T&T Internationals, Willis Plaza and Rundell Winchester have spent the last 2 months unable to play competitive football due to FIFA red tape.
Both players moved from Central F.C. to Belgian club C.S.Vise where they joined their former Central F.C. coach, Terry Fenwick.
“I thought it would be a great move in my career” said 27 year old Plaza. “I wanted to play in Europe and although Vise wasn’t a top club, I thought it would put me in the shop window to get me to a bigger club”
But things quickly went wrong for both players when their salaries were not paid.
“Vise is a nice club” said 20 year old Winchester ”And I thought working with Terry again would help me get used to playing overseas. Vise gave us nice apartments and things were going well until we didn’t get paid.”
The players still hadn’t been paid in September as directors left the club and those left behind struggled to find new finance. Meanwhile, the players were becoming so desperate that they were asking friends and family to send money from T&T to cover basic living expenses.
Meanwhile, Central F.C. were also chasing money owed by C.S.Vise. “We transferred Rundell to C.S.Vise in a deal that would see the Belgian club pay a fee in three tranches.”
Said Operations Director, Kevin Harrison. “When the Belgian club missed the first payment date, we contacted them only to find that the club was suffering from financial difficulties. We also learned that the boys hadn’t been paid, which was a breach of their contracts.”
Three weeks after the first transfer payment was due and it was clear, would not be paid in the near future, and realising that Winchester had still not been paid by Vise, Central F.C.’s board decided that they would recall the speedy Tobagonian and pay for his flight home.
“Had it just been a matter of waiting for the transfer fee, we may not have called Rundell back, but he was literally penniless in a foreign country.” said Harrison. Hearing that Winchester was returning to T&T, Plaza also approached Central F.C. for assistance.
“We spoke to Dexter Skeene at the Pro League and I wrote two letters to Sheldon Phillips at TTFA explaining the player’s situation, and Sheldon promised to “look into it” It appeared to be a straightforward process to bring the guys home and register them with Central.” said Harrison.
“Vise had breached their transfer agreement with Central F.C. and breached their contracts with the players. The Belgian club supported the players return to T&T and even agreed to instigate their international transfers via FIFA’s TMS system.”
But once the players returned to T&T, the situation became more difficult. “We uploaded their information on the TMS system and waited for approval, but it never came through.” Said Harrison.
“We kept updating Sheldon and asking about progress. On 30th September, Sheldon had still “heard nothing from the Belgian F.A.” By this time, both players were in training with Central F.C. We had paid for their flights, provided housing for them and were helping them out with some cash. But they could not play for Central until FIFA authorised their registration.”
On the 10th October, Central F.C. composed a letter to FIFA’s Player’s Status Committee, but being unable to locate any contact details, sent the letter to Phillips who informed Harrison that the committee didn’t use email, but he would forward the complaint to the Belgian F.A.
“3 days later, I sent a letter concerning Plaza to Sheldon, asking him to forward this to the Player’s Status Committee. Again, Sheldon replied that he would see what he could do.”
Harrison said he wrote again to Sheldon Phillips on 26th October explaining that Central were basically financially supporting both players yet were unable to play them. He also pointed out that both players may well be possible selections for Stephen Hart’s Caribbean Cup squad if they were match fit.
Phillips replied that he would follow up with FIFA the next day and that a provisional registration may be the best option.
On 29th October, Central F.C. received 2 letters from FIFA’s Director of Legal Affairs. While the letters stated that the players ordinarily could not be registered outside of the FIFA transfer window, they did point out that with the support of the “competent deciding authority” it was possible that FIFA could take provisional measures to authorise their registrations.
After discussing the matter with Phillips, Harrison wrote to him on 31st October requesting that FIFA authorise the registrations.
On 7th November, Phillips sent a TTFA “player clearance and registration” form for each player, which was hoped would allow them to finally register with Central F.C.
The forms were completed and emailed back the same day, but unfortunately, despite several attempts to several of Phillip’s email addresses, the emails bounced back.
Finally the forms were hand delivered to the TTFA office. Once the forms were completed, Phillips said they just needed to be sent to the Pro League office to confirm clearance for the players to be registered.
“However, once we sent the forms to the Pro League, we were told by General Secretary, Julia Baptiste that the TTFA forms could not be used to replace the necessary transfer forms and that we would need to obtain transfer certificates or an official letter from FIFA.’ explained Harrison. By this time both the players and Central F.C. staff were becoming exasperated by the drawn out process.
“We just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t resolve the issue. As far as we could tell, both players were free agents. Their basic right to earn their living was being denied and, to us, it was simply a matter of cutting through the red tape to solve the problem.” said Harrison.
“Remember, none of this was caused by the players. Both had not been paid by their club and Winchester’s transfer had been null and void due to non payment of the agreed fee. We thought that the FIFA TMS was supposed to remove these barriers.”
Finally, Phillips advised Harrison that it looked like the players could not be registered until the January transfer window.
“This just doesn’t seem right” said Plaza, who personally visited the TTFA office to protest his situation. “FIFA are supposed to make sure that clubs don’t mistreat players. My career has been put on hold for 3 months just because of paperwork.
We are the victims here. I know Central has done everything they can, but I’m disappointed in the lack of support from TTFA. We’re national team players and deserve the support of TTFA. We’re owed money by C.S.Vise and now we’re being stopped from earning a living by FIFA. It’s just wrong.”
“I don’t understand all of the terminology” said Winchester. “All I want to do is play football. That’s what I’m supposed to be paid to do. Mr Phillips is paid to deal with FIFA and other countries associations.
I can’t do that myself. I feel very let down by TTFA because I’ve done nothing wrong yet I’m missing out on games for Central and the national team and I’m owed money by Vise. We need a players union here because TTFA doesn’t seem to want to fight for us.”
Harrison said that he had not been copied in to any of the correspondence between TTFA and FIFA or the Belgian F.A.
“We put all of our faith in Sheldon, who I have a positive relationship with. We can only assume that FIFA is not interested in assisting these players, which, in itself, is shocking. Player’s careers are being damaged, yet it is not them who acted incorrectly.
Meanwhile, Central F.C. have lost the use of a valuable player for half a season due to C.S.Vise reneging on the transfer agreement and FIFA refusing to allow Winchester to register. Add to that the money we spent to bring them home and the financial support we have given them since they arrived back.”
Harrison said that something is very wrong with the FIFA systems if clubs can renege on transfers and breach player contracts, yet refuse to assist the victims of such actions. “Where is the protection for local clubs and players when dealing with clubs overseas?
Were not sports lawyers. We rely on the guidance of TTFA in these matters. There is only so much we can do. After that, we must rely on TTFA to fight our corner”
Meanwhile, Winchester and Plaza continue to watch from the sidelines while their careers are at a standstill.