More football challenges
Over the past several months we have had one revelation after another in respect of the threats to the sport of football as we have come to know it.
While sporting enthusiasts hold fast to the view that sport is bigger than any single individual it is clear that many an individual have negatively impacted the sport to such an extent that it would be forever tainted.
For more than a century football and more particularly football in England has been tainted by hooliganism where it is believed that fans must behave in a particular way at each game. This hooliganism has come to impact the game almost everywhere it is played. Hosts of the quadrennial Football World Cup are often forced to enact special legislation for those coming with the intention of engaging in unacceptable behaviour during the competition.
In the recent decades however football has become increasingly popular with the international media, less for the fighting between fans and more so for evidence of racism and corruption that now appear to run much deeper than initially thought.
The international media did not appear shocked when the English challenged the world governing body for football, FIFA, following the success of Qatar in the World Cup bid for 2022. The English made claims, even in Parliament, about the way things had been done in the lead up to the voting for the right to host the event. Interesting some may also have had their own issues with the election of Russia for the World Cup of 2018 but this paled in significance to the challenges in relation to Qatar’s election. This actually unveiled a can of worms that is still open and growing worse daily.
In the melee, fingers were pointed at Trinidad and Tobago’s Austin ‘Jack’ Warner. It must be remember that Warner had been the subject of many challenges since he emerged as one of the most powerful men in the FIFA leadership.
At the regional level football has had its fair share of issues, many of them controversial. For many years the Central Americans controlled the sport in the CONCACAF region. Terrazas, a Mexican football administrator, was elected to the presidency of CONCACAF and head the position for over 20 years. It was not until 1990 that the football federations of the English-speaking membership of CONCACAF felt they were strong enough to challenge for the presidency of the organisation. The point man was Warner.
When Warner ran for the presidency of CONCACAF in Guatemala City, in 1990, the outgoing President, Terrazas, had his own issues with him. Warner was at the time General Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation. He had been on suspension from CONCACAF
Warner facilitated the participation of the representatives from the football federations of the smaller islands of the Eastern Caribbean who could not have afforded the costs associated with Congress.
Interestingly, the first time some of the football leaders from the Caribbean were introduced to Chuck Blazer was when they were together in Guatemala.
The St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation, led at the time by Adrian Fraser, borrowed monies from the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) where it held its account, to facilitate payment in full of monies owed CONCACAF at the time. Irvine Carr, Managing Director of JG Agencies Ltd., a lover of football, backed the loan at the bank. The Federation agreed a repayment schedule of $1000 per week based on the popularity of the sport at the time.
It was clear that the Central Americans were uncomfortable that Warner was the challenger to Terrazas. The battle lines were drawn and it was Spanish-speaking members versus English-speaking members of CONCACAF, a scenario that is so often played out in sport in this part of the world.
While it was expected that there would be some fanciful behind the scenes activity to garner votes in order to win the presidency nothing prepared the average newcomer to sports administration for what eventually unfolded.
On arrival in Guatemala for the Congress the representatives of the smaller islands sought to ensure that they were all in good standing with the organisation. This was to clear the way for their full participation in all aspects of the Congress. A visit to the headquarters of CONCACAF, then in Guatemala, yielded much resistance and surprisingly so. The Treasurer, who was a Guatemalan, refused to access the latest financial statement of CONCACAF from the organisation’s bank in Florida, USA.
One example should suffice here. When the representative of St Vincent and the Grenadines produced the carbon copy of the bank draft showing the date the monies were sent to CONCACAF’s account he was told that there was no evidence sent to the office indicating that this was done and that the organisation does not deal with copies. In response the representative informed the office staff that if he had the original in his hand it would have meant that the monies had not yet been paid.
When asked to check with the bank in Florida the response was, ‘we do not call the bank. The bank informs us of the situation’.
The story was the same for the representatives of the other small islands present at the CONCACAF Office at the time. Not surprisingly therefore, when the Registration process began the aforementioned representatives were rejected on the grounds that they were deemed non financial. The representative of Aruba then placed his credit card as guarantee for the federations involved and the representatives were duly accredited for the Congress.
Prior to the elections it was no secret that Joao Havelange, then FIFA President, would attend the CONCACAF Congress.
Even though Havelange was Brazilian and not from a Spanish-speaking country, he was nonetheless from Latin America and there was a certain expectation that he would perhaps have been partial to his Latin colleagues in the sport.
Havelange arrived in Guatemala the day before the Congress began. He was met at the airport by the CONCACAF leadership. It appears, in hindsight, that he might have been briefed of the strong challenge to Terrazas immediately after his arrival. He convened a meeting of the English-speaking representatives of CONCACAF who were in support of Warner’s bid to win the presidency of the organisation. At that meeting the initial purpose appeared to have been to convince the delegates in attendance to support Terrazas for one final term. It should be mentioned here that Terrazas had actually gone legally blind while in office. He held the presidency for 25 years.
The English-speaking representatives held fast to their commitment to change the leadership of CONCACAF. Convinced that they had enough votes to replace Terrazas with Warner, Havelange then embraced Warner and requested that following the elections Terrazas be allowed to stay on until after the World Cup and that he is made Honorary Life President of CONCACAF. The agreement was reached.
When the CONCACAF Congress began it was readily noted that the voting on several issues was based on allegiance – Spanish-speaking versus English-speaking members.
One issue after another saw the English-speaking members showing their strength, winning the votes with relative ease.
Then came the elections.
As everyone prepared themselves for the elections a document was being distributed amongst delegates in the room. The document was entitled, The Case Against Jack Warner.
Terrazas had the document distributed when the agenda item was the election of officers to the CONCACAF. Warner was irate when he saw the document and sought to rise on a point of order. However it was the representative from St Vincent and the Grenadines that informed the Congress that the procedure was wrong and that an agenda item on elections cannot entertain discussions on a document that targets one of the candidates. If anything, the representative suggested, the matter should have been included on the agenda beforehand or placed at the end of the Congress under ‘Other Business’.
The Congress agreed and the document as ignored.
It was not at all surprising that Terrazas and his colleagues were not prepared to roll over and seemed prepared to leave no stone unturned in making a case against his challenger for the presidency, Warner.
Warner won the presidency and the rest is history. He named Blazer CONCACAF’s General Secretary. At a later date he announced the organisation’s headquarters would be moved to Manhattan.
Joao Havelange was the president of FIFA for three decades and even as he came to the end of his tenure seemed almost unwilling to leave the post.
While in office Havelange was featured as one of the world sport leaders in the book, Lords of the Rings. The book fingered the five sport leaders that included then IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, in ways that did not seem complimentary and which raised many questions about their leadership.
There should therefore be no surprise therefore that when the football world focused attention on Bin Hammam and Warner, the IOC was busying itself following up on a Panorama Programme produced in England, that suggested Havelange had received a bribe of $1m US while serving as president of FIFA.
As the IOC was about to consider the suspension of Havelange for a possible two-year ban, he resigned.
Havelange’s resignation leaves more questions than answers regarding the alleged bribe and even more about other possible sordid issues that may surface.
Of interest is FIFA’s stance on the matter. Havelange is currently Honorary Life President of FIFA. If indeed he did receive the bribe then FIFA should move swiftly to rid itself of him. However one wonders whether this is possible and what else is in the ‘cupboard’. Blatter served as FIFA General Secretary under Havelange. Warner, Blatter and Havelange were powerhouses in the organisation.
Warner’s promise of ‘telling all’ such that he would create a football tsunami is yet to materialise and no one therefore knows just what he is likely to disclose and how far back in time it would go.
The reality however is that Transparency International is itself seeking to distance itself from FIFA. An article in the Wall Street Journal attributed to Samuel Rubenfeld, dated 1 December 2011 stated:
Transparency International withdrew its assistance to international soccer’s governing body, reports said.
The Berlin-based anti-corruption group had been a consultant on a reform plan from Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, as the body tries to distance itself from a myriad of scandals.
It broke off the relationship because a committee tasked with guiding reform, led by Mark Pieth, won’t look into the allegations of impropriety in the past and because FIFA is paying Pieth, said Sylvia Schenk, Transparency International’s sports adviser, who spoke to Bloomberg and the AP.
FFA is the world governing body for football and if this is what is happening with the organisation then the sport is in for a very rough ride as far as leadership is concerned.