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TTFF judgement rights old football wrongs

Monday, February 28, 2011

The judgement on Friday by Justice Devindra Rampersad that the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) should pay the sums owed to the 13 footballers who represented Trinidad and Tobago in the 2006 World Cup campaign should bring closure to not just a longstanding issue, but also makes some critical observations about management practice in sport that should become institutional.
Justice Rampersad, addressing the court, noted that “Lucky or unlucky for you, I have some experience in the accounting field.”

That combination of jurisprudence and financial savvy led to some thorny questioning of the TTFF’s operations, as Justice Rampersad noted that several key documents were missing that would offer a clear line of accountability in payments. Fifa’s payments to the organisation were dubbed “a mystery” and the judge noted that as much as one million francs appeared to be missing from the football federation’s books.  The judge has also directed that the federation’s books relevant to the 2006 World Cup should be opened for independent audit.

The players on the 2006 team were guaranteed by contract; a payment collectively of 50 per cent of all World Cup revenue gathered in the heated effort to first qualify and then perform at the mecca of football.
The 16 players took their complaint to London’s Sport Dispute Resolution Panel (SDRP), which ruled that the players were owed the agreed on split. In November 2008, the players asked the High Court to uphold the May judgement of the SDRP, but the TTFF counter-claimed that the players had breached a confidentiality clause and appealed. In July 2010, Justice Rampersad dismissed the appeal as “time-wasting” and ordered the TTFF to pay the bonus.

The judgement on Friday should bring an end to the counterclaims by the TTFF, and the first payment to the 13 remaining petitioners of $1.1 million should now be considered finally due. How much the remaining Soca Warriors are likely to get as this dispute moves to final resolution will depend on what’s left after five years of almost continuous legal contention and the spiralling state of local football since then. To be sure, the TTFF’s first offer to the hero team of less than $6,000 was so insulting as to be inflammatory.  Even without the benefit of a final accounting, it was clear that far more than that had been collected in the excitement of Trinidad and Tobago’s qualification for the 2006 World Cup.

In the wake of this country’s World Cup qualification, a logo was minted and fees were levied for its official use, normally reticent sponsors fell over each other to spend on the successful team.  Only epic mismanagement could have failed to ensure that there was an adequate return to the TTFF that would have settled debts and done the boys proud on their return from Germany. Instead, a running five-year debacle followed, one that so completely soured the footballers that all but four announced their retirement from international football before 2006 was done.

This slamming of own goals on local football would continue unabated as the talent and hard won skill of the now effectively spurned footballers who had managed a feat unequaled in the history of Trinidad and Tobago soccer, were dissipated to foreign clubs and teams, their talent and experience lost for half a decade. Also lost, apparently, is the money that was supposed to be paid to the Soca Warriors.  The judgement by Justice Rampersad directs that $7 million be disbursed to the plaintiffs as an interim payment, but even Brent Sancho, who has fought for this case since 2006, is wondering “where the money gone?”

The case presented to Justice Rampersad suggests that there remain critical questions for the TTFF about their accountability for the money entrusted to them, and the transparency of their execution of the public trust expected of them. The scorn that the judge heaped on the documentation of the most popular and best funded football experience this country has ever seen clearly far short of expectations even in a presentation mounted as a defence of the TTFF’s practices. There are lessons to be learned here, and key among them is that these are lapses that must be thoroughly investigated and procedures instituted that ensure they are never repeated. So pay up, TTFF and open the books for proper, independent auditing.


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