Three of FIFA’s most powerful men, President Sepp Blatter, presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam and Vice-President and would-be “king maker” Jack Warner face the Ethics Committee Sunday in Zurich, Switzerland while a fourth, Executive Committee member and CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer, can feasibly sink one, two or all three parties or even go down in flames himself.
Blazer will present evidence which contends that, on May 10 and 11 in Trinidad, Bin Hammam, aided by Warner, attempted to influence next week’s FIFA presidential election by offering US$40,000 to each Caribbean Football Union (CFU) association.
Bin Hammam, a Qatari millionaire, responded by reporting Blatter to the Ethics Committee for failing to act despite knowledge of wrongdoing, which also violates FIFA’s Code of Ethics. It is arguably a more plausible threat than it is a defense.
Warner took longer to mount a response but the Trinidad and Tobago MP also choose the offensive.
“In the next couple days you will see a football tsunami that will hit FIFA and the world that will shock you,” said Warner, during an adjournment of Parliament on Friday. “The time has come when I must stop playing dead so you’ll see it (between) now and Monday.”
Whatever tomorrow’s ruling or the result of Wednesday’s presidential elections—if indeed there is one—it seems highly unlikely that any outcome would lift the spirits of football fans worldwide.
Zurich might be situated on the Swiss Plateau but there have been no reported sightings of moral high ground at FIFA’s headquarters.
The CONCACAF voting machine
The present day CONCACAF and the CFU were virtually tailor-made by previous FIFA president Joao Havelange who personally charmed delegates on Warner’s behalf, hours before the Trinidadian was first elected as CONCACAF president in 1990. Warner repaid Havelange by turning CONCACAF into a vote machine for the president and he enjoyed a similar relationship with his replacement, Blatter.
Twenty-five of CONCACAF’s 35 national associations are situated in the Caribbean Sea and this numerical imbalance made Warner, who was CFU President since the organisation’s inception in 1979, untouchable in the Confederation and a real powerbroker within FIFA. That is, until now.
The speed and audaciousness of Blazer’s challenge, which is viewed more in political than moral terms in the Caribbean, took the breath away and even the usually loquacious Warner was economical with his words.
The FIFA VP claimed to be “laughing like hell” when ex-England FA chairman Lord David Triesman accused him of soliciting a bribe during the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding campaigns but he was more circumspect this week.
“I am unaware of the particulars of the matter being investigated by FIFA at this time,” Warner stated on Wednesday, via press release, “so I will therefore abstain from any comment.”
It took three days and a meeting with his CFU colleagues before Warner recovered his bluster as he charged his accusers of everything from racism and envy to a hatred for small nations. He sidestepped the fact that the “whistleblowers” share his ethnicity and largely come from even tinier islands.
“I am in FIFA for 29 consecutive years (and) I was the first black man to have ever been in FIFA at this level,” he said. “I have come from the smallest country ever to be on the FIFA executive committee... I am wielding more power in FIFA now than sometimes even the president, I must be the envy of others.”
There has been a palpable surprise elsewhere in the Caribbean where football officials believed in Warner’s infallibility due to FIFA’s seemingly endless patience with his indiscretions.
The “how”—of this scandal—was only slightly less mystifying than the “why”.
“in the interest of fair play”
On May 3, 2011, Warner was returned unopposed as president at the CONCACAF Congress in Miami, USA for a sixth successive term. Blatter was there to personally congratulate Warner while UEFA President Michel Platini, who is expected to vie for the FIFA presidency in four years, and FIFA Vice-President Angel Maria Villar were among the high profile attendees.
Conspicuously absent was Bin Hammam who supposedly could not get a visa to attend although the Qatari was thought to hold a diplomatic passport.
Warner stressed that CONCACAF would vote as a bloc but the confederation—usually fiercely loyal to the incumbent president—remained undecided. He told Blatter and the gathering that separate arrangements were made for Bin Hammam to meet CONCACAF officials in Trinidad “in the interest of fair play”.
Only Caribbean officials were eventually invited to Trinidad though.
“I think Blatter felt Warner was double crossing him,” said one CFU member, who asked to remain anonymous.
What did Blazer think?
Blazer enters the stage
There had been no obvious sign of friction between the old chums and, despite whispers that Warner wanted to replace the American on the FIFA Executive Committee, the CONCACAF Congress passed without incident.
Sunil Gulati, president of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), was openly less happy with his lot in life. The American was bypassed for the post of CONCACAF vice-president by wealthy Mexican businessman Guillermo Canedo White and was heard mumbling loudly that no one would tell him who to select as FIFA President.
On May 10, Bin Hammam arrived at the Piarco International Airport in Trinidad and was met by Warner, who also holds the position of Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Works and Transport.
At the Hyatt Regency hotel in Port of Spain, Bin Hammam met Warner’s Caribbean neighbours. It is alleged that the Qatari brought over US$1 million in cash with him.
Did Blazer suspect that Warner’s private meeting on his own turf would be a likely venue for mischief? (Qatar was accused of bribing its way to hosting the 2022 World Cup at the expense of other bidding countries including the US). Did Blatter have his doubts?
Insiders allege that envelopes containing US$40,000 were offered to the various national associations. The Trinidadian duo of Jason Sylvester and Debbie Minguell, the CFU event coordinator and assistant general secretary respectively, were accused of helping facilitate the transfer.
It was not believed to be the most clandestine of operations though.
“There were two delegates from (a named association) that burst the envelope in two and split the amount right in front of everyone,” alleged another anonymous Caribbean official.
Some CFU officials declined the offer, which is not unprecedented. But what did stun the football world is that they dared to report upwards.
Turning in the boss
American lawyer John Collins has a reputation as Warner’s hatchet-man and his Caribbean trips maintained the status quo in islands like Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Dominica and St Kitts and Nevis whenever there was a challenge to CONCACAF policy.
Earlier this month, though, it was Blazer who dispatched Collins and he returned from the Caribbean with a damning report on his own boss that was said to contain sworn affidavits and, according to the second Caribbean official, even a taped recording and photographs. Remarkably, neither Warner nor his trusted cohorts caught wind of his intentions.
On May 24, FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke referred Bin Hammam, Warner, Sylvester and Minguell to the Ethics Committee based on evidence forwarded by Blazer.
“Something is going on and I don’t understand what,” said a third Caribbean administrator. “It must be about the (failed World Cup 2022) USA bid. Chuck must need to destroy the man from Qatar to get the USA’s bid back on track.”
He refused to believe that Blazer and Collins had really turned on their boss and alleged that Blatter was no stranger to pre-election inducements himself. He pointed to the 2002 presidential elections when the FIFA President was challenged by Issa Hayatou of Cameroon.
“Blatter gave Warner an envelope at the 2002 CONCACAF congress that he said contained money for two Goal (developmental) projects,” said the official. “So how is this different? Maybe they want to eliminate Bin Hammam but I do not think they would touch Warner.”
Blatter has repeatedly denied ever misusing FIFA funds for personal gain.
A possible new dawn for CONCACAF
But Warner, who is sometimes referred to as “Teflon Jack” in Caribbean circles, looks vulnerable to other insiders. Should Blatter survive Bin Hammam’s challenge, they say, the incumbent, who promised to step down after this term, would no longer need votes from Warner or anyone else.
In any case, if Warner and his cohorts were weeded out as a result of tomorrow’s hearing, Blatter could “muscle someone into the top CONCACAF post” and attempt to strike deals with a new-look CFU.
Two years ago, then Grenada FA president Ashley Folkes was ousted from his post, courtesy of a Collins report, months after he openly criticized Warner. Now, he is thrilled by the possibility of a new dawn in the Caribbean but suspicious at its execution.
“Those Caribbean officials who signed affidavits had to be extremely confident that this was the end of Jack,” he said. “They would have had to be convinced by (persons higher up) that everything would be alright because, if this doesn’t work out, it would be the end of them… “
“Outside of Antiguan general secretary (Gordon) Derrick, I don’t see anyone being brave enough to do that.”
Derrick, who does not hold any CFU position, may indeed be a man of integrity. But there is no evidence to suggest that he is not an anomaly in FIFA.
To be clear, there is little chance of a hero emerging from this carnage. Blazer, who Blatter praised for his “civic courage”, stood dutifully by Warner’s side for over two decades through dozens of allegations charges—some proven, most ignored—with nary a word about corruption.
Blazer has a chequered past himself and was condemned, in 2006, by New York judge Loretta A Preska for his role in the Mastercard scandal. FIFA was forced to settle with their former sponsor after secretly offering a lucrative contract to Visa.
“Mr Blazer’s testimony was generally without credibility based on his attitude and demeanour and on his evasive answers on cross-examination,” said Justice Preska.
Blazer and Warner were as thick as thieves.
In fact, Warner, a Trinidadian MP, credited Blazer, an American, with pushing him to run for the top CONCACAF post back in November 1989. The request came while Warner was before a Commission of Enquiry in his homeland for knowingly selling tens of thousands of tickets above the capacity of Trinidad and Tobago’s National Stadium—the former schoolteacher admitted to the crime in his autobiography although he denied it at the time.
In the investigative football book, “Foul”, English investigative journalist Andrew Jennings alleged that bribes were paid too when Blatter was first elected FIFA President. And it was Blatter who let Warner off with a reprimand and then a fine when he was found guilty of hijacking Trinidad and Tobago’s allocation of 2006 World Cup tickets and then trading tickets on the black market and refused to sanction the administrator despite being found guilty of attempting to cheat the “Soca Warriors” of owed bonuses. (The 2006 World Cup players received their first court ordered installment, five years late, a week after Bin Hammam left Trinidad).
Over the next four days, starting with tomorrow’s hearing, Blatter, Bin Hammam, Blazer and Warner would fight it out for sustained power in world football.
The price of knives in Zurich will probably go through the roof.