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THE HOYOS FILE: Racketeering and football: a perfect union?


THE HOYOS FILE: Racketeering and football: a perfect union?

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I was a little surprised to read comments attributed to Randy Harris, president of the Barbados Football Association (BFA), who was speaking to the Nation from his hotel in Switzerland shortly after the arrests of nine FIFA executives, including Jeffrey Webb, the head of the BFA’s parent organisation CONCACAF.

“We were just about getting our image and integrity back intact and then to hear this is devastating.”

I have read that FIFA officials seemed to think that they lived on a different planet, and surely have acted as if they were above the rules of mere mortals like us. Perhaps the BFA bas been able to fully inculcate the culture of denial emanating from the very top of FIFA itself, with Sepp Blatter saying he cannot be held responsible for the wrong doing of underlings.

How else can we explain the shock felt by Harris? Perhaps he did not know of the ongoing investigations into CONCACAF, at least generally, by the now United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch when she was a United States attorney based in Brooklyn and had been looking into possible corruption by FIFA officials there long after Jack Warner resigned as CONCACAF president.

FIFA, having shelved a 400-page report damning its, shall we say, MO in awarding the World Cup tournaments to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022, had found no fault in the decisions of those very underlings (better known as FIFA officials to others), and refused to investigate further. It should be noted that Webb was one of only two FIFA top executives who called for the report to be made public.

FIFA’s refusal to even contemplate any fault in its selection process of Qatar as host of the 2022 World Cup was seen as symbolic of the organisation’s high-handed attitude, and led to this comment by a Telegraph columnist:

“Hell will host the 2026 World Cup after a FIFA report found ‘no reason’ to overturn the controversial underworld destination’s successful bid.”(Alan Tyers, London’s Daily Telegraph, May 28)

Here is an extract from the US Justice Department’s news release on the arrests and charges filed last Wednesday, May 27: “A 47-count indictment was unsealed early this morning in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, charging 14 defendants with racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offenses, in connection with the defendants’ participation in a 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer.”

It went on to place two names above the others indicted, noting that “Jeffrey Webb and Jack Warner – the current and former presidents of CONCACAF, the continental confederation under FIFA headquartered in the United States – are among the soccer officials charged with racketeering and bribery offences”.

In fact, the organisation seems to be in the forefront of the investigation and its resultant arrests. According to the Justice Department, the racketeering and bribery were associated with “FIFA World Cup qualifiers in the CONCACAF region, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the CONCACAF Champions League, the jointly organised CONMEBOL/CONCACAF Copa America Centenario, the CONMEBOL Copa Libertadores and the Copa do Brazil, which is organised by the Brazilian national soccer federation”.

Please note: CONCACAF mentioned four times in that one paragraph. Other alleged schemes involve the alleged receipt of bribes and kickbacks related to the selection of the host country for the 2010 World Cup, and also the 2011 FIFA presidential election.

Even if you were stunned, as the whole world was, by the suddenness and depth of the Justice Department’s dawn raid on FIFA, you could not possibly take the view that CONCACAF or any other FIFA body was gradually seeing its reputation restored.

As the FBI’s director James B. Comey said Thursday: “As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed…Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks and bribes became a way of doing business at FIFA.”

Both of Warner’s sons involved in the corruption pleaded guilty two years ago, but that news was only released last week. No doubt whatever help they gave the investigators will help reduce the ten-year prison sentences they are contemplating. Warner’s assistant at CONCACAF, Chuck Blazer, whose lavish and unorthodox lifestyle was revealed four years ago in newspaper articles, has also pleaded guilty and no doubt has been assisting the US Justice Department in its enquiries.

With so many hummingbirds making beautiful noise at the same time, I wonder how Warner and Webb will defend themselves against whatever charges they are facing, the specifics of which have not yet been revealed.

But there is no shortage of seemingly credible newspaper accounts of how CONCACAF essentially carried on in the great tradition presumably started by Warner. I have read accounts of actions ascribed to Webb which were not flattering, which is all you can say, but there were quite detailed, and pertain to football tournaments taking place after the departure of Warner from CONCACAF.

We as a country are involved in this mess, along with the other 200-plus members of FIFA. Our hands may be unstained, but the regional and parent organisations have much to answer for. Now, thanks to Lynch, many of its top executives will finally have their day in court to answer a slate of charges often reserved only for the likes of the Mafia.

Racketeering and football, it is charged, formed a perfect union in FIFA.