Already in a state of disarray following the forced resignation of Austin “Jack” Warner from his vaunted vice presidency of FIFA, and from the presidency of both CONCACAF and the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) in the wake of the much talked-about Mohammad Bin Hammam cash-for-votes saga, Caribbean football faces further upheaval following the August 11 announcement by FIFA that its Ethics Committee will now be investigating 16 CFU officials in connection with the scandal.
While FIFA is no stranger to corruption-related controversy, this is the first time that the Caribbean, a minnow on the global football stage, has been tainted by such a scandal. In May, the CFU, seemingly at Warner’s behest, became entangled in a high-stakes power tussle at the apex of FIFA when the now disgraced head of Asian football, Bin Hammam, allegedly sought to buy the loyalty of the Caribbean in his bid to unseat Sepp Blatter as FIFA’s President. The move backfired spectacularly amidst claims that the wealthy Quatari had travelled to a meeting in Port-of-Spain set up by Warner with huge amounts of cash with which to bribe the CFU Federation Heads into backing his bid for the FIFA top spot. Simply put, the CFU found itself on the wrong side of the FIFA power struggle and now they are paying the price.
The cash-for-votes scandal is a kind of sub-plot, a clumsy shenanigan, the uncovering of which, was a boon for Blatter. In effect, it handed him his job back without having to face his rival at an election; but it did more. With Blatter reinstated, it triggered a FIFA investigation that disposed of both Warner and Bin Hammam, the two men whom, it seemed, sought to ‘engineer’ his downfall.
The two out of the way FIFA is now setting about the backs of the CFU ‘upstarts’ with the same stick (the cash-for-votes scandal) used to chastise Warner and Bin Hammam.
From the moment the scandal broke the CFU seemed unlikely to escape the wrath of FIFA, or, some would say, Blatter’s reprisal. It was Warner’s forced resignation from FIFA that provided virtual confirmation that the scandal would eventually catch up with the CFU itself. In a sense too, the CFU attracted considerable unwholesome attention to itself when the responses of its various national federations to the cash-for-votes upheaval appeared disjointed, panicky and, in some cases, entirely unconvincing. The more clumsy responses resembled the panicky nervousness of a child pleading innocence of a delinquent act while wearing a facial expression that told a different story.
The confusion was perhaps understandable. Already red-carded by FIFA, Warner, the alleged mastermind behind the scandal, was not around to plan and execute the extrication of the CFU from the dilemma in which it had found itself. Some of the regional officials, in the face of a trail of at least circumstantial evidence that something untoward had occurred at the Port-of- Spain meeting, may actually have set the CFU up for a FIFA probe by strenuously denying that anything irregular had taken place even as others in their ranks were talking about having received $US40,000.00 ‘gifts’ and returning the envelopes. FIFA, at that stage, must surely have thought that the CFU officials were playing them for fools.
In his final four-year term as FIFA’s President and under pressure to clean up the wider alleged corruption within the organization before his departure, it is unthinkable that Blatter would have passed up this opportunity. With Warner out of the way, both Blatter and FIFA knew that the rest of CFU officials, all of them decidedly minor players in the FIFA power structure, would be “easy pickings.”
Viewed against this backdrop it surely was only a matter of time before the hammer would fall. It has fallen with a resounding thud and quite where Caribbean football will be by the end of the investigation is anyone’s guess.
From Guyana’s standpoint, this may well be the end of the road for Colin Klass, the long-standing President of the GFF. Among the 16 regional officials who will face the FIFA probe, Klass has been singled out for a suspension from football activities based on what FIFA says was ‘consideration of specific information received on the matter.” If FIFA has declined so far to disclose the nature of the “specific information” an August 11 BBC sports report has gone so far as to describe Klass as one of “the suspects” and “a long-standing ally” of Warner.
The fact that Klass has been served with a temporary suspension from football activities is no small matter. From FIFA’s standpoint the suspension would appear to place him at the centre of the controversy though he is on record as having denied any involvement in the cash-for-votes scandal.
Whatever advancement Caribbean football has realized in recent years has been due in large measure to FIFA support.
Here in Guyana the local federation has long been under the gun for what it critics say has been its failure to take football forward. What would now appear to be Klass’ exit from local football administration – possibly along with the federation’s General Secretary, Noel Adonis – exacerbates a protracted power struggle for control of the federation which is reportedly financed by FIFA to the tune of US$250,000.00 annually.
Klass himself, on account of his longevity as President of the local federation, had come to be regarded as the unquestioned boss of local football, though the growth of the game under his presidency has been continually called into question by his critics. Indeed, speculation is already rife than FIFA’s investigation of Klass could conceivably extend to his handling of local football administration as a whole, in which case issues like the failure of the long-outstanding GOAL project to materialize may well surface.
No less worrying for Guyana’s football is the likelihood that Klass’ removal from administering the local game could trigger a fierce power struggle among aspirants for a job that carries with it considerable perks and privileges. Some of those who have shown an interest in the local federation are believed to be more concerned with pursuing their personal material ambitions than with taking football forward. Few if any of them are known to have adequate leadership skills.
For these reasons, the crisis facing the CFU could have more damaging implications for Guyana than for some of the other territories since, in the case of the GFF, the issue of finding a capable successor to Klass could prove particularly difficult.
The GFF, as much as the CFU may well be entering a protracted nightmare period, the Bin Hammam cash-for-votes scandal having not only eroded the modest power base which Warner had built for himself and, to some extent, for regional football.
Time was when here in Guyana the view was being bandied around that the immense global power of FIFA had immunized the local federation from any alternative sanction and offered a guarantee against even state intervention. In the wake of the announcement of the FIFA investigation of the 16 CFU officials, and more particularly, the singling out of Klass for suspension from football-related activities, CFU and more particularly the local federation, now appears weak and wobbly.(Arnon Adams is the Business Editor of the Stabroek News)