A THORNY ISSUE: Listen for more whistle-blowing
I DON’T expect the name-calling to cease anytime soon in the FIFA scandal.
As the FBI files have shown, there was a lot more dirt hidden in the crevices in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The list of those implicated in alleged wrongdoing is continuing to grow and as the dragnet closes in, I think we can expect a lot more whistle-blowing as some of the targets seek not to take any prospective fall on their own.
That fateful day of May 20, 2011, at a hotel in Trinidad may yet return to haunt some of those who were already punished and others that may have escaped any suspicion in the first place.
But today is a funny night in FIFA’s business, so any number can play.
It was the then senior vice president of the Bahamas Football Association, Fred Lunn, who claimed that while attending the meeting he was given a brown envelope containing US$40 000, presumably to vote for Qatar’s presidential candidate, Bin Hammam, in the FIFA election against Sepp Blatter.
Lunn reported the matter to his president, Anton Sealey, who subsequently told former CONCACAF general secretary Chuck Blazer about it, and he initiated investigations that caused a lot of beans to spill and several heads to roll.
Perhaps in a move to save his own skin, Blazer blew the proverbial whistle on his longtime ally, Jack Warner, who was axed as CONCACAF president.
Warner was replaced by his vice president, Lisle Austin, who in one of his first acts as acting president tried to fire Blazer for his role in Warner’s removal, and he, too, found himself in hot water and later suspended from his post by the CONCACAF Executive Committee which accused him of overstepping his boundaries.
In his response, Austin quoted Article 29 from the CONCACAF Statutes which states that “The president has judicial and extra judicial representation of CONCACAF.”
He later sought, and got, a court injunction which told the Executive Committee “to desist from interfering with Lisle Austin in the discharge of his duties as acting president”.
Despite that ruling, Austin was removed from office and subsequently took more court action, which led to a one-year suspension from FIFA, which in its autonomous practices, tries to deter members from settling grievances in court.
Lest we forget, current Barbados Football Association president Randy Harris was given a four-year ban for taking the organisation to court after a contentious election battle he lost to Ronald Jones in 2005.
Not long after, CONCACAF, under new president Jeffrey Webb, commissioned an integrity and ethics committee to investigate any wrongdoing among its executive members. In 2013 at a CONCACAF congress in Panama, Sir David Simmons, who chaired the committee, concluded that both Warner and Blazer had used the confederation’s cash inappropriately.
Warner, who didn’t cooperate with the probe, denied the allegations and threatened to sue Sir David.
Lo and behold when we thought it was all water under the bridge, the Garcia report, commissioned by FIFA into bribery allegations about the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, found that there was evidence to support the claim.
Garcia, an American attorney, begged FIFA to make the findings public, which president Sepp Blatter vehemently refused to do. Several observers felt there was something “fishy” in FIFA’s reservations to release the entire findings, but later figured out why when the FBI made its disclosures and indicted many executive members on the eve of the recent congress and presidential elections in Zurich.
Turned up heat
In the past week, the international law enforcement agencies have turned up the heat on Warner, who was forced to take out a paid television advertisement to put his side of the story.
In his “The gloves are off” disclaimer, Warner made certain disclosures and told his audience to stand by for more information that is likely to ruffle the feathers of others.
The point is that we are at the stage where several pieces of information will drop off the truck or conveniently be leaked to the media or investigators by those who have to defend themselves and try to protect their character and integrity.
The South African Government was forced to account for the US$10 million it said it paid to CONCACAF for football development in the Caribbean, but which was seen as a bribe to support South Africa’s bid to host the 2010 World Cup which they won in the end.
There is a perceived cover-up of where the money ended up and if individuals put it to their own use.
In a sense, it is my conclusion that the international football formation will have a very defensive format as some of its players seek to fend off the sustained attacks from the FBI, the Swiss police and Interpol.
I see it as a time when every accused will be looking to save himself or have other accomplices penalised with them as the law enforcement referees reach for their red cards.
It’s in this context and because of previous sanctions, I think some might be trembling in their boots.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist. Email: [email protected]