Opinion: Rowley was right - TTFA win was loss for country's football

By Kwesi Mugisa October 16, 2020

In light of the devastating impact the recent Trinidad and Tobago High Court ruling could have on the country’s national program, it’s hard to not agree with Prime Minister Keith Rowley's assessment of the victory being a pyrrhic one.

The term itself comes from the example of Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose triumph against the Romans in the Battle of Asculum destroyed much of his forces, but while it was a famous tactical win, it eventually forced the end of his campaign.  If that metaphorical allusion is too complex, one could consider a tree with 211 branches; William Wallace and his executive have climbed to the edge of one of the highest ones, cut it off and celebrated while falling to the floor.

The ruling was declared as a victory of significant proportions for global football, but it really strains credulity to see how.  Last month, the majority of the TTFA members had voted to withdraw the case.  Rowley’s post might not signal the official position of the government, FIFA’s usual opposition in such matters, but it clearly seems that they do not support the action either.  Neither, does it seem, did a vast majority of fans of the sport across the country.  Perhaps the victory, framed as many things these often are these days, in disingenuous displays of fervent nationality, was only for a few disgruntled executives and their egos.

Believe it or not, the rest of global football has continued on as usual, in many cases oblivious to the ruling of the court or even suspension of the TTFA.  Qualifiers have continue as planned, and those of us who compete in the region will have the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifiers to look forward to in short order. 

There is a simple reason for the overall lack of interest.  While the case has been framed by many of those involved as a once in a lifetime battle of David vs Goliath, the real fact of the matter is surprise, surprise Trinidad and Tobago is not the only country to take FIFA to court, or even to secure a positive court ruling.  Perhaps many sold themselves the same stories at the start of the chapter, but the tale has always ended in much the same manner in a variety of disputes with FIFA.  If there was a case that was going to turn out differently, forgive the incredulity for not believing it would be an association that has racked up debts of almost $US10m and dogged by years of scandals and mismanagement, that breaks that trend.

Now don’t get me wrong, FIFA as an institution has gotten a lot wrong, on more than one occasion it has proven to be riddled with corruption and can often come off high handed and dictatorial.  However, for many FIFA members, all sovereign states, the deal is a Faustian bargain.  Like it or not, a lot of the organisation’s massive success has to do with its ability to set aside and solve petty grievances and rivalries that often consume international politics and ensure that, for the most part, whatever the stakes there is a game played on the pitch.  A part of that success then means that for many associations FIFA is able to successfully fund a huge part of the development of the game locally.

For many in the twin-island republic, it is the latter that would cause significant trepidation regarding the ruling.  In the case of the already cash strapped United TTFA, it surely comes down to things like funding needed to secure the livelihood of thousands of workers that serve the sport across the island.  It could mean blighting potentially bright youth prospects, who will not only lack competitions to showcase their talent, but funding to help develop it.  Depending on how long this impasse lasts an inactive national team could not only miss the upcoming World Cup qualifier, but fall behind in preparations for 2026, which will be held in the CONCACAF region and surely be a massive blow for fans if T&T cannot secure one of four extra places.  All in all, steep prices most are not willing to pay for a declaration of sovereignty. 

In recent interview with my colleges on the SportsMax Zone, which got quite heated at times, well-respected leading sports attorney Dr. Emir Crowne, who was one of the representatives for the TTFA, struggled to put what was achieved by the body for the overall good of the country’s football in any meaningful context.  Understandably, it was a tough job, I suspect outside of mere theoretical platitudes for those in charge, there is no real concrete benefit for the sport be found.  

As part of her ruling, the High Court judge found the section Article 8(2) of the FIFA Statutes, which speaks to the establishment of normalisation committees, was incongruous with the country’s municipal laws and was hence invalid.  A win, perhaps, but what is the endgame.  In the end, in all likelihood, the TTFA will have to amend the statues of its own association to completely enable its parent association to govern as set out in the statues.  A move previously taken by all other David’s in this battle, no matter how long it takes.

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