CONCACAF President Jack Warner has been suspended. Surprisingly, his accuser is none other than CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer.
The CONCACAF Gold Cup kicks off in less than a week, and the soccer world is abuzz with talk about a huge FIFA scandal involving Warner and Asian confederation president Mohamed Bin Hammam. What is happening off the field is grabbing more attention and headlines that what is about the upcoming games that will take place in stadiums throughout the United States.
What is going on?
Warner and Bin Hamman are accused of corruption and breaching FIFA’s ethics regulations by Blazer. As result of the American soccer executive’s accusations, the FIFA Ethics Committee, on Sunday, suspended Warner, a FIFA vice president, and Bin Hamman, a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, from engaging in any football activities effective immediately.
The allegations against Warner of Trinidad and Tobago indicate that he conducted a meeting with Bin Hammam of Qatar, where bribes were handed out to obtain votes for Bin Hamman, who was challenging FIFA President Sepp Blatter in this year’s FIFA presidential elections. Bin Hamman has withdrawn his candidacy.
The charges have been denied by Warner and Bin Hammam.
Blazer said that he has provided ample evidence to the FIFA Ethics Committee to substantiate his accusations. Moreover, the Puerto Rican soccer federation (FPF) (via El Nuevo Dia) has provided evidence that backed up the claims according to FIFA (an English source regarding the evidence, via the Trinidad Guardian may be found via here).
FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke read an email sent by the FPF president Eric Labrador where he confirms receipt of a check for $40,000 from the Caribbean Football Union. Valcke applauded the action taken by the FPF to contribute to the investigation and revealed that the FPF was the first Caribbean association to make public the distribution of the money.
For his part, Warner says he has statements from 13 Caribbean federations backing him. But that would mean that 12 other Caribbean associations will no longer be willing to support him, dramatically weakening his power base.
Both Warner and Blazer have been long-time supporters of Blatter.
To put things in perspective, it is not unusual for the FIFA “dirty laundry” to be exposed every time a FIFA presidential election comes about. That is the time when alliances are made, deals are cut and strategic plans are implemented.
What should happen to Mr. Warner?
This time around, Warner decided to “betray” FIFA President Blatter, whom he has supported consistently for many years. Warner decided to support Blatter’s rival for the presidency, Bin Hammam.
Another vivid example of vigorous FIFA presidential elections maneuvering dates back to 2002, when then UEFA President Lennart Johansson challenged Blatter. Johanson piled a long list of accusations of alleged corruption against Blatter.
However, once the dust settled, it was determined that the accusations were substantiated by internal leaks coming from then FIFA Secretary-General Michel Zen-Ruffinen, who was then duly dismissed by Blatter. Blatter went on to win reelection.
Beyond the tactics involved, there are practical concerns at play, like the desire by many to change leadership at the top of CONCACAF. With Mr. Warner's stranglehold of the numerous Caribbean national associations' votes, getting this change is practically impossible, barring—yes, a scandal.
For many years now, North and Central American nations have been deprived of holding the top post.
There is a level of frustration and a desire for change. Mexico has flirted with the idea of leaving CONCACAF and joining South America's CONMEBOL.The United States has long felt that its economic power in the sport has not gained them all that they would like. They and Canada would welcome new leadership that enables them to exert more influence and leadership in the organization.
Blazer's Whistle-Blowing May Have a Positive Long-Term Effect On FIFA
According to the New York Times, Blazer’s whistle-blowing may do for soccer what Marc Hodler, a member of the International Olympic Committee from Switzerland, did in 1998 when his remarks about corruption revealded the truth behind Salt Lake City’s bribery scandal.
Dick Pound, a delegate of the International Olympic Committee from Montreal who investigated that scandal, said that the money in question at Salt Lake pales to the millions in bribery allegations that have emerged recently at FIFA.
“If anything like what happened to FIFA had happened to the I.O.C., our days would be numbered,” Pound said to the New York Times.
Pound questioned whether the soccer federation had enough credibility for anyone to have faith in an internal investigation.
“If it’s not going to be just a laughingstock, you’d probably have to get someone from the outside willing to do it,” Pound said. A commission with access to internal documents would be best according to him.
“They’ve got to do something and make sure it is serious and transparent,” Pound added.
I had the opportunity to work directly with General Secretary Blazer during my time with CONCACAF, where I served as manager of media relations. I know Mr. Blazer to be a hard-working, honest and talented soccer executive. It is certainly to his credit to have taken such decisive and valiant action that can serve as a catalyst for major FIFA internal reforms.
People like Blazer are a credit to FIFA, CONCACAF, U.S. soccer and to the sport as a whole.
However, the problem is structural. FIFA needs to find better ways of ensuring maximum transparency and accountability. FIFA continues to reject any outside oversight over its affairs. Despite its continued opposition, the days for that structure seems to be numbered.
FIFA Presidential Elections Set for June 1
In the middle of the commotion, FIFA plans to conduct its presidential elections on Wednesday, June 1 as previously scheduled. Blatter appears as the only candidate for the post.
On Monday, Blatter said, "We are only in some difficulties and these difficulties will be solved—and they will be solved inside this family."
Dealing with major issues like these “inside the FIFA family” may no longer be acceptable to the world soccer community. Stricter accountability seems to be demanded from FIFA by various stakeholders, most notably by national governments, whom FIFA has successfully fended off for many decades.
Only time will tell if FIFA will continue to successfully keep itself isolated, protected and undisturbed inside its own cocoon.