Undeterred by legal defeats before the London-based Sport Dispute Resolution Panel (SDRP) and the Port of Spain High Court, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF), guided by special adviser, Minister of Works and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, is attempting to use the courts for a third time to deny bonuses to 13 of their 2006 World Cup players.
On Monday morning, the TTFF served notice of appeal to the High Court. The three lawyers listed for the TTFF are British Queen's Counsel William McCormick, Kelvin Ramkissoon and Om Lalla.
The appeal seeks to nullify the judgment of Acting Justice Devindra Rampersad who, on July 29 ordered the TTFF to honour their bonus agreement to the "Soca Warriors" and also pay legal costs for the players, which is expected to be in excess of $3 million. The TTFF are also obliged to allow independent audit of their financial books for the period related to the 2006 World Cup.
The TTFF and president Oliver Camps are formally listed as the defendants. However, Warner is inextricably linked to the case as he personally negotiated World Cup bonuses with the players in November 2005 and financial settlements, years later, while he publicly insisted upon a right to continue the legal battle in the light of Rampersad's judgment in July.
McCormick and Lalla both also represented Warner in May when he was sued by former UNC financier Krishna Lalla for an alleged debt of $13,531,095.
In the case of the running legal battle with the footballers—all Chaconia Medal gold winners—McCormick, Lalla and Ramkissoon are challenging Rampersad's ruling on findings of fact and law.
On May 19, 2008, the TTFF were ordered by SDRP arbitrator Ian Mill QC to pay the Warriors "50 per cent of the revenues derived from the 'Road to Germany 2006' campaign". However, the TTFF attempted to block the judgment on the grounds that a Trinidad Guardian article written by Francis Joseph and published on May 20, 2008 was in breach of the arbitration's confidentiality agreement.
The TTFF and the players accused each other of the leak and the source remains undetermined. Joseph is now Warner's employee at the Ministry of Works, while the Trinidad Guardian repeatedly refused to clarify the matter.
Rampersad did not believe it mattered much.
"The post-award disclosures of the award itself would not raise the mischief against which the confidentiality provisions were directed," stated Rampersad. "The surrounding circumstances of the confidentiality obligation very strongly indicate just how otiose the Defendants' claim to confidentiality is at this point."
He ordered both parties to meet again on September 23 to determine legal costs.
But the TTFF's legal team refuses to concede and listed eight grounds of appeal, including that Rampersad "was wrong in law to order that the Defendants' application be dismissed and that the High Court proceed to take an account as to any sum due to the Claimants" and "the Learned Judge misdirected himself as to the law applicable to deciding whether the breaches complained of were repudiatory".
Michael Townley, the players' London-based solicitor, felt it instructive that the TTFF are no longer debating whether they owes their players.
"It's easy to lose sight of what the TTFF is not saying," said Townley. "Ever since Mr Mill, the arbitrator, found that there had been a binding contract to pay the players, the TTFF has never disputed this finding… The TTFF are not disputing that it made the agreement but just saying that arbitration no longer suits them.
"It's shocking that any national football federation can behave like this. FIFA members are governed by a code of ethics and not paying your debts is generally considered unethical… Yet all they have ever done since they made that commitment is avoided paying, using every delay tactic they can think of."
Townley is trying to determine whether the TTFF have a right of appeal. The players are represented locally by George Hislop—father of World Cup player and ESPN analyst Shaka Hislop—and Dave De Peiza.
"I am investigating with my T&T colleagues whether the appeal is admissible at all," Townley told the Express. "It would be out of time in the English courts and also they would need permission from a judge to even make an appeal here. I don't know the exact procedural requirements of the T&T courts and we are looking first into that aspect."
Ramkissoon, attorney for the TTFF, refused to discuss the appeal or even confirm its existence, while Lalla and Warner could not be reached for comment.
TTFF president Camps said he was in no position to discuss the case.
Five years since a bonus agreement was reached between Warner and the Warriors and two court judgments later, the TTFF are expected to pay more than $3 million in legal costs to their former star players and, almost certainly, an even larger figure to their own army of lawyers as well as to satisfy the bonus agreement. The football body is funded in large part by the Trinidad and Tobago government, while it is also aided by a few local and international sponsors and a FIFA grant.
Camps refused to be specific when asked how the organisation could afford such a prolonged and expensive case.
"Whatever funds we have, we use from it," said Camps. "We don't enjoy having something like this. It doesn't make sense and it is costly. We made an offer (to the players) which we thought was reasonable.
"We, as a football federation, do not like this and wish it never happened but there is nothing we can do about it."
Two judges—one British and one Trinidad and Tobago citizen—have already ordered the TTFF to pay up and open their accounting books. The football body, advised by Warner, is seeking a third opinion.
The unpaid Trinidadian World Cup players are a scandal for Fifa.
By: Paul Wilson (The Observer).
Jack Warner has still not paid Trinidad & Tobago's footballers their agreed bonuses from the 2006 World Cup.
That was quite a neat trick of Sir Alex Ferguson, was it not, making it look as if the Everton fans were somehow to blame for his star striker's non-appearance at Goodison when it was actually Wayne Rooney who had done most of the misbehaving? Good effort but this week's award for sheer brass neck goes to someone who moves in much higher footballing circles and manages to make the Manchester United manager's manoeuvring look amateurish.
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 around £17m, 10 times more than 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 Resolutions Dispute Panel. 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 of the affair, 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. My father was a lawyer before he retired so I have an inherent respect for the legal process.
"I imagine that one day, perhaps after a very 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 managed to move beyond the islands to play, and it is a wholly different matter for them. They have been a lot more courageous than me with the stance they have taken. 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 from London, 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.