After months of battling off the field and in the courtroom, embattled former T&T Football Association (TTFA) president William Wallace’s team will have to wait three more days to learn the fate of their controversial lawsuit against FIFA.
High Court Judge Carol Gobin reserved her decision in the case to next Tuesday, after hearing submissions from lawyers representing Wallace and his team during a virtual trial yesterday.
Although FIFA’s local legal team was present, they did not challenge or defend against the executive members’ submissions, as they maintained they had received instructions not to play a role because their client does not accept the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.
However, Senior Counsel Christopher Hamel-Smith, who leads FIFA’s legal team, opened the hearing with a request to defer the case. Hamel-Smith pointed out that by virtue of FIFA’s decision to suspend the TTFA’s membership last month, the Normalisation Committee led by businessman Robert Hadad, which was appointed by FIFA to replace the executive in March, had ceased to function.
“If they want to run the TTFA, that is entirely their business. There is certainly nothing stopping it based on FIFA’s suspension,” Hamel-Smith said, as he noted FIFA’s appeal over the jurisdiction to hear the case is carded for October 19.
Responding to Hamel-Smith, the executive’s attorney, Dr Emir Crowne, suggested that FIFA had attempted the manoeuvre previously and failed.
“When FIFA does not get its way it does not know what to do. They are not accustomed to that,” Crowne said.
Gobin questioned FIFA’s claim over the executive’s ability to take control of the association, as she pointed out that it maintained that it only recognises the committee. She also criticised the world governing body for repeatedly stating that it does not recognise the jurisdiction of local courts, while still using the court system to challenge her decision to continue with the case before the Court of Appeal.
“It makes a mockery of our system if a party is not willing to accept the rule of law in this country,” Gobin said before rejecting the proposal.
Presenting submissions in the substantive case, Crowne claimed that FIFA’s statutes, which speak to the appointment of such committees to member federations and associations, was too vague to be considered legitimately binding, as they only provide for such a process in “extraordinary circumstances.”
He said at the time of the announcement, FIFA had claimed that the decision was based on the association’s potential insolvency but provided no further information.
“There is rampant speculation but that is not evidence,” Crowne said.
He said fairness required that his clients be given an opportunity to respond before the decision was taken, as they have maintained that they inherited the association’s dire financial situation when they were elected in November last year.
“As has been shown before, FIFA and fairness probably do not go hand in hand,” Crowne said.
In terms of compatibility with the local legislation which established the TTFA and prescribes how it should be governed, Crowne stated that Parliament did not expressly recognise the supremacy of FIFA’s laws. He said his clients did not have the remit to change the local legislation, as requested by FIFA as a condition to lifting the indefinite suspension.
“It cannot be that a private oganisation in Zurich, Switzerland, overrides this country’s Parliament,” Crowne said.
Crowne was questioned by Gobin over his clients’ decision to seek an injunction from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), also based in Switzerland, over the suspension, when it challenges FIFA’s claim that that body is the correct one to preside over the substantive dispute.
Crowne said that the costs for the injunction were marginal compared to the substantive case. He also noted that the suspension issue occurred outside of local jurisdiction.
“It is a private arbitration body for profit. It is not a court,” Crowne said.
Wallace and his colleagues are also being represented by Matthew Gayle, Crystal Paul and Jason Jones, while Jonathan Walker and Cherie Gopie appeared alongside Hamel-Smith for FIFA.