FIFA accused of promoting new Caribbean godfather: David John-Williams

Photo: TTFA Media

FIFA president Gianni Infantino with David John-Williams, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Union. Photo: TTFA Media


By Lasana Liburd
In the build up to the Caribbean Football Union elections, vying candidate, head of Trinidad and Tobago football David John-Williams, is causing a stir in a game of footsie under the table with CONCACAF, UEFA and, possibly, FIFA, writes Lasana Liburd in this article outlining the current situation in Caribbean football governance.

A possibly illegitimate Trinidad and Tobago football administrator with dictatorial tendencies, questionable financial support from CONCACAF and a blind eye from FIFA. Where have we seen this combination before?

FIFA banned former vice-president, Jack Warner, for life for supposedly attempting to rig the 2011 presidential elections against then incumbent, Sepp Blatter. Warner is now fighting off an extradition request from the United States for racketeering and other corrupt practices.

But, in new Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA) president David John-Williams, it appears that the world governing body has again found a Caribbean administrator it is keen to work with.

Free workshops at the Marriott – for some
The Caribbean Football Union (CFU) will hold its election on 23 July 2016 in Miami and John-Williams’ game of footsie under the table with CONCACAF, UEFA and, possibly, FIFA is causing a stir.

A week before the CFU presidential nomination deadline, John-Williams wooed all 31 Caribbean football officials to the Marriott Hotel in Port of Spain for a two-day workshop with free airfare, accommodation, meals, ground transport and translation services. And the Trinidadian—who, like Warner before him, owns a local professional club—boasted that UEFA and CONCACAF will foot the bill.

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani confirmed that the confederation pledged financial support to John-Williams’ workshop, which was ostensibly called to discuss a proposed Caribbean Professional Football League (CPFL). But current CFU president Gordon Derrick complained that he was not invited to a project that his body sanctioned, two years earlier.

It is unprecedented that a Caribbean member association would host the entire region without CFU support, although just 17 from the 31 nations turned up. In sharp contrast, the perpetually cash-strapped CFU will hold its congress in Miami since it is cheaper to get delegates there than to a location in the region.

“CONCACAF will continue to support football activities of any Member Association upon request,” Montagliani told Derrick, “assuming the request is reasonable, financially sustainable and within our authority… In fact, supporting this effort is what we are supposed to do.”

Yet, just over a week later, the CPFL— which projected an eye-watering and probably implausible US$28.3 million in “guaranteed income and prize money” to its 14 Caribbean clubs over an initial three year period — was the cornerstone of John-Williams’ presidential manifesto.

And the TTFA president also declared his intention, once elected, to sign a memorandum of understanding with UEFA, which would ensure that regional coaches are certified by the European body and lift the standard of Caribbean refereeing and football administration.

Derrick insisted that John-Williams’ candidacy is part of a systematic attempt to neuter the Caribbean rather than promote it, though.

Diluting CONCACAF voting strength
CONCACAF comprises of 35 nations with FIFA status; 10 from North and Central America and 25 from the Caribbean. The Caribbean enjoyed numerical advantage over its neighbours for the first time in the 1980s and FIFA president João Havelange, who was keen to exploit that, handpicked Warner and personally encouraged the confederation to elect him in 1990.

As more Caribbean nations entered the FIFA fold, Warner’s grip became unshakeable. The Trinidadian’s support for Havelange and his successor, Blatter, was unstinting at first. But, lured by the wealth of Qatari businessmen and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) boss Mohamed Bin Hammam, Warner switched sides in an ill-fated attempt to unseat Blatter in 2011.

Warner fell first. But the CFU also needed to be taken down a peg.

CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb, who hails from the Cayman Islands, was hardly going to vote for his own muzzle. But his sudden and disgraceful fall to bribery and racketeering charges left the Caribbean short of representation on the confederation’s executive committee.

And, as CONCACAF delegates voted on new statutes to supposedly usher in greater transparency, three notable revisions to the confederation’s bylaws were announced on 25 January 2016, which meant three additional members on the Council’s committee—formerly the Executive Committee—voting rights on the Council to CONCACAF’s FIFA VPs and eligibility checks for Council posts by FIFA’s ethics committee.

“They were trying to dilute the voting strength of CFU,” said Derrick, who fingered USSF president Sunil Gulati for spearheading the amendments. “Before, you had a president from the Caribbean, three vice-presidents and three ordinary members   [with one] from each region [of North America, Central America and the Caribbean] and a female member who was from the Caribbean.

“So the CFU had four votes [from a total of eight]. That was our strength and they were hellbent on changing it…

“If you add three more members and give them a vote each, then we would have five and they would have six. And they (North and Central America) would control the ExCo (executive committee or council).”

Sidelined by FIFA
Derrick soon became familiar with one of the other amendments, which allowed FIFA to strike down potential candidates on ethical grounds.

On 12 April 2016, FIFA Audit and Compliance Committee chairman Domenico Scala revealed that, following integrity checks, Derrick would not be permitted to run for the office of CONCACAF president due to his part in the 2011 Bin Hammam bribery scandal and an Antigua FIFA GOAL project investigation, which begun on 6 March 2015 but still remains inconclusive.

Derrick was not found to have collected a bribe or played an active role in the infamous Bin Hammam bribery scandal but was reprimanded and fined CHF 300, for not informing the governing body of the incident.

In contrast, FIFA banned Jamaica’s Horace Burrell from all football-related activity for six months and placed the Jamaican on a two-year probation for his part in the affair.

Yet, Burrell returned as CONCACAF vice-president after his suspension and kept the post after this year’s Congress. At present, he sits on FIFA’s organising committee for the Olympic football tournament.

“FIFA said it banned me because I attended that meeting in Trinidad as part of my duties as [ABFA] general secretary and I must have seen something which I did not tell them,” said Derrick. “So I got a reprimand. But Burrell got a ban and a fine, yet he is okay and he is still the vice president of CONCACAF.

“How can I be ruled out and not him? It is absolutely unbelievable.”

Derrick’s appeal of the FIFA decision is before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) at present.

Concerns about TTFA elections
The sidelining of Derrick paved the way for Montagliani’s ascension to the CONCACAF presidency on 12 May 2016. And now, it seems, the football powers want to remove the Antiguan from the helm of the confederation’s most influential region—at least in terms of political numbers — as well.

Even as John-Williams seems to enjoy tacit support for his CFU campaign from CONCACAF and UEFA, FIFA is turning a blind eye to complaints from Trinidad and Tobago about the legitimacy of his current position there.

At least 11 of 45 delegates at the TTFA’s 29 November 2015 election—but, almost certainly, many more—were ineligible to vote according to article 10.2 of the TTFA constitution, which states that the member must have:

“A copy of its legally valid constitution and regulations, which shall comply with the requirements of the Constitution; (…) a copy of the minutes of its last General Meeting or constitutional meeting and a copy of its audited financial statements for the previous financial year.”

The problem lay not with John-Williams but an electoral committee that willfully misinterpreted the relevance of an 18-month transitory clause.

On 20 October 2015, then FIFA acting general secretary Markus Kattner wrote:

“(…) The issue of compliance with article 10.2 was discussed during the adoption of the constitution and in our understanding, all members as listed in the TTFA constitution must comply with article 10.2 in order to take part in the elections; and those failing to do so will still have 18 months from the date of the adoption to complete the process or lose definitively their membership.”

On 5 November 2015, then FIFA acting deputy general secretary Marco Villiger stated:

“(…) The TTFA members not complying with article 10.2 will not be allowed to participate in the elections.”

But the electoral committee—to the alarm of all but then incumbent TTFA president Raymond Tim Kee—refused to abide.

And, on 29 November, FIFA members associations representatives Primo Corvaro and Luca Nicola watched John-Williams ascend to his current post at a flawed election in Port of Spain.

Constitutional breaches
Less than two months after his election, John-Williams broke ranks from the majority of his regional colleagues to pledge early support to then UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino.

“I was a bit surprised (with the TTFA’s endorsement),” said Derrick, at the time. “The idea was we are supposed to get together on the 12th of February in Miami where some candidates would be presenting themselves again. And we will then decide on who we support.”

John-Williams’ declaration for Infantino had shocked the TTFA’s board of directors too, since the president is not authorised to make any decision himself. He is, according to the constitution, the chairman of the board and not the board in the flesh.

By then, John-Williams’ behaviour was already raising eyebrows, as he sacked technical director Kendall Walkes and women’s coach Randy Waldrum and merely informed the board of his decision rather than sought their approval.

In Walkes’ case, the TTFA president did not provide the board with the legal advice on which he claimed to have acted upon.

And when John-Williams hosted 17 Caribbean delegates last month, he used TTFA funds to pay his bills— while he presumably waits on refunds from CONCACAF and UEFA — without consulting the board in another clear violation of the constitution.

Confronted on his behaviour in a live discussion on an i95.5FM radio programme, John-Williams and his vice-president Joanne Salazar argued that it was too inconvenient for them to refer such matters to the board. And they stated an intention to alter the constitution so as to legalise their behaviour.

FIFA turns a blind eye
Like Warner before him, John-Williams’ views on transparency and good governance seem rooted in the “old FIFA.” Will the mood of the new dispensation at the helm of the global governing body prove any different?

Defeated TTFA presidential candidate Ramesh Ramdhan, a former FIFA World Cup referee, wrote Infantino last month to complain about the “constitutional breaches” that gave “rise to an unconstitutional Executive” in Trinidad and Tobago.

“As a Presidential candidate, I am seeking the intervention of FIFA in this matter. I am confident that the new FIFA’s thrust to rebuild confidence in the organisation and your own stated objectives of transparency and accountability will get the attention this situation warrants.

“It is also noteworthy that the President (John-Williams), who is the beneficiary of these constitutional breaches, endorsed your own candidacy very early in your campaign…”

Infantino did not respond.

Corvaro suggested that FIFA is content to look the other way.

“For us, we observed the election, so the issue is over,” said Corvaro. “If you want to complain, use the judicial system. But, for us, it is over.”

Not for the first time, FIFA appears happy to support a dodgy ruler. If history is not to repeat itself, it will take a telling contribution from Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean’s football electorate in the face of the governing body’s feigned indifference.


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