FIFA Suspends Trinidad and Tobago, Complicating Gold Cup, World Cup Qualifying

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FIFA has suspended the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, dealing the federation a potentially massive setback entering what should otherwise be a significant year.

Trinidad & Tobago's men's national team, which famously prevented the U.S. from reaching the 2018 World Cup, is slated to compete in Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying, but on account of a dispute between its federation and FIFA, that's all on hold.

The suspension centers on the TTFA taking FIFA to a local court regarding FIFA's attempt to appoint a normalization committee to temporarily run the federation, whose previous leadership "had engaged in various acts of serious mismanagement," according to FIFA. When FIFA had announced its decision to impose itself in March 2020, it says it "found that extremely low overall financial management methods, combined with a massive debt, have resulted in the TTFA facing a very real risk of insolvency and illiquidity. Such a situation is putting at risk the organization and development of football in the country and corrective measures need to be applied urgently."

The TTFA fought back, and the result is a full-on suspension, effective immediately.

"The decision of the former leadership to go to a local court to contest the appointment of the normalization committee jeopardizes not only the future of football in Trinidad and Tobago but also endangers the overall global football governance structure, which relies on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) as the exclusive forum for resolving disputes of this nature," FIFA wrote in its statement released Thursday.

The Trinidad and Tobago men's national team

According to Trinidadian outlet Wired 868, the TTFA had actually submitted a withdrawal of its claims against FIFA, but it was received after the court closed on Wednesday, and with Thursday a national holiday and the court still closed, the withdrawal was not completed prior to FIFA's imposed deadline on the federation. 

As it relates to Monday's draw for the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup, the regional governing body says that T&T will remain in the draw for the qualifying round, which will take place days before the competition is slated to begin next July. As it stands, T&T would need to beat two opponents to secure one of the three remaining places in the 16-team competition. If FIFA's suspension isn't lifted by 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 18, however, its place in the qualifying round will go to Antigua and Barbuda.

The semifinal round of 2022 World Cup qualifying, of which Trinidad and Tobago is taking part, has been postponed until March 2021, and it's unclear what happen to the competitive balance of its group if T&T is still ineligible to participate. Teams ranked 7-35 in Concacaf based on FIFA's international rankings are involved in the six-group round, with the group winners advancing to a playoff and the three winners in that round reaching the eight-team Octagonal round, which is likely to begin in Sept. 2021.

If T&T were to play, win its group and win its playoff, it would open the final round of qualifying by hosting the U.S.

But that's all a long way away, with bureaucratic, legal and political hurdles still to clear before the Soca Warriors can play again. 

"This suspension will only be lifted when the TTFA fully complies with its obligations as a member of FIFA, including recognizing the legitimacy of the appointed normalization committee and bringing its own statutes into line with the FIFA Statutes," FIFA wrote.