in this matter is about FIFA’s right to impose that committee. I fully expected this decision to go our way, as I am convinced that the second decision will go our way.”
Look Loy, a former national player and coach believe that this matter will be a significant one, as the FIFA is facing challenges by other Member Association around the world. “I have always maintained that this case will have far-reaching implications for the whole FIFA, Normalisation Committee, CAS system. There are people around the world watching this and this is one of the biggest decisions in global sports law for I don’t know how many decades. So the two cases combined is not only about the TTFA or what FIFA can do and if we have a plan to pay off debt, no. This is about huge matters of global importance and we have won the first round and we are happy for that, and we look forward going into the substantiative case which, I repeat, is if FIFA has the right to remove a democratically and constitutionally elected executive and replace it with whatever it feels to replace it with.”
With the ruling, the FIFA now has a period of seven days to file an appeal and 21 days to file a defence against the claims against them. Look Loy dismissed claims of an impending ban on the United TTFA for its decision to seek justice via the local courts, as well as its breach of the FIFA Statutes which is liable to a ban or suspension.
He believes the ruling can also inspire other member associations in the FIFA to challenge decisions that may be seen as unfair, or forced the FIFA to amend its Statutes. “It is not just a matter of TTFA versus FIFA, but what this now places squarely on the table in my view, is the issue of FIFA regulations, FIFA protocol, FIFA culture and FIFA Statutes. Under the statutes as it exist right now, FIFA can literally declare that it does not like the shape pf the president’s head and impose a normalisation committee, there are no rules to guide it. None in terms of the reasons why it will be imposed, the duration of the imposition, the functions of the committee, nothing at all. This places on the table the question of if normalisation committees are legal and if they are legal under what limitations.”
Look Loy said there are lots of unreported concerns of normalisation committees across the globe, saying the African nations are currently in a battle with one now.