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A THORNY ISSUE – FIFA’s fall guys

Andi Thornhill

A THORNY ISSUE – FIFA’s fall guys

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FOOTBALL?POLITICS?could have been one of the main reasons why Barbadian Lisle Austin was handed a one-year suspension by FIFA, football’s governing body.
It is true that he was officially suspended for trying to a resolve an issue in court but I believe there was more to it than that.
Let’s, though, put things into perspective.
The long-serving Barbadian official ran into trouble after he fired Chuck Blazer as general secretary once he became acting president of CONCACAF in the aftermath of Jack Warner’s own suspension in light of bribery allegations in the run up to the FIFA presidential elections.
Austin was dismissed in the same breath by a special committee of CONCACAF’S executive and it merely compounded his problems.
In an effort to regain his position, Austin took the matter to a court in the Bahamas where CONCACAF is registered. He appeared to have won the war when the court ruled in his favour but it didn’t change the position of his own executive.
He was virtually left in the cold so it was then no surprise when FIFA suspended him for a year last week.
Austin should have known he was committing a cardinal sin when he took the matter to court as this course is discouraged by the organization, which has sanctioned individuals and associations who have gone against their regulations. Fellow Barbadian Randy Harris was ditched for four years when he went to court to seek redress in a matter at the Barbados Football Association’s annual general meeting six years ago.
The governing body has shown no tolerance either with associations in countries where governments have interfered with its day to day running. Against this background, I was mystified that Austin would have chosen the route he took. His banning was inevitable. Given the circumstances, he got off lightly.
His grave miscalculation simply gave FIFA ammunition to put another Caribbean Football Union member in his place.
Warner knew exactly what he meant when he said events following the investigation into the bribery allegations would be a tsunami.
More heads are going to roll. If FIFA can prove its case against CFU members who allegedly took money to vote for Qatar’s Mohammed bin Hammam there will be a domino effect.
It looks as though the CFU has become the proverbial scapegoat in this whole issue and even if we accept the argument that votes-for-cash is nothing new, it’s the first time it has been exposed publicly.
England were pushing the case ever since they missed out on hosting the 2018 tournament to Russia. Things might have been so different and the status quo upheld if the English had won.
To make matters worse, Qatar upset much more established football powers to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup. Pressure started to build and the rest is history.
It was revealed by no other than Blazer that he had evidence that CFU officials were offered bribes to vote for bin Hammam at a special meeting held in Trinidad in May. This was a shocking development to most as it was very unusual for a senior official of any organization to blow the whistle on his colleagues.
This obviously made Blazer an instant hero in FIFA as the body was under tremendous pressure to clean up its act. His move proved to be the beginning of the end for Warner, who was cleared of any charges once he decided to cut all ties with the sport.
In retrospect, Austin might still have been in charge if he didn’t touch Blazer, who had become an untouchable based on his whistle-blowing.
He was politically incorrect to touch Blazer because many might have seen it as a move to appease Warner, who was known to be an extremely strong ally of Austin. The executive that removed Austin would have seen the hands of Warner on the pen that axed Blazer even though Austin executed the order.
Therein lies the trail that led to FIFA’s ethics committee calling for CFU members to be investigated. Two Trinidadians, a Guyanese and a Bajan have so far bitten the dust along with bin Hammam, who has been banned for life.
I have no doubt that they will go all out to penalize as many as they can get once their evidence is compelling enough to corner them.
Barbadians David Hinds and Mark Forde are among a list of 16 the ethics committee wants to interview in connection with the Trinidad meeting. They have already stated that they are clean and have nothing to hide and will be cooperating fully.
My problem from the start was that they should have travelled to The Bahamas when given the option to do so because it appears now as if they are being forced to meet the ethics committee which appears to be in no mood to go easy on CFU members at this stage.
I could be wrong, but I just get the feeling that the CFU has been earmarked to be the fall guys in FIFA’s perennial failure to keep its own house in order.
 Andi Thornhill is sports editor of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation.