Former FIFA Vice President Austin ‘Jack’ Warner having been the first victim of his promised football Tsunami, it may now be the turn of the entire Caribbean to feel the full force of the cash-for-votes tidal wave that has buffeted FIFA, international football’s governing body over the past few months.
Last week, the scandal claimed its second victim. FIFA’s Ethics Committee ruled that the Qatari multi-millionaire head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Mohamed bin Hammam was guilty of attempting to buy the votes of the Caribbean football federations in his bid to unseat Sepp Blatter as FIFA Presi-dent. For his pains Bin Hammam has been banned from football for life. With hindsight Mr Warner’s voluntary exit from football prior to the start of the inquiry almost certainly spared him the ignominy of a similar fate, though the subsequent shrinking of his portfolio as a cabinet minister in the Government of Trinidad and Tobago was widely believed to be a consequence of the bribery scandal.
One might have thought that Mr Warner’s resignation from football administration would ensure that the can of worms which the cash-for-votes scandal threatened to open, would remain closed. Not so. FIFA’s verdict on bin Hammam is, in effect, a pronouncement on what it believes may have taken place at the May meeting in Port of Spain, and FIFA has said that it is now the turn of the CFU officials who attended the meeting there at which the bribes were allegedly offered to face the music.
The enquiry into exactly what took place at the Port of Spain meeting in May could rock Caribbean football to its very foundations, since the outcome may well illuminate some of the earlier allegations of corruption in football in the region. More to the point, Mr Warner may not, in the final analysis, be the only regional football administrator to have his career sacrificed on the altar of the scandal.
Up until now we are far from clear which of the regional CFU officials might have broken FIFA rules by accepting the packages of US$40,000 each allegedly offered by bin Hammam in exchange for their votes. FIFA, however, has made its feelings clear on what may have transpired in Trinidad. In handing down his judgment in the bin Hammam matter FIFA Ethics Committee acting Chairman Petrus Damaseb, dropped a broad hint that bin Hammam’s expulsion was not the end of the matter. “There are other people that need to explain certain things that took place that must be further investigated,” Damaseb said. The inference is clear. Those regional football officials who attended the May Port of Spain meeting where the bribes were reportedly offered will now come under sharper, more direct FIFA scrutiny.
The enquiry itself could be as much a testing time for the Caribbean as a whole as it could for regional football. Since the scandal broke in May the CFU officials have told different stories as to what took place in Port of Spain and the pressures of a full-scale FIFA investigation could prove embarrassing for these officials – particularly without the reassuring presence of the one-time Godfather of Caribbean football to see them through. Beyond football, what could make the inquiry damaging to the Caribbean is the fact that it is bound to attract negative international attention to the region from the international sporting fraternity. The Caribbean Community particularly Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, have had their international images significantly boosted by their appearances in the FIFA football World Cup finals and should the outcome of the cash-for-votes scandal implicate any of the CFU officials that could set the image of both the region and the sport in the region back significantly.
With sport having become a major international marketing tool, nationals who hold strategic positions in international sports organizations can do much for promoting their countries to the rest of the world and enhancing sport at the national level. While his career as head of FIFA, CONCACAF and the CFU has been dogged by controversy, Jack Warner continues to be credited with doing much for football in the region, and here in Guyana our own football administrators say that the demise of Mr Warner’s FIFA role could set football in the region back by decades.
FIFA, of course, will have its own concerns in this matter. Mr Blatter will be aware of the international attention that its Caribbean cash-for-votes enquiry will attract and given the accusations of corruption that have hung over his own head for years, he will want, in his final term as FIFA President, to ensure that the outcome of the inquiry help to at least win back some of the credibility which the organization has lost over the years. With so much at stake for FIFA, Caribbean football administrators who were present in Port of Spain in May and who knew what transpired there could be in for a torrid time.