Friday, June 24, 2011

Warner has gone, but FIFA is still a house of thieves

Jack Warner: A Life in Crime 1966-2011

We should be happy that Jack Warner is finally out of football, but his long-overdue exit still leaves a bad taste.

I was on my way back from Euro U21 in Denmark when I heard the news. Part of me wanted to rejoice, the other thought it was FIFA playing yet another get-out-of-jail-free card.

Warner's demise does not change the fact the organization remains inherently bent. I look at the remaining 'most-wanted' gallery of the FIFA Executive Committee and groan at the nefarious likes of Nicolas Leoz, Julio Grondona, Ricardo Teixeira and Sepp Blatter himself still in power. Nothing but a purge of the entire gang will do.

When the 68 year-old Trinidadian was being ushered out the door at FIFA House, he grumbled,

"It’s not unusual for such things to happen and gifts have been around throughout the history of FIFA...What is happening now for me is hypocrisy!”

For once he was telling the truth. Cutting off one head does not kill the Hydra.

Warner is in some ways the winner. The Pirate of the Caribbean jumped ship safely before being forced to walk the plank and still has his political career in Trinidad to fall back on.

An advocate of the death penalty in his native land, Jack had been hanged, drawn and quartered in the eyes of the soccer world long ago but with good reason considered himself untouchable at FIFA. So he continued his bribery, embezzlement, kickbacks and ticket-scalping until one of his loyal lieutenants Chuck Blazer blew the whistle, for reasons still not entirely clear, and it was game over. Tell us Chuck, why did you back an obvious crook for so long? We're all ears...

With Jack's number clearly up after Blazer had ratted, some say that he, ever the politican, did a deal with Blatter to down Mohamed Bin-Hammam and avoid prosecution. Despite co-operating in his attempted bribery of the Caribbean Football Union, Jack had no loyalty to the Qatari - he was merely doing his job as world soccer's No.1 facilitator and man for all seasons.

Leaving aside FIFA's judgment that its most corrupt man was leaving, "with the presumption of innocence maintained" as comedy gold, under Swiss law, once Warner had resigned they could no longer pursue him anyway, so he got away scot-free and they did not have to wash their dirty linen in public. Everyone was happy.

As Shaka Hislop, still owed money by Warner, said, there is the possibility of an investigation by the Trinidad Police, but the Works & Transport Minister has allies there too and has huge support in his Chaguanas constituency. Just take a look at the obsequious letters and full-page adverts of support for him in Trinidadian newspapers.

Andrew Jennings, who has kept up an almost one-man crusade, believes it was commercial pressure from FIFA sponsors which saw Warner ushered out the back door. Dismay expressed recently by Coke, Adidas, McDonalds et al. was apparently genuine fear that the bad publicity was beginning to rub off onto them.

I first started taking an interest in Warner's shenanigans at the time of Paul Caligiuri's 'shot heard round the world' in 1989. You could not miss the serious overcrowding which almost cancelled the game in Port of Spain - somebody had sold more tickets than there were seats in the stadium...

He soon became the most influential person in world soccer, the kingmaker of FIFA politics, effectively controlling the votes of Africa and North and Central America from a minor soccer nation in the Caribbean.

When David Beckham jetted out to the Caribbean and the British Prime Minister and heir to the throne bowed to him in Switzerland last year, his status as international power-broker was confirmed. Jack was a Machiavellian maestro, dodging silver bullets with ease while entertaining and befriending esteemed visitors and assuring them of his support, before knifing them in the back once they had left.

He was a pure crook, but like all master villains, cultivated an aura of admiration. That a lowly sociology lecturer could rise to the heights of global influence, even through criminality, was impressive. In a weird way I regret his passing as the poster boy of football corruption, a shameless cheat who became the easiest club with which to batter FIFA. Removing the other bad apples could prove harder.

In Denmark last week I was talking to a man who knew Warner at the start of his soccer career. Barely out of the classroom, Jack was in his words a most charming and hospitable fellow, a likeable chap all round with ambitious plans for his region's football infrastructure.

"So what went wrong?", I asked. "Did he get a taste for money?" Jack after all had stuffed the CONCACAF coffers during his years in charge, bringing undreamt-of wealth and influence to a former FIFA backwater.

"No," my colleague replied.


-Sean O'Conor

1 comment:

Denny said...

Someone needs to make an American Gangster/The Godfather-esque movie about all of this.

Denzel Washington for Jack Warner. Oooo, I'm all tingly at how evil he would be.