IN NOVEMBER last year after Trinidad and Tobago soccer players qualified for a place in the World Cup for the first time in this country’s history, Jack Warner, FIFA Vice-President and adviser to the TTFA was on stage at Piarco being congratulated by Prime Minister Patrick Manning. He was hailed by adoring supporters, who thronged the airport, as if he had been the one to score the goal that sent us to Germany rather than Dennis Lawrence.
Six weeks before he had been very much in the news but on a different playing field. That was politics.
He campaigned for the post of the UNC deputy political leader on the Winston Dookeran team. He wanted Basdeo Panday, leading the other team, to quit and warned that the UNC could only be a serious organisation under Dookeran. Panday must go was his mantra. Dookeran’s team lost. Panday’s team won.
But Jack Warner is not one for being anywhere but on the winning side and soon enough he had ditched Dookeran and pitched his star to Panday’s side, publicly advising Dookeran to fight his own battles.
In the last two decades Warner has been in one controversy after the other — remember the ticket fiasco of the World Cup game in 1989? He has always, however, landed safely on his feet and has successfully built himself a thriving business empire with football at the core.
But the house that Jack Warner built could come crashing down next March 16 and 17 when the FIFA Executive Committee meets in Zurich, Switzerland.
The controversial Trinidadian’s career as a globe-trotting vice-president of the world governing body for football is at the crossroads after he was found guilty on Thursday of violating the organisation’s Code of Ethics.
Now the Executive Committee will meet to decide the fate of one of their most influential colleagues whose support has ensured the successful presidency of Brazilian Dr Joao Havelange and the current office-holder Sepp Blatter.
At the centre of the controversy that threatens to bring down the well-heeled businessman and budding politician is the decision of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation to hand over exclusive rights to sell World Cup tickets through a Warner-owned Port-of-Spain travel company.
On Tuesday, the Committee for Ethics and Fairplay ruled that Warner had breached its code through the exclusive sale of the 10,749 assigned World Cup tickets using Simpaul’s Travel Service which was deemed to be a conflict of interest. Simpaul’s is owned by Warner and his family.
The fall from grace of the high-profile football administrator could have serious implications for Trinidad and Tobago football specifically and for the CONCACAF region in general. Whatever the outcome next month, the unsavoury episode is sure to cast a nasty cloud over Trinidad and Tobago’s historic participation for the first time in history in the quadrennial football fiesta.
Although the Soca Warriors stand to receive millions of dollars for qualifying and playing in their first World Cup Finals, the removal of Warner from the FIFA Executive could spell the end of the gravy train for Trinidad and Tobago footballers and its development programmes.
Under Warner’s stewardship millions of dollars have been disbursed by FIFA to CONCACAF, the hemispheric organisation and the regional body, CFU.
Testimony of his influence and clout is the CONCACAF Dr Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence at Macoya, a multi-faceted state of the art facility which is used to conduct courses, seminars and hosts teams.
There is also a full sized football field, air-conditioned auditorium, swimming pool and hotel.
Warner has also been instrumental in getting a FUTSAL Centre set up and has solicited millions again for the Goal Project, a development programme especially in the Caribbean and Central America.
He has also over the years used his contacts with heads of state and top football administrators to arrange international matches with Trinidad and Tobago which have served to expose the footballers to a higher standard of competition, that eventually booked us for Germany.
Among the countries that have played host to the Soca Warriors are South Korea, Thailand, Egypt, South Africa. TT has also engaged Paraguay, Norway and English team Queen’s Park Rangers at home.
But it is ironic that what should have been Warner’s moment of glory — TT qualifying for the World Cup finals for the first time — has served as a lightning rod for his present troubles.
In the World Cup qualification campaign last year, Warner as Special Advisor to the TT Football Federation took sole charge firing coach Bertille St Clair as the Soca Warriors languished at the bottom of the CONCACAF table after three matches on the ten-match programme.
He hired Dutchman Leo Beenhakker and has reportedly spent $17 milllion of his personal fortune according to his estimates to help the national team place fourth in the zone and win a play-off with Bahrain to emerge the smallest nation to qualify for Germany in June.
The rags to riches story of Warner will have another chapter added to it next month when his fate will be decided by his peers in Zurich.
The most severe penalty is expulsion from the executive committee and if this is applied, the 63-year-old former schoolteacher will be the first vice-president to suffer such disgrace. Already as a result of last Thursday’s verdict he holds the dubious distinction of being the first executive committee member to be found guilty of violating the organisation’s Code of Ethics.
The FIFA Executive Committee comprising president Blatter, and six other vice-presidents will have to decide the censure that should be applied to the head of the important CONCACAF Zone who is also president of the Caribbean Football Union.
The FIFA Code of Ethics governing eligibility for and removal from office states:
"Only persons with the highest ethical principles who are willing to be bound by this code without reservation may serve as an official of a member of a body. Anyone who does not fulfill or ceases to fulfill these conditions shall be deemed ineligible to serve as an official or a member of a body, and, if already in office, shall be relieved of that position."
Section Three of the FIFA Code of Ethics continues: "The same applies to persons convicted of an offence that calls into question their ability to discharge their duties. Prior to being elected or appointed as an official or a member of a body, all persons must automatically declare any interests they have that may interfere with their duties."
On Friday, Warner, who attended the meeting of the Committee for Ethics and Fairplay on Thursday stated in a media release that it was on his initiative that the issue of the tickets was referred to FIFA for their determination.
It is not the first time that the Rio Claro-born former schoolteacher has been the focus of charges that he has abused his authority as a member of the world governing body for football or conducted the affairs of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation in a dictatorial manner.
Warner first ermerged as the man "Trinis love to hate" in the aftermath of the November 19, 1998 World Cup qualifying match against the USA at the then National Stadium in Mucurapo.
Needing a draw to qualify for the World Cup Finals in Italy in 1990, TT’s Strike Squad lost 0-1 which precipitated damning analysis of the debacle and an avalanche of scathing criticism of the team’s preparation for the match.
Warner was not spared the wrath of irate fans and armchair critics especially when it was dicovered that tickets for the 20,000 seat National Stadium were grossly oversold evidenced by the fact that thousands of valid ticketholders could not gain entry in the packed venue on November 19.
Following the recriminations and revelations surrounding the match, Govern-ment appointed retired Magistrate Lionel Seemungal to investigate all aspects of the affair but the judicial officer unfortunately passed away before the finding of the commission could be made public.
Questions have also been raised about Warner’s conduct in obtaining at a cheap rate television rights for FIFA competitions which he then sold for hefty profits to television and radio stations throughout the Caribbean.
The same conflict of interest allegations reared its ugly head once again in the build-up to the 2001 FIFA Under-17 World Championships which were staged in Trinidad and Tobago.
Soliciting assistance from the then United National Congress (UNC) Government who built four new stadiums to facilitate the awarding of the tournament to Trinidad and Tobago, Warner was accused of giving out a FIFA contract to a company owned by his son Daryan.
This involved the provision of Internet services to the four stadiums where the World Championships were being staged — Ato Boldon in Couva; Larry Gomes in Malabar; Manny Ramjohn in Marabella; and Dwight Yorke in Bacolet, Tobago.
The matter was raised in a memorable confrontation between English journalist Andrew Jennings and Warner at a media conference at the Hilton Trinidad prior to the Under-17 Championships.
Jennings ironically was the first to raise questions about Warner’s conduct and his meteoric rise in the ranks of the FIFA executive which has gained Jennings not a small measure of infamy with officials of the world governing body.
The English football writer has also targeted FIFA president Blatter and is currently writing a book titled Foul! How Soccer’s Leaders Run Rackets, Pocket Bribes, Rig Elections and Tout World Cup Tickets.
It was Jennings who first broke the story about the exclusive deal to award the sale of tickets to Simpaul’s Travel Service on St Vincent Street. This was followed by a three part series of articles in the Express in December last.
It was at this point that Warner decided to refer the matter to FIFA for their deliberation. In typical Warner fashion he attempted on Friday some damage control saying it was he who took the matter to FIFA.
What Warner didn’t admit in the release was that the questionable sale of tickets to Germany was being raised in the media months before.
He stated in a media release on Friday he also asked FIFA to conduct an audit of the allocation procedure which was conducted earlier this month by Enrique Byrom of the Ticketing and Accommodation Department.
Byrom’s report helped the Committee for Ethics and Fair Play on Thursday under the chairmanship of Turkey’s Senes Erzik to reach their guilty verdict against Warner and refer the matter to the game’s highest body for their sentence next month.