The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association’s fourth successive attempt to hold its 2017 AGM ended in farce and a shouting match today in Couva, as local football president David John-Williams adjourned the meeting for 14 days in an apparent misinterpretation of the constitution and amidst cries of “tyranny” and “dictatorship.”
In the process, John-Williams effectively blocked a grilling over the first Annual Financial Statement he was due to present as president and construction at the TTFA’s new “home of football”—a technical development centre and hotel—and, possibly blocked a vote of no-confidence as well.
It is the fifth time—without resolution—that the TTFA’s 2016 financial statement has been on the agenda. The local football body cannot access FIFA funding, which stands at a minimum of US$750,000 per year, without having had its Financial Statement approved.
In the melee thatbroke out in the Ato Boldon Stadium’s Media Room following John-Williams’ announcement, the normally reserved North Zone president Anthony Harford accused the President of “tyranny” while members—including veteran Referees Football Association (TTRFA) vice-president Osmond Downer and Veteran Footballers Foundation (VFFOTT) president Selby Browne—accused the W Connection football club owner of violating the constitution.
“What happened today is nothing short of a major embarrassment to our sport,” Harford told Wired868. “I felt as if I was sitting among a nest of vipers.”
“The President’s actions were outrageous, absurd and wrong on yet another occasion,” he said, “similar to the compliance matter.”
The TTFA first tried to have its financial statement approved at an extraordinary general meeting on 5 July, 2017 but was forced to postpone the effort as general secretary Justin Latapy-George had not made copies of the document available to members, as mandated by the TTFA Constitution.
At its AGM on 25 November, 2017, the local football umbrella body tried again; on John-Williams’ instructions, however, financial documents were distributed to one-third of the membership, the President claiming the rest were non-compliant. The general meeting overruled John-Williams and his Board was given 30 days to reconvene the session.
For the follow-up meeting, the John-Williams-led Board chose 8am on 23 December, 2017, two days before Christmas. However, although members showed up, the TTFA president stayed home—without warning—and sent word that he was unwell.
Vice-president Ewing Davis chaired that meeting on John-Williams’ behalf and tried to have the financial statement approved without the President or financial manager, Tyril Patrick, on hand to answer questions. The membership refused.
The reconvened AGM was then set for 20 February and, although John-Williams picked the date, when members turned up, he was again absent. And, yet again, the AGM was postponed.
At 8:30am today when Latapy-George took the roll call, there were 17 members present along with John-Williams, Davis and Board representatives Richard Quan Chan and Sharon O’ Brien.
Of the 17, there were representatives from seven Pro League clubs—including the TTFA President’s daughter and current W Connection boss Renée John-Williams—while the remaining 10 delegates came from the various zonal bodies as well as Secondary Schools Football League (SSFL) president William Wallace.
John-Williams, who chaired the meeting as president, then got up and, according to several eye-witnesses, announced that it would be “unethical” to proceed without a quorum of at least 24 members. He then abruptly adjourned the meeting for an unspecified date within 14 days.
The room erupted as Browne and Downer shouted their opposition, under article 24.3 of the TTFA Constitution, while, banging on a table, John-Williams shouted back.
Article 24.3 states: “A quorum is not required for the second meeting of the General Meeting unless any item on the agenda proposes the amendment of the Constitution, the election of a member of the Board of Directors, the dismissal of a member of a body of TTFA, the expulsion of a Member or the dissolution of TTFA.”
“I pointed out to him that, as chairman, he has no such authority [to adjourn],” said Browne. “The meeting has the authority to take a vote on that and decide… Also there was a duly convened AGM in November for which there was a quorum.
“In the case of an adjournment, whoever is present forms the quorum.”
Harford said John-Williams recognised no opinion other than his own.
“People were explaining to David that a quorum does not matter now because you had a quorum the first time,” said Harford. “A reconvened meeting is just the continuation of the first meeting. It is as if you went for lunch and came back with a member short.
“I told David let us listen to the people because the entire floor without exception was saying let us continue; and you are saying only your opinion counts. I told him this is a democracy and what you are displaying is a tyrannical approach.
“When the floor speaks, you have to listen. When you are saying we have to listen to you alone, that is tyranny! […] I was aghast at what I was hearing.”
Harford claimed that Renée John-Williams twice stood up and appealed for calm from the floor and head table and urged her father to let the members vote on whether to adjourn the meeting. The TTFA president refused.
“I felt bad for his daughter because it cannot be right to see your father behaving that way and to see people talking to him in the way they did,” said Harford. “I said, ‘Mr Chairman, what you are doing is not inclining us to be obsequious to you… The people who spoke are imminently smart persons who [think] before they talk.’
“Mr Downer is a walking lexicon on constitutional interpretation while Selby usually follows protocol; Selby can be enthusiastic but he is a stakeholder and must be listened to.”
There were raised eyebrows too at the TTFA President’s assertion that it would be “unethical” to proceed with the AGM, in which he was set to be grilled on his financial stewardship of the football body.
“[SSFL president] William Wallace, who is a voice of reason, stood up and tried to tell [John-Williams] there is a difference between illegal, unconstitutional and unethical,” said Harford. “Unethical and illegal are two different words. [John-Williams] said it was unethical to start without a quorum. People said okay but it is not illegal, so don’t use the two words in the same context.
“[…] The entire floor is saying let us proceed with the vote and here you are saying [to adjourn for] 14 days which could be Easter weekend or Spiritual Baptist Day.
“But you got the impression that David didn’t want the meeting to proceed, no matter what. It was extremely sad and I felt embarrassed.”
Eastern Football Association (EFA) president Linus Sanchez agreed that John-Williams’ behaviour was unconstitutional. However, he reserved most of his ire for the members who did not show up this morning.
Trinidad and Tobago Super League (TTSL) president Keith Look Loy and his FC Santa Rosa club had already committed themselves to a Walk For Peace in Arima, before the TTFA Board picked the date for the AGM. But Sanchez was furious that nobody from the TTSL came in Look Loy’s absence while Central Football Association (CFA) general secretary Clynt Taylor was also a no-show.
“Santa Rosa I can understand; but don’t tell me at least three [TTSL] clubs couldn’t send one member to ensure they had representation,” said Sanchez. “And nobody could reach Clynt Taylor from the CFA on his phone. These are the two members who are most vociferous about what happens in TTFA, so now my delegates are wondering if they are just talkers.
“The Southern FA had no member. We can understand Tobago because of the ferry [problems] but nobody showed from Eastern Counties… It leaves me to conclude that [administrators] don’t understand their contribution to sport and crime in this country.
“Because they are always running to get on a committee but, after they are nominated, you don’t see or hear them. There are too many square pegs in round holes!”
Sanchez suggested that the absent stakeholders were worse than the supposedly misbehaving football president.
“An AGM happens just once a year and we, the members, have absolute power,” he said. “So why in the name of God would you throw your hands in the air and say ‘I ent able with that’ when it is time for an AGM?
“They have to stop blaming the president and understand that it is their irresponsibility that has Trinidad and Tobago football in the position it is in. If we don’t make our voices heard, then we have to say ‘I am the reason why this is failing’.”
Today’s adjourned meeting meant another wasted trip for the bemused representative from auditing firm Madan Ramnarine and Company as well as accounting advisor Robert Reis. It is likely that the TTFA will still be billed for their presence.
Members filed out of the Ato Boldon Stadium in disgust while Browne and Downer urged them to remain for a meeting without the president as happened during his first no-show.
Some members vowed that they would not return. However, Sanchez noted that, if members became frustrated and stayed away, John-Williams could conceivably use his “unconstitutional approach” as strategy by continually reconvening meetings until only his supporters are present.
“The next time [the TTFA president] tries this, we will appoint a chairperson and proceed with the meeting,” said Sanchez. “If the President scans the crowd and feels he doesn’t have support and adjourns, we will have a meeting anyway in accordance with the constitution.
“Selby was asking members to stay back today but many of them were disgusted and they didn’t understand the constitution. We will be better prepared next time.”
Browne suggested John-Williams’ decision might have been made to head off a possible no confidence motion, although the constitution does not allow a vote for the removal of a member—including the president—without it being first put on the agenda.
Still, the VFFOTT president said he hopes FIFA intervenes in the impasse.
“I would suggest to members that the next action is to write to FIFA and Concacaf on the [TTFA’s] failure to have an AGM that was called since last November,” said Browne. “And one of the options is for FIFA to send in a normalisation committee.”
Harford had hoped to discuss the lack of financial support for the zonal bodies or inter-zonal competition, particularly at youth level.
The lack of clarity on the TTFA’s “Home of Football,” which has already benefited from a TT$2.6 million FIFA grant, is another major concern for stakeholders.
John-Williams, who is a contractor, has been seen on the site for long hours as workers toiled on the project. Yet nobody seems to know who was awarded the contract for the project while a Sport Company source said the TTFA President has so far failed to respond to a request for information from SPORTT acting CEO Jason Williams.
Harford, who is also director of sports management group All Sports Promotion, suggested that today’s chaotic meeting might actually be another sign of progress from the Jack Warner era, when the football president’s rule was unquestioned.
“The one thing I can say is what is happening is probably healthy,” said Harford. “We have reached a place where we realise the days of people going in and bowing to the head table have gone. We are in that transition phase.
“[…] People do their own research before meetings now and don’t take the president’s word as gospel. We are building what I hope would become a strong foundation.”
Neither the TTFA president nor his daughter responded to requests from Wired868 for comment on the former’s decision to adjourn the AGM. President John-Williams also did not respond when asked if he was deliberately trying to avoid taking questions on the football body’s spending and construction work on its technical centre.