Tuesday’s court judgment against FIFA has kicked T&T football into no man’s land without an exit strategy.
In a classic case of the mouse that roared, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association took the fight to the football world’s governing body and scored a resounding victory in which winning the battle very likely means losing the war with dread consequences for T&T football, its players and legions of fans.
In delivering her judgment, even Justice Carol Gobin foresaw the potential consequences of the ruling she was required to make in accordance with the law when she noted the “worrying” repercussions, adding that “the wisdom of the challenge by the claimants of the actions of FIFA is not for the court”.
Leading the criticism against the claimants was no less a personage than Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley whose tongue-in-cheek social media post describing the judgment as a pyrrhic victory was an awkward position on a ruling that sought to uphold the laws of Trinidad and Tobago against FIFA’s refusal to acknowledge them. Perhaps, like so many heartbroken football fans, he was just too emotionally crushed to keep a still tongue.
While this story is not yet over, logic would suggest that FIFA will dig in its heels and, at the very least, keep the TTFA under indefinite suspension for defying its instruction to take its case against the world governing body to FIFA’s own Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). From FIFA’s perspective, recognition of its court as the only forum for addressing differences is a binding condition on members. This was its position on September 24 when it suspended the TTFA for direct breach of Article 59 of the FIFA Statutes, which “expressly prohibits recourse to ordinary courts unless specifically provided for in the FIFA regulations”.
Having said then that the suspension would only be lifted when the TTFA “fully complies with its obligations as a member of FIFA”, it is difficult to imagine any scenario by which FIFA will now back down, especially given its notorious reputation as a virtual law unto itself. Indeed, one would expect FIFA to make an example of the TTFA for other members that may be thinking of challenging the football behemoth.
The question now is where does this leave T&T’s football?
If the William Wallace-led TTFA board decides to hold the line and stay in office, it will not have FIFA’s financial resources which have kept it afloat. Given the tensions between the TTFA and the Government, State funding may also be out of the question. In this context, the board could take its legal victory as a win for principle and resign to permit a transition to a new regime that would induce FIFA to lift the suspension—which would only underscore the pyrrhic nature of its victory.
Alternatively, it could figure out an independent path to its own recovery outside the FIFA system, commit to community football and ride out its term to 2023 with an eye on creating a platform for World Cup 2026. The football is in its court.