Controversial ex-FIFA VP concedes his last political post
Former CONCACAF president Jack Warner had a "breath-taking demand for television rights, football stadiums, pearl necklaces and visits from Nelson Mandela and David Beckham," writes Lasana Liburd in this comment piece. Photo: Warner (right) with Beckham (c)CONCACAF
Austin “Jack” Warner, an unabashed gift taker, an amateur accountant of astounding creativity, one of the greatest storytellers of his generation and a servant of football, Trinidad and Tobago and, most of all, himself, passed away as a political entity on Saturday 27 April 2013 after resigning his seat in the Chaguanas West constituency of Trinidad and Tobago.
Warner had been ailing for some time after being hounded out of FIFA, two years earlier, due to his self-confessed crime of being black and coming from a small island but mostly for facilitating bribes to fix a presidential election. But, with remarkable bounce-back-ability, he defied the diagnosis of global experts to remain relevant to sport and politics for some time after.
There is no word yet as to whether FIFA would retire use of its famous “brown envelope”—for exchanging pre-election niceties—in his honour but Warner surely deserves some recognition for an enthralling 21-year stint as an executive member of the global football body.
World Cup bidding might never be the same again without Warner’s breath-taking demands for television rights, football stadiums, pearl necklaces and visits from Nelson Mandela and David Beckham, which illuminated mundane discussions about bid documents. But then life on the whole loses some of its colour without the Trinidadian administrator and former history teacher.
Under the wings of Havelange
Warner’s political career took flight on 19 November 1989 when Trinidad and Tobago’s beloved “Strike Squad” lost 1-0 in a crucial World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium in Port of Spain.
The result meant that the United States qualified for its first World Cup—after previously appearing at the FIFA finals as a guest—and eased the chorus of disapproval against then FIFA President Joao Havelange, who was criticised for helping select the US, a supposed non-football nation, to host the 1994 tournament. Havelange responded by asking delegates at the 1990 CONCACAF Congress to vote for Warner as president. And they did just that.
On November 19, Warner, overcome by patriotism, risked personal harm to citizens by stuffing over 43,000 fans into a ground designed to hold roughly 24,000 and also admitted to selling alcohol at the venue against FIFA regulations.
The United States team stayed within 15 minutes of the ground and arrived there early in a giant, air-conditioned bus while the Strike Squad, which included an 18 year old Dwight Yorke, stayed over an hour away, travelled in cramped mini-vans and had to be bodily lifted over irate fans—pranked by Warner’s bogus World Cup qualifying tickets—to get into their dressing room. But only a cynic would suggest that this impacted on Trinidad and Tobago’s chance of success on the “Road to Italy.”
Sadly, Trinidad and Tobago was a cynical place in the aftermath of that infamous game. Havelange eased the pain by awarding Trinidad and Tobago a “Fair Play Trophy”, although Warner flouted enough rules to arguably give grounds for appeal if the United States had lost the match. The Fair Play trophy and Warner’s political rise on the back of that contentious defeat and the nation’s tears was compensation enough for his compatriots.
American football administrator Chuck Blazer, according to Warner’s approved biography, talked the Trinidadian into running for the top CONCACAF post, just hours after that World Cup qualifying loss. There is no hard evidence that Warner got his dates mixed up. Warner and Blazer were already great friends and remained as thick as thieves right until they knifed each other in the backs in 2011.
Blazer turned over evidence to FIFA President Sepp Blatter, which suggested that Warner and ex-Asian Football Confederation (AFC) President Mohamed Bin Hammam bribed Caribbean football officials. And Warner subsequently let slip that he made mysterious payments to the American from Caribbean Football Union (CFU) accounts. The FBI is understood to be investigating the tiff at present.
Warner’s only fault
Warner’s perceived distaste for law and order grew after November 19 as did his keen eye for an opportunity from what short-sighted persons saw as tragic circumstance.
When over 300,000 Haitians died in an earthquake in January 2010, Warner promptly used his office to petition FIFA and the South Korea Football Association (SKFA) for financial aid. FIFA and South Korea sent US$750,000 for Haiti. Haitian football chief Dr Yves Jean-Bart said Warner gave the grieving Caribbean island just US$60,000. Warner denied Haiti’s claim but failed to prove otherwise.
If ever Warner had a fault, it was that he often misplaced other people’s money within the web of bank accounts under his personal control but named CONCACAF and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF). But then that sort of error is commonplace within FIFA. And the shortfall in financial aid could only have helped strengthen the Haitian resolve in dealing with the catastrophe.
Unlike many executives within FIFA’s corridors, Warner was always warm towards the press. And sometimes he was quite hot. Warner once gave British investigative reporter Andrew Jennings directions to see his dear, deceased mother and urged him to visit her post-haste. Warner also sued my website, Wired868, for a tweet that suggested he trousered Haiti’s financial aid although he would have to brave his perceived fear of court rooms to see the matter through to its conclusion. He is also said to be allergic to investigators and independent auditors.
For the record, I am certain that Haiti’s money is not in Warner’s trousers. Warner is a great supporter of the free press. However, when necessary, he is not against paying or employing reporters. Wired868 remained independent so as to more fairly catalogue his achievements.
His greatest accomplishment was undoubtedly the US$26 million Centre of Excellence, which was financed by FIFA, paid for by CONCACAF and owned by Warner. Warner, as always unshackled by the confinements of honesty, prefers to describe it as a gift from Havelange.
The family man
Warner was also a devoted family man who included his wife, Maureen, and sons, Daryan and Daryll, in as much of his business as possible. Maureen is a director of the Centre of Excellence and was a director at Simpaul Travel when that company took charge of all Trinidad and Tobago’s 2006 World Cup tickets and resold them to local fans, as a means of testing their patriotism, by more than 30 times their market value. Daryll was a FIFA developmental officer while Daryan often helped daddy sell World Cup tickets on the black market.
Reuters reported that Daryan, at present, is helping the FBI with some research on his father. The FBI allegedly insisted. Warner was a religious man and a long-time Christian who believed that Jesus Christ was the sole path to salvation. He was also a Hindu, which, coincidentally, is the religion of choice for most of his constituents. He was a firm believer in the separation of Church and CONCACAF and once advised Caribbean delegates mulling over stuffed brown envelopes that there was no room for the pious in the house of the FIFA.
The Trinidad and Tobago Police is still investigating that service and, in particular, the offerings made to delegates, which seemed not to have been declared to custom officials. Thus far, local policemen have not inconvenienced Warner. But he is less impressed with lawmen from other jurisdictions and refused to travel outside the two-island republic since revelations of his financial dealings while CONCACAF President.
Still, even holed up on the tiny island, Warner could not escape the steady stream of accusations indefinitely. And, on 27 April, he resigned his final political post after a damning CONCACAF Integrity Commission report. Like Manchester United, Warner does not know when he is defeated though. He has announced his intention to regain his seat, in a bye-election, scheduled for 90 days after it is declared vacant.
Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who is a Hindu, seemed unimpressed by the thought of Warner’s resurrection and the possibility looms that the ex-football bigwig might instead be reincarnated with metal bracelets. Who can count against a final hoorah from the ever-resourceful Warner, though?
During a political rally at the Pierre Road Recreation Ground in Charlieville, hours before his resignation, Warner boasted that he was equally adept at drinking with kings and the common folk. And he probably fleeced them both.
Lasana Liburd is a reporter and the publisher of the Trinidad-Tobago online paper Wired868.com.