FIFA Vice-president loses dispute over World Cup bonus to players

23.05.2008

By Lasana Liburd
Former Trinidad and Tobago national goalkeeper and 2006 World Cup star Shaka Hislop expressed relief at the judgment from the Sports Dispute Resolution Panel (SDRP), which, he felt, justified the players’ decision to seek legal action in their bonus dispute with the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF).

The London-based arbitrational body declared, on 19 May, that the T&TFF owed the players half of their FIFA participation money and the commercial revenues gained from Trinidad and Tobago’s historic World Cup qualification as well as half the net income from all pre-tournament exhibition matches.

Lawyers for the sixteen players will test this judgement with an initial request of USD 7 million from the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (T&TFF) as part of the bonus and sponsorship pact agreed upon by the parties.

The USD 7 million requested is half of the USD 14 million that the T&TFF claimed to receive as World Cup commercial revenue although, and the players' english-based lawyer, Michael Townsley, stressed it was only the start for the players.

His clients should be entitled to USD 286,000 each with a similar sum to be deposited in the account of the Football Players Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT).

Relief for Hislop
Leading the players has been Shaka Hislop, former West Ham, Newcastle and Portsmouth, who spoke about his experiences with the football administration in Trinidad and Tobago.

/upload/stories/hislopbig.jpg
Shaka Hislop at Play the Game 2007 in Reykjavik. Photo (c) Niels Nyholm and Play the Game. This photo, and others, can be downloaded for press use by visiting the conference photo gallery.

“My initial reaction is relief before even any feelings of joy,” Hislop told the Trinidad Express. “It has been a long, drawn out and, at times, ugly process. But we felt we were right all along and this judgment proves it."

“I said all along that all we wanted was a third and independent party to decide whether we had a case or not. The TTFF made it very ugly and aggressive at times but we were well justified in what we were saying all along.”

Judgment leaked
The T&TFF issued a press release that acknowledged the arbitrator’s decision but pointed out that “both parties agreed that the arbitration hearings will be in private and no one is allowed to disclose the contents of the proceedings and/or the judgment”.

However, news of the judgment was published in a Trinidadian newspaper, though Hislop insisted that the leak did not come from their side.

“I reiterate that I haven’t seen the judgment,” said the ESPN International commentator and former Premiership star. “All I know of it is what I read in the morning although I know it was released about 5.30 pm London time yesterday (19 May). I found out too that it was released to a reporter before me…

“Something doesn’t stack up. But again, my main feelings are of relief, joy and even disappointment that it took a lengthy and costly legal challenge just to get some truth out of the TTFF.”

Michael Townley, the players’ England-based barristers along with Rupert Butler SC, wrote to the SDRC yesterday complaining about the leak and informed them of his decision to release the judgment to the Express.

Warner not present
Hislop, who is the interim president of the Football Players Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), was among 16 players who were called greedy mercenaries by FIFA vice-president and T&TFF special advisor Jack Warner for refusing just under $5,600 each as their share of World Cup revenues.

His comrades in the legal matter are Kelvin Jack, Brent Sancho, Avery John, Marvin Andrews, Ian Cox, Cyd Gray, Atiba Charles, Chris Birchall, Aurtis Whitley, Anthony Wolfe, Collin Samuel, Evans Wise, Cornell Glen, Kenwyne Jones and Stern John.

Hislop, Jack, Sancho and John appeared as witnesses in the hearing. The T&TFF did not offer any witnesses in a move described as “surprising” by arbitrator Ian Mill QC, who expressed disappointment at the absence of Warner and T&TFF general secretary Richard Groden from the hearings and ordered the football body to make the players privy to all accounts related to their appearance at the prestigious competition.

Mill made mention of Sancho’s faulty memory as his oral testimony was sometimes at odds with his written submission but still found ample evidence to rule in favour of the players.

He called upon the local organizing body to immediately make its accounting for all World Cup revenue available to the “Soca Warriors”.

“Obviously, I hope that the effect of this decision will be that a proper account will expeditiously be rendered,” said Mill, “together with the payments shown as due by that account; and sufficient inspection of the TTFA’s records to enable the applicants reasonably to be satisfied that they have received that to which they are entitled.”

The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) remains the body mandated by the government to run the local game although they now refer to themselves as the T&TFF. The trading name “the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation” was only registered as a limited liability company in mid-2006 by T&TFF president Oliver Camps.

Oral contract binding
The T&TFF’s legal team of English barrister William Mc Cormick SC and local lawyers Kelvin Ramkissoon and Om Lalla argued, unsuccessfully, that the oral discussion between Warner and the players was not legally binding and, even if it was, would have been nullified when the Warriors signed a pre-World Cup contract that did not mention financial obligations.

They also said that Warner’s promise to increase the players’ share from 30 percent to 50 percent, after the country’s historic goalless draw with Sweden, was merely patriotic fervor.

Mill did not accept their arguments.

“It is clear that (Mr Warner) had at all material times,” he said, “the authority of the TTFA to commit it to financial transactions—or at any rate the financial transactions alleged by the applicants in this case.”

Mill stated that there was no evidence the players had knowingly nullified their agreement with Warner.

Shrewd buisnessman
He further ruled that the FIFA vice-president, who he described as a “shrewd businessman”, promised a larger share of revenue to the players as a mean of quelling unrest over the World Cup revenue “spreadsheet’s continued non-appearance” rather than because of euphoria due to their result against Sweden.

“It therefore find, albeit not without some hesitation, that Mr Warner did promise on 12 June 2006,” stated Mill, “to increase the players’ share under the commercial revenues sharing agreement from 30 percent to 50 percent in order to obtain ‘practical benefits’ for the TTFA and that therefore the promise was and is legally binding on the TTFA.”

The T&TFF are likely to face a second compensation suit after the players’ lawyer, Townley, claimed to pay USD 13,000 to the SDRP so the judgment would be released. Townley told the Express that the T&FF defaulted on their payments to the arbitrational body, which subsequently stalled the process.

The SDRP allegedly refused to release the judgment to either party until the body was paid in full and Townley filled in the shortfall.

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