Those who say that sports and politics do not mix will certainly want to rethink that notion when it comes to international sports and moreso football and FIFA. And who better to be at the centre of the world’s biggest sporting and political controversy than our own sporting politician Jack Warner?
The recent rumblings in FIFA reeks of so much intrigue and subterfuge, that one can now fully understand how Warner managed to make such a smooth transition from international football administration to national party and government politics in T&T. Suckeye!
Given the increasingly partisan nature of Trinidad & Tobago politics with its dominant ideology of “if you not with me, you against me”, my decision to write this commentary, as an employee of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation, is as challenging as it is risky and can even described as a stroll on , bordering, some might say, on dangerous.
Still, I persist, confident in the view that I am in as good a position as any to appreciate what Jack Warner means to local and Caribbean football and the impact that his demise could have on the development of the game in the region. In my studied opinion, the man I have come to admire, despite my regular assignment to the proverbial “dog house” for my mouth without a cover, holds both the poison and the antidote to T&T’s football fortunes.
Like so many Caribbean leaders of his time, Warner has often preferred to reward loyalty over competence. But higher up the football ladder one goes, competence must begin to match loyalty for the leader to truly excel. To both mask and compensate for the deficiencies around him, “the Boss” has long accustomed himself to a grueling work schedule that begins at 4 am in the office and doesn’t stop until close to midnight. No doubt he has paid a hefty price in his personal and family life, but it is a price he has been willing to pay for the security of knowing that those around him are completely his own and dependent on his superior brilliance, astuteness and business acumen. While I believe in loyalty, true loyalty, in my view, requires honesty to the best interest of your leader, your brother/sister, your friend. Right or wrong; like it or not. Friends don’t tell friends to drink and drive; friends say ‘you’re drunk, give me the keys’.
Even the most perennial of optimists would agree that T&T’s iconic football administrator is facing his darkest hours yet. The November 1989 ticket issue and the World Cup players’ bonus impasse are like passing clouds compared to the hurricane force storm in which Warner’s career has been caught. Especially when the blinding lightning scorching the turf around his feet is being released by his former confidante and Secretary, Chuck Blazer. However as the plot unfolds it has become easier to see player(s) much bigger than the oversized but astute American working behind the scenes to bring down Warner and wrest the control of CONCACAF out of the hands of the Caribbean. As a seasoned warrior well-accustomed to toe-to-toe battles with opponents from players to fans, to coaches, clubs, leagues and even seasoned politicians- Jack Warner should have what it will take to battle his way through this one. What does pre-occupy me, though is the question of whether local football is ready for a FIFA or CONCACAF without Jack Warner? The entire architecture of Caribbean football has been created by Warner, of Warner, and around Warner. His detractors say Warner has made his millions off football, but Warner can easily reply that T&T and Caribbean football have made their millions off him. There is so much symbiosis in this relationship, that most of us don’t know where Football starts and Jack Warner ends.
From the days when Warner was a history teacher at Polytechnic, trying to organize league football, he has found himself up against successive T&T Governments. None has been proactive or respectful enough to invest in football, the poor man’s sport, despite the pride and prestige that qualifying for a World Cup would bring to the country and its people. Invariably, by the time the Government cut through the bureaucracy and red tape, T&T has either qualified (on the one occasion), or failed to qualify for the World Cup. Where do they imagine the funding comes from to pay coaches, fund training camps, international matches and the millions of dollars a year that it takes to run a football federation?
Surely, not from the sponsors who, apart from a few, are legendary bandwagoners, waiting for the scent of victory, roar of crowds and lure of sales to come, before hitching their wagons to football’s rising stars. You need only one guess to find the right answer: Jack Warner, the Godfather of T&T Football.
In time, there came mutual acceptance of the rule that he who pays the piper will call the tune. No different from the rules of the corporate and political worlds, is it?
Perhaps Warner thought he had passed the stage of being tripped up inside his comfort zone. After all, this the intricate network of support that he had so painstakingly crafted over so many years had proved spectacular in propelling from the TTFF to the presidency of the Caribbean Football Union. So, in 2011, what went wrong? I submit that, as has been the case with so many maximum leaders, somebody who needed to whisper something in the emperor’s ear, failed to do so, either out of fear or over-confidence in the leader’s ability to always triumph. In the corridors of power, including world football power- astute straightforward advice is more important than ego-stroking. The timely ability to pull the leader’s coat can save him from himself, advance the cause and benefit all.
Jack Warner has been able to mobilize the tiny islands of the Caribbean and form them into a powerful force that has taken control of the CONCACAF, which is the Football Confederation of North & Central America and the Caribbean. From the position as head of CONCACAF, he became one of the most powerful men in world football. And more importantly with the power of the collective vote he has been able to influence some of the most important decisions in FIFA. These decisions included who became President and who hosts the most prestigious sporting event in the world, the FIFA World Cup.
It is a power that has brought princes, presidents and kings before him on their knees. How it must have rankled- this son of a slave, the citizen of a speck.
No matter how it pans out Jack Warner is an example of the heights to which our people can ascend in the world. How this football battle ends will determine whether Caribbean football ends up in a kingdom or back on the plantation.