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05
Thu, Dec

Typography

Jack WarnerFormer FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner is gone for good from the corridors of football power in Zurich, Switzerland. His former deputy, CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer, now calls the shots in the most populous confederation of the western hemisphere.

And Sepp Blatter remains FIFA President—a position he held since June 1998. There is a fourth figure involved and he is the suspended Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed Bin Hammam.

Ostensibly, the 62-year-old Bin Hammam should be the key to this disgraceful scenario. It was his trip to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, via private jet on May 10—two days after his birthday—that sparked one of FIFA's worse scandals.

The Qatari millionaire stunned the football world by masterminding an unlikely success for his homeland, Qatar, as they beat United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia for the right to host the 2022 World Cup in a campaign that climaxed on December 2, 2010. A month later, he was re-elected unopposed as AFC President and, in March, turned his attention and considerable resources to the FIFA throne.

Bin Hammam supported Blatter in his 1998 and 2002 presidential campaigns although relations between the pair seemed strained at one point. The FIFA President supposedly backed Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa's attempt to unseat the Qatari from the FIFA Executive Committee in 2009. Bin Hammam won by just two votes.

Still, last August, as the World Cup bid campaign entered its final lap, Bin Hammam vowed not to challenge his "very good friend" for the top FIFA post.

"I will be backing him to remain in office for a new mandate," said Bin Hammam.
But, buoyed by his increased profile within the "FIFA family", he was not true to his word. His subsequent demise, just two months later, was as sudden as it was brutal.

The Qatari, according to sworn affidavits from at least four Caribbean administrators, turned up with a suitcase full of cash—estimates suggest as much as US$1 million—with the intention of buying votes for the presidential election. FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke, in an earlier email to Warner, suggested that Bin Hammam had "bought" the 2022 World Cup and spoke in disparaging terms about his new campaign.

And he was indeed found to be out of his depth. Formally charged by the FIFA's Ethics Committee for bribery, he withdrew his candidacy, a week before the elections, and Blatter was returned unopposed.

The next Ethics Committee meeting, which will study the report provided by ex-FBI Director Louis Freeh in late June or early July, should provide closure to the bribery case and the evidence appears damning.

But there are two stories here—not just the one. And, in the second, the ambitious Qatari was a helpless pawn.

The sideshow

When Warner, a Trinidad and Tobago MP, announced that his homeland would host Bin Hammam and afford him the chance to woo the Caribbean Football Union (CFU); anyone with a passing knowledge of football politics might have expected lavish gifts. Blazer, like the rest of North and Central America, was not invited.

Earlier that month, Bin Hammam did not turn up for the CONCACAF congress where Blatter made a timely presentation of developmental money for the Confederation. Warner, who is usually a vocal supporter of the President, declined to endorse the 75-year-old Swiss until he had heard from Bin Hammam.

But his subsequent meeting with the Qatari at the Port of Spain's Hyatt Hotel was a scandal and, six weeks later, continues to earn front and back page headlines.

So what went wrong?
 
A puzzle, as journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell suggested in "What The Dog Saw", is solved by gathering more information. But a surfeit of evidence can be counter-productive in deciphering a mystery. Analysis and not volume is now the key.

Bin Hammam initially scoffed at the bribery charge as a political "tactic" while Warner insisted he was "hung out to dry" and a victim of his accusers' "hypocrisy". Representatives from Grenada, Barbados, Antigua, Jamaica and Dominica declared that they were not "bribed".

On the other hand, Bahamas Football Association (BFA) Vice-President Fred Lunn claimed he was offered US$40,000 in cash at the Hyatt. CFU official Jason Sylvester offered the envelope on Bin Hammam's behalf. Lunn was not sure what he should do. So he took the money to his hotel room, arranged it into neat piles, took photographs and consulted with BFA President Anton Sealy, by telephone, before returning the cash.

Sealy, who claimed to be outraged, did not call his Caribbean counterpart, Warner, to complain. Instead, he phoned Warner's employee and friend, Blazer.

Blazer said he was "stunned" that Warner would risk CONCACAF's reputation with such tawdry behaviour. So, he had attorney John Collins investigate and then passed on the findings to FIFA General Secretary, Valcke.

Blatter claimed to have no knowledge of Blazer's investigation, which obviously boosted his chances of retaining his post, until the information reached FIFA's headquarters. Warner, Bin Hammam, Sylvester along with CFU official Debbie Minguell were charged.

Bin Hammam, intriguingly, countered that Warner informed Blatter beforehand that there would be cash payments so the President was also in breach of FIFA's moral code by failing to report this to the Ethics Committee.

Blatter admitted Warner told him about the agenda but said he advised him that it was "a bad idea" and did not know that the money was subsequently distributed. Warner denied that conversation ever happened.

So who is lying?

Perhaps, everybody is.

Most honest people offered unlawful money instinctively raise their palms towards the offending party and attempt a swift exit. They do not sign for the money and take it into a quiet corner to practise their photography. Not unless they are informants anyway.

Should old acquaintance be forgot?

Blazer is supposedly Warner's close aide and, as it turned out, Warner continued to feel that way until the super-sized American drew a dagger.

In Warner's second biography, penned just five years ago, Blazer declared that the Trinidadian was the best man for the role of FIFA President. Warner was investigated, in 1990, for turning Trinidad's National Stadium into a death trap by selling over 35,000 tickets for a ground meant to hold 23,000 for a crucial World Cup qualifier in 1989. At the same time as this public inquiry, Blazer was teaming up with Warner to run for CONCACAF General Secretary and President respectively and he stood by his side as the allegations of corruption, some proven, flowed over the years.

So why would Sealy telephone Blazer?
 
No Caribbean official ever challenged Warner without being swiftly chucked out of football. The actions of Sealy and Lunn would appear more logical if Blazer promised them protection beforehand.

But Blazer did not have the clout to provide such an assurance at the time. Warner had survived several trips to the Executive Committee before and returned unscathed. The American would need to believe that this charge would yield a different outcome.

Blatter, by his own admission, knew in advance that Warner and Bin Hammam were considering throwing bundles of cash around. And Blazer was best placed to find out if it actually happened. So were both men being honest when they denied a secret pact took place?

And the Caribbean delegates who tell a different story of the Port of Spain meeting?

You say "tomato", I say "tomatoe"; you say "bribe", I say "gift". Was it just wordplay?

When FIFA sent Warner a copy of the preliminary report and Trinidad and Tobago's Police Commissioner declared that the football body's findings would be the basis for a legal case in Trinidad—money laundering carries a jail term there of up to 15 years—the flamboyant Vice-President swiftly handed in his resignation.

He had previously sneered that "Blatter must be stopped" and threatened to hit FIFA with a "tsunami". In the end, though, he declared that Blatter was still a "friend" and meekly slid away with a pension estimated to be worth as much as £23,000 per year while FIFA closed their investigation into him.

The unanswered question, not found in the affidavits or leaks, is "why". Why did Blazer and Blatter turn their backs on Warner after a political relationship that spanned 21 years without a hint of discord?

But no mystery worth its salt fails to leave the odd, tantalising question as the credits roll.

Dominican FA President Patrick John claimed, in a radio interview, that Blazer was unhappy that Warner voted for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup while the Trinidadian himself suggested that Blazer felt he "should have done more" to help the USA bid.

The World Cup bid is done by secret ballot so was John guessing which way Warner voted? Or did the former CONCACAF President confide in him?

Sealy was overlooked for a place on the CFU Executive Committee this year with Guyanese official, Colin Klass, promoted instead. Did the Bahamian feel that a change at the top would better his own career outlook?

Blazer acted unconstitutionally by trying to insert Honduran Alfredo Hawitt as acting CONCACAF President, above Barbadian Lisle Austin, within hours of Warner's suspension. Austin forced his way into the chair but then publicly announced his intention to audit the Confederation and was immediately suspended by CONCACAF and FIFA.

Austin won a court injunction against his suspension in Bahamas, where CONCACAF is registered, but FIFA ignored it and threatened further discipline for getting the courts involved.

Same old FIFA

Was Blazer seeking more control all along and was there anything in CONCACAF's accounting books that might spell trouble for him and FIFA?

And was Blatter really innocent of the sting at the Hyatt? If not, was his motive to eliminate a challenger or to punish treachery? Or was Blatter, in his last term as FIFA President, merely disposing of a political ally that he no longer needed and whose brass had needlessly increased the vitriol directed at the organisation?

The stream of information leaked to the media suggests an open and shut bribery case that is nearing an inevitable conclusion.

Jack Warner, allegedly a latter-day "Pirate of the Caribbean", was made to walk the plank. But his demise was anything but a simple affair and had precious little to do with morality.

Meet the new FIFA, same as the old one.