Monday 18 December 2017

FIFA stay silent as players fight for their money

A shameful situation has been allowed to fester for too long, writes Paul Wilson

The Honourable Jack Austin Warner MP, Trinidad & Tobago football executive, FIFA vice-president, Concacaf president and minister of works and transport, has still not paid his country's footballers their agreed bonuses from the World Cup before last.

Before the 2006 tournament, as special adviser to the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation, Warner brokered a deal between the federation and the World Cup team to share the proceeds from their qualification and participation in the event. Warner has since tried to distance himself from that agreement, even though courts have pronounced it valid, and the remarkable upshot is that, while the most famous administrator in the central American region continues to act the FIFA bigwig, pontificating about other nations' World Cup bids, a shameful situation in his own backyard has scandalously been allowed to fester for more than four years.

Warner is no stranger to shameful situations, having been fined by FIFA after his family travel business was exposed as having made an estimated £500,000 from selling 2006 World Cup tickets on the black market.

Unsurprisingly, the Trinidad & Tobago players were suspicious when their Federation said they had only just broken even from their World Cup exploits, and they rejected an initial offer of only £500 per player.

Most of the squad instead asked for an independent audit of the TTFF books for the World Cup period; Warner condemned them as "greedy". No such audit was forthcoming, though it was later revealed that revenue had been close to £15m, 10 times as much as the TTFF first suggested.

When the group of 13 unhappy players attempted to resolve the dispute through the courts, it was agreed instead -- with the TTFF's full compliance -- to put the matter in the hands of the London-based Sport Resolution UK. That body overwhelmingly ruled in the players' favour in 2008 but the money was still not forthcoming.

In July this year the high court in Port of Spain admonished the TTFF for time-wasting, ordered them to honour their bonus agreement, pay the players' legal costs and allow an inspection of the World Cup accounts. A comprehensive victory, one might think -- except that last week the TTFF lodged an appeal. Their grounds for doing so are unclear. They have missed the deadline for lodging an appeal by 33 days. The TTFF appear to be merely playing for time again.

More than four years and another World Cup have passed since the original dispute and the silence from FIFA is deafening. An ethics panel set up in 2006 has already washed its hands, claiming it cannot deal with retrospective matters. The Port of Spain court will rule on the grounds for appeal this week.

"FIFA's role in the whole business has been farcical," says Shaka Hislop, the World Cup goalkeeper turned ESPN commentator whose father, George, has been helping keep players in the Caribbean abreast of developments. "It has been quite clear from day one that legally the TTFF haven't a leg to stand on, but as soon as we tried to do something to get our money, FIFA passed a rule saying players could not take their national associations to court.

"I cannot say I was surprised by the latest decision to appeal. For years now it has been one legal trick after another.

"I imagine that one day, perhaps after a long wait, we will receive what we are due. But I'm one of the players who can afford to wait. I've had a decent career and the money is less important for me than the principle. But among the 13 are players who have never been on big money, players who have not moved beyond the islands to play, and it is a wholly different matter for them. We are looking for justice, first and foremost for those players but also

to bring some transparency into the way football is run here. Big changes need to be made."

Mike Townley, the lawyer representing the players, argues the changes need to go all the way to the top. "It is outrageous that FIFA are not getting involved," he says. "They seem to have the attitude that it is nothing to do with them but they have an ethics committee, FIFA members are supposed to be governed by a code of ethics and not paying your debts or honouring your contracts is generally considered unethical."

As the original Pirates of the Caribbean used to joke, the code is more what you'd call guidelines anyway. The Trinidad & Tobago players might as well walk the plank for all FIFA care. The only body that can make a complaint to FIFA's ethics committee turns out to be a national football federation in any case. That fact alone tells you everything you need to know.

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