FIFA president Gianni Infantino has been given the green light to retake control of the T&T Football Association (TTFA).
Delivering a judgement during a virtual hearing yesterday, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appellate Judge Nolan Bereaux ruled that the lawsuit brought by embattled former president William Wallace and his United TTFA team had contravened the TTFA’s constitution.
The decision means that FIFA is free to reintroduce the Normalisation Committee which they replaced Wallace’s team with in March.
With such a move, FIFA may also choose to lift the TTFA’s indefinite suspension, which it applied after Wallace and his team failed to withdraw the lawsuit by its extended ultimatum in September.
FIFA had previously indicated that the lifting of the suspension was contingent on the withdrawal of the lawsuit and modification of the TTFA’s legislation and constitution to prevent similar legal action in the future. However, based on the Appeal Court’s findings the latter may now be unnecessary.
Wallace and his team may still have a lifeline if they desire to pursue the case to its fullest, as they can still appeal the Court of Appeal’s ruling to the Privy Council. They are also free to pursue a case before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
However, Wallace told Guardian Media yesterday that he was throwing in the towel on the matter.
“The court has ruled and we respect the ruling of our courts. As I said before, this is final for me. This is final for me. I am not going beyond this,” Wallace said moments after the ruling.
“I said we would have stated our case and as far as I am concerned, Justice Gobin’s decision would always be very important to me, whether it was struck out based on the application of the law or jurisdiction.
“It was heard. Fate allowed that and there was enough in that decision for me. So now we move on.”
Justice Bereaux, who wrote the substantive judgement yesterday, noted that the TTFA constitution prescribes that all disputes between itself and FIFA should be dealt with by CAS.
“The fact that such a provision is enshrined in the TTFA’s constitution means that the TTFA and its executive are bound to comply. The result is that the filing of these proceedings was a breach of the TTFA’s constitution,” Bereaux said.
He also said that High Court Judge Carol Gobin, who heard the case despite FIFA’s jurisdictional protest and found in Wallace’s team’s favour, was wrong to rule that FIFA’s statutes, which deal with the appointment of normalisation committees to member federations, were inconsistent with the Act of Parliament which incorporated the TTFA. Bereaux said the legislation gave the TTFA the power to adopt FIFA’s laws and policies in its constitution.
“Having made its choice and having bound itself by its own constitution to comply, it cannot now act outside of its provisions,” Bereaux said, as he ruled that the CAS was the more appropriate forum as it is comprised of sporting experts.
Bereaux also stated that Gobin should have stayed the case as requested by FIFA and referred it to arbitration.
While Archie merely gave his nod to Bereaux’s written judgement, he decided to weigh in on Gobin’s handling of the case.
“It was neither prudent case management nor an economical deployment of judicial time and resources to attempt to finally determine the substantive issues and to deliver a judgement less than a week before the scheduled hearing of the interlocutory appeal…Zeal is commendable but it must not obscure the need for caution,” Archie said.
In the judgement, the Appeal Court also ruled that the litigation contravened the Judiciary’s Civil Proceedings Rules, as it was served on FIFA via email when Swiss law does not permit such a method for service of a lawsuit.
Despite the ruling, Bereaux said Wallace did have the authority of the bring the case as all that was required was the approval of the board.
In addition to declaring Gobin’s judgement null and void, the Appeal Court also ordered Wallace and his team to pay FIFA’s legal costs for defending the lawsuit.
Wallace and his colleagues were represented by Dr Emir Crowne, Matthew Gayle, Crystal Paul and Jason Jones, while Christopher Hamel-Smith, SC, Jonathan Walker and Cherie Gopie appeared for FIFA.
ABOUT THE CASE
William Wallace and vice-presidents Clynt Taylor, Joseph Sam Phillips and Susan Joseph-Warrick pursued legal action after they were removed in March and replaced with a committee comprising of businessman Robert Hadad, attorney Judy Daniels and retired banker Nigel Romano.
Wallace’s team initially brought proceedings against FIFA in the CAS but were forced to withdraw as they could not pay the 40,000 Swiss francs (TT$276,000) in associated costs. Their position was partly due to FIFA’s policy to not pay its share of fees and CAS’s rules which require the other party to pay the full costs when the other fails in its obligations.
After the case was filed, FIFA applied for it to be struck out as it claimed the TTFA, by virtue of its membership with FIFA, agreed to forgo all legal action in local courts in favour of proceedings before the CAS.
The application was initially blanked by Gobin, who ruled the local courts were the appropriate forum to resolve the dispute.
With the appeal against her ruling still pending, Gobin set the date for the trial and gave FIFA an extension to file its defence. FIFA failed to meet the deadline, as it maintained the position that it did not accept the jurisdiction of the local court.
Wallace’s team also obtained an injunction against the Normalisation Committee after it attempted to facilitate an extraordinary meeting among members to vote to withdraw the case. The injunction was not opposed by FIFA and was granted.
Wallace’s team attempted to withdraw the case on FIFA’s extended ultimatum of September 23 but filed the application to withdraw past the deadline.
After FIFA’s suspension the following day, Wallace’s team filed another application withdrawing the withdrawal application, in which he admitted he was grudgingly discontinuing the case based on a majority vote during an emergency meeting between his team and stakeholders.
The legal manoeuvre coincided with an announcement from second vice-president Joseph-Warrick that she was resigning from her post.
The United TTFA also approached the CAS for a temporary stay of this country’s suspension to allow its participation in Concacaf’s 2021 Gold Cup draw on September 28. The hearing of the injunction application was deferred after Concacaf agreed to conditionally keep T&T’s place in the draw.
If the suspension is not lifted by either FIFA or CAS by 5 pm on December 18, T&T will be replaced by Antigua and Barbuda as the next highest-ranked team based on performances during the 2019 Concacaf Nations League.
In her judgement last week, Gobin ruled that FIFA’s statutes which prescribe the appointment of committees to member federation was too broad to be considered lawful. She also said the executive was not given an opportunity to respond to FIFA’s decision before they were replaced.