Can FIFA spare change in the Caribbean?
The corruption scandal in the Caribbean Football Union and CFU President Jack Warner’s subsequent fall from power are still casting long shadows over football.
Caribbean football, the battered bastard child of the FIFA family at present, would gladly accept a handshake from President Sepp Blatter. None has been offered though. Last week, Blatter raised eyebrows when he suggested that racist incidents on the field should be settled with a handshake at the end of 90 minutes—he later apologized for the gaffe.
FIFA is considerably less congenial with associations who plot its President’s removal. FIFA ruled in June that former Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed Bin Hammam, aided by ex-Caribbean Football Union (CFU) and CONCACAF President Jack Warner, offered bribes to 24 of the CFU’s 25 member associations—Cuba was absent. Twenty-two CFU officials were subsequently found to have violated FIFA’s ethical code while a further five members followed the lead of their disgraced former President and resigned before their respective verdicts. Three persons were cleared.
However, the odd timing of the Ethics Committee’s rulings as well as the inexplicably irregular penalties surely raises old concerns as to whether FIFA has the competence, will and moral authority to clean its own house.
It took three separate publicised hearings, a wave of media releases and dozens of return airfare tickets to Zurich—presumably not booked through Warner’s renowned Simpaul Travel Services—for FIFA to decide the fate of the Caribbean’s administrators. CFU assistant general secretary and event coordinator, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester respectively, got a year’s suspension each for handing over the cash—on Warner’s instructions—and then refusing to cooperate with FIFA investigators.
So, if Bin Hammam travelled with the cash, Warner arranged the meeting and Minguell and Sylvester paid, then what did Guyana football president, Colin Klass, do to merit a ban of 26 months and a fine of 5,000 Swiss francs? Klass was the only official whose precise statute violations were revealed by FIFA. He was found to have violated Article 3, 9 and 14. The aforementioned clauses deal with the duty of FIFA members to “act with complete credibility and integrity”, divulge information to the governing body and “report any evidence of violations of conduct”.
It is hard to see how anyone at Trinidad’s Hyatt hotel for Bin Hammam’s visit on May 10 and 11 did not breach those statutes. Thirteen Caribbean nations, including Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados, added insult to impropriety by dispatching letters to FIFA which swore that no money exchanged hands and questioned the integrity of the whistleblowers and the Ethics Committee’s investigators.
So how did Trinidad and Tobago’s general secretary Richard Groden and the Barbadian pair of Mark Forde and David Hinds escape with just warnings after belatedly admitting guilt? Jamaica’s Horace Burrell, the CFU’s 1st vice-president, sat on the head table alongside Warner and received a six month ban. Yet Franka Pickering, the former British Virgin Islands president who was caught on video laughingly offering to accept more money, was banned for 18 months and given a £350 fine. (Shades of American comic Jimmy Fallon’s quip in a recent credit card commercial, “Who wouldn’t want more cash?”) FIFA was clearly not amused.
One Caribbean official claimed that Pickering told FIFA investigators she was “a big woman with children” and had no intentions of being lectured to like a school girl by anyone. Her lengthy fine was viewed by her colleagues as a heavy handed reproach for forthrightness considered typical among Caribbean women. How could Pickering have been a bigger violator than Burrell? Despite having witness statements as well as photographic and video evidence, FIFA has managed to botch their handling of this bribery case to the extent that corrupt officials are hailed as martyrs.
The length of time between punishments, which occurred in four instalments between July 23 and October 26, and the failure to explain wildly differing penalties gives the impression of feverish horse trading behind the scenes. This arguably demeans the judicial process and leaves even the guilty with a sense of injustice. It is worth noting too that officials were not obliged to return the bribes offered by Bin Hammam and the majority kept the US$40,000 backhander with no fuss from the Ethics Committee.
Football is the loser
The real victims of this saga, as always, are not the greedy officials who pocketed money ostensibly meant for the development of their islands’ football. Rather, football itself is the loser.
Warner’s Caribbean fiefdom was supported and partly engineered by former FIFA president Joao Havelange while Blatter repeatedly ignored the cries for fairness from those who dared oppose the Trinidadian.
The Bin Hammam scandal offered opportunity for meaningful change from the top. But the generally limp punishments, which bear no comparison to the Qatari’s life ban, suggest that FIFA was keener to eliminate an upstart than battle corruption. Instead of change, CONCACAF got chaos.
Two of the four candidates for the CFU Presidency—Burrell and Antigua and Barbuda’s Derrick Gordon—were implicated in the scandal. Another, Trinidadian Harold Taylor, is so close to Warner that he sneezes when the disgraced ex-FIFA Vice-President gets the cold. The other contender is former Jamaica football president, Tony James, but the fact that he is supported by the whistle-blowing Bahamian football body does not sit well in some parts. And, importantly, the next CFU President is likely to be the leader of CONCACAF too since the Caribbean comprises 25 of the Confederation’s 35 member associations.
The Confederation that has given football the likes of Hugo Sanchez, Dwight Yorke, Brad Friedel and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez—not to mention provided a temporary abode for the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best and, in more modern times, David Beckham and Thierry Henry—warrants proper administrators or, at the least, does not deserve to have FIFA protect the unscrupulous officials.
The aborted congress
The CFU’s aborted Extraordinary Congress, which was scheduled for November 20 in Jamaica, speaks volumes for the present administration. With a President gone and two Vice-Presidents suspended, the Caribbean member associations requested a meeting to assess their current state and elect a new leader.
Four candidates subsequently declared an interest in the top post. Burrell, who some installed as the favourite despite suspicions regarding his collusion with FIFA investigators, was then suspended and ruled out of the race. CFU Executive Committee ordinary member Yves Jean-Bart, acting as President, subsequently “indefinitely postponed” the Congress due to insufficient funds.
There were two problems with the Haitian’s pronouncement. Firstly, the CFU Constitution offers specific detail regarding how an election should be conducted within financial dire straits with member associations footing their own bills. And, secondly, who on earth named Jean-Bart as President? Nothing in the Constitution allowed for a general member to promote himself in that manner.
The remaining Presidential candidates were unimpressed. So, the CFU Executive Committee tried again. This time, Jean-Bart argued that his own improper statement as “acting President” had created such irreversible confusion as to render the November 20 date impossible. Incompetence proved a more palatable explanation and the Extraordinary Congress was scrapped for good. CFU needs support to step out of shade
To be fair, the CFU cannot afford to be slaves to the constitution at present. There are World Cup and Olympic qualifiers and age group tournaments to be played with the selection of referees, match commissioners and so on to be done despite the absence of leaders to properly authorise general secretary Angenie Kanhai.
Kanhai, a Trinidadian, is conducting her work from Miami at present because Warner—presumably peeved by her cooperation with FIFA investigators—blocked her from entering the CONCACAF office in Trinidad. So the home of Caribbean football is in the United States at the moment and regional representatives need a visa to drop in. It is par for the course.
Caribbean football, and even the CFU, is not bereft of leaders with integrity but they need FIFA’s support to step out of the shade. It is regrettable that suspended CONCACAF vice-president Lisle Austin of Barbados was not allowed to conduct an audit of the Confederation’s accounts.
If FIFA is serious about fighting corruption, they should send auditors by the busload to territories with even a whiff of indecency. Funding should go only to countries that prove their reliability while the rest should be sanctioned. FIFA’s curious Caribbean approach would surely have consequences that may hit home if, as expected, the new CFU President steps up to become CONCACAF President and FIFA Vice-President. Nobody would be laughing then.
CONCACAF has 17 percent of the electorate within FIFA—almost double the political clout of South America and Oceania combined. A responsible governing body would try to put such power into honest hands. But, in the Caribbean, it is likely to be exchange in place of change.