Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Power, Corruption & Lies

Hands up anybody who was surprised by last week’s outburst from FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, when he described England’s bid to stage the 2018 World Cup as “lightweight”. Probably only the gullible suits in the Football Association, who foolishly believed that sucking up to the old despot would somehow guarantee his support in the bid process.

Those with longer memories will recall that in June 2008 the FA sanctioned a meaningless friendly against Trinidad & Tobago, forcing the England team to fly half way round the world after a long, tiring season, in order to further line Warner’s bulging pockets with cash, sorry, to celebrate the anniversary of the local Football Federation.

"If looks could kill"

To be fair to the FA, their groveling strategy of pimping out the national team did appear to be paying dividends for a while. After Warner had once again profited from the beautiful game with his tried-and-trusted strategy of selling tickets at vastly inflated prices and had enjoyed his photo opportunity with the England captain, David Beckham, he duly made some nice noises about England’s proposal after the FA asked him to “clarify” his position:

The time has come. The fact is they invented this sport. They last held the World Cup 42 years ago. That is almost two to three generations. There are guys in England who have never seen a World Cup on English soil.

This conversion to “Union Jack” represented a remarkable turnaround from his previous stance, when he had asserted:

England invented the sport but has never made any impact on world football. England is an irritant. Nobody in Europe likes England.

As they say, a leopard never changes its spots and Jack Warner has a history of alleged corruption as long as his considerable career with FIFA, having been frequently accused of taking advantage of his position for financial gain.

"Show me the money"

During the 2006 World Cup, Warner worked his connections at FIFA to ensure that his family controlled Trinidad & Tobago’s allocation of tickets, which they then sold to ordinary fans at vastly inflated prices. Independent auditors Ernst & Young estimated that Warner’s family made a profit of at least $1 million from this operation. Secret minutes from FIFA’s Executive Committee revealed that Warner’s son, Daryan, was ordered to pay a $1 million fine to charity “to compensate for the profits it had made through the resale of 2006 FIFA World Cup tickets”. Despite numerous reminders from FIFA, apparently only $250,000 has ever been paid, which, by an incredible coincidence, is exactly the same amount as FIFA’s annual grant to the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation.

This is not the first time Warner was accused of acting like a sordid ticket tout, as the Daily Mail had pointed the finger at him for making $350,000 from a similar scalping operation at the 2002 World Cup.

"One day, son, all of this will be yours"

Also at the 2006 World Cup Warner trousered even more cash from his own players, the Soca Warriors. The self-appointed “special adviser” had brokered a deal with the Football Federation, whereby the players would receive 50% of the proceeds from their participation in Germany. In a now familiar move, Warner’s other son, Daryll, was placed in charge of the company looking after sponsors’ contributions. After the tournament, Warner claimed that once expenses had been deducted from the revenue of TT$ 18 million, a pool of only TT$ 350,000 remained. However, he had employed the most creative accounting imaginable, estimating expenses for “lost” receipts, deducting a third of the money “to prepare Trinidad for the 2010 World Cup”, “forgetting” to include money contributed by the government and including revenue from sponsors which appeared to be significantly lower than their press releases claimed.

When the case was brought to independent arbitration, the Trinidad & Tobago government revealed that the Federation had received over TT$ 173 million, nearly ten times Warner’s estimate, and the players were awarded everything they claimed. To date, Warner’s response has been restricted to banning the players from representing their country. He has not paid them a single cent on the grounds that the decision was “nullified” after it had been leaked to the Trinidad Guardian (whose editor has written two glowing biographies of a certain Jack Warner). The players’ lawyer lamented:

This is a sporting and financial scandal, which the major football authorities are ignoring. Jack Warner, a FIFA vice-president and president of CONCACAF, is involved up to his neck, yet nothing is done about it. He has shown by banning the players that he cares nothing about Caribbean football and their golden generation, only his own financial well-being.

When Trinidad staged FIFA’s Under-17 championship in 2001, FIFA (well, actually Jack Warner) described it as “the best run and most successful world event ever”. In terms of boosting his own Family Fortunes, you can say that again. Ignoring any conflicts of interest, Warner, in his role as chairman of the organising committee, had a say in allocating the construction contracts to build four stadia and also owned the exclusive television rights. His travel agency handled the flight tickets for teams and officials and some teams stayed at hotels where he had an interest. Of course, his sons also got in on the act: the catering contract was awarded to Daryan, while Daryll was granted a $2 million contract for video screens in hotel lobbies. How do you spell “nepotism”?

"Let me tell you"

Nearer to home, Scottish Football Association President John McBeth claimed that Warner asked for the cheque for the $75,000 match fee from a friendly match between Scotland and Trinidad & Tobago to be made out to him personally, rather than his Football Federation. When McBeth refused, Warner approached several other members of the SFA with the same request.

Given his kleptomaniac tendencies and oft-documented involvement in questionable practices, there is a delicious irony in Warner’s recent criticism of cheating on the football pitch and his approval for the use of sin bins for divers in next year’s World Cup Finals. When you’re in a glass house, don’t throw stones.

In the past, Jack has occasionally played the racism card, and, to be fair, he can speak on this subject with some authority, having been captured on camera screaming, “No foreigner, particularly a white foreigner, will come to my country and harass me”, when the BBC dared to question some of his actions. Perhaps a reminder of FIFA’s Ethics Code is in order: “Racism has no place in football. FIFA is deploying all the means at its disposal to eliminate this form of discrimination” – except when it applies to a member of its own Executive Committee obviously.

"Where's my goody bag?"

As the late, great Alan Clark once admitted in the witness box, Warner has also sometimes been "economical with the actualité". in 2006 he instructed his lawyer to write to the BBC, claiming that investigative reporter Andrew Jennings had hit him in the mouth with his hand microphone at an airport in Trinidad. A few weeks later, millions of Panorama viewers saw that Jennings didn’t have a hand microphone, but was wearing a clip microphone on his shirt collar. Furthermore, Warner didn’t suffer a blow from anyone. In fact, it was Warner doing the punching. Unsurprisingly, Warner never did risk any legal action.

Having been a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee since 1983 and the President of CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) since 1990, Jack Warner is one of the most powerful men in world football. He is a close ally of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, controlling 35 of the 207 votes at FIFA’s congress. In 2003, Warner boomed:

I have told Mr. Blatter that whenever he is running for election, do not come to campaign in CONCACAF. He doesn’t have to. Don’t waste his time. CONCACAF has 35 votes. He gets 35.

"33, 34, that's 35 votes"

Is that the agreement? Blatter gets the FIFA presidency for life; FIFA turns a blind eye to Jack’s disreputable activities. When Warner’s involvement in the World Cup tickets scandal was brought before FIFA’s Executive Committee, his great buddy Sepp did little more than rap his knuckles:

The committee expressed its disapproval … drawing attention to the fact that Mr. Warner should be more cautious and prudent. That is all there is to say in relation to this affair and we now consider the case closed.

Apparently, there was no evidence that Warner had infringed FIFA rules, as “the person who did the re-selling is not subject to the FIFA jurisdiction, because it is the son of Jack Warner”. Oh, that’s alright then. This is clearly not a case for FIFA’s much-trumpeted Ethics Committee, lead by our very own Lord Coe. Warner’s treatment was in stark contrast to fellow Executive Committee member Ismail Bhamjee, who was ordered to resign after selling twelve 2006 World Cup tickets at three times their face value. By coincidence, Bhamjee had been due to vacate his position at the end of that year in any case, having failed to win re-election.

"Meet El Presidente"

Returning to the 2018 World Cup bid, I don’t really care if England gets the tournament, but Warner’s criticism is laughable. Speaking at the Leaders in Football conference, he harrumphed:

England cannot count on our vote for the World Cup. It is time to wake up. I am saying that if you don't get your act together you will lose. You have no divine right to host the World Cup. I was in Rio last week and my colleagues were talking about Spain, Russia and USA. Not many talk about England. You had it in 1966, is it your turn to have it now?

He went on to suggest that the FA should make better use of David Beckham and even the Queen in their campaign. We already know how much Jack loves schmoozing with the great and good after his recent trip to Washington to meet President Obama. This is also the man who demanded that Nelson Mandela flew to Zurich to meet him on the eve of the vote for the 2006 World Cup, even though Mandela’s doctors said that it might kill him. Everyone should kiss his ring. After all, he’s Jack Warner. This encouragement to “start galloping” is yet another volte face from the very same man who had previously advised the FA not to act like a colonial power, but to remain humble and not to get in people’s faces.

"This time next year, we'll be millionaires"

At the same conference Jack noted that some bid committees gave each attendee a free goody bag:

I came here and was shocked that I got a bag for Australia at the entrance. Why isn’t there a bag for England? People are looking at these things and asking themselves questions.

Are they really? Or are they just saying spend more money to entertain and impress us before the vote? I’ve got a couple of suggestions for you: (1) keep your big mouth shut to maintain a semblance of independence and impartiality; (2) judge each bid purely on its merits. The criteria used should include boring details like the quality of the football grounds, the infrastructure and other facilities. The truth is that England could host a World Cup tomorrow, like a number of other major European nations, but England last hosted the World Cup in 1966, while others have staged it much more recently (Germany 2006 and 1974, France 1998, Italy 1990, Spain 1982).

"Jack in the box"

So why has Jack now decided to put the boot in? Past history would indicate that it’s his subtle plea to “show me the money”. His wealth may have suffered in the credit crunch, so it must be time to replenish the coffers. He knows that the more he slates the English, the more he will get from them. Don’t be surprised if you hear the announcement of a money-spinning friendly at the new Wembley featuring Trinidad & Tobago in the near future. Or maybe some sort of investment in “youth development” in the Caribbean. Or even English support for any campaign by Trinidad & Tobago to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. In fact, anything where Jack can see the Dollar signs.

There may be an even more Machiavellian undertone to Jack’s comments, as he starts chipping away at the bids he does not favour. Is the fix in? Has FIFA already decided who will get the richest prize in world football? This might just be the beginning of a “killing me softly” campaign that will let the English down gently. Looking at the candidates, would it really surprise anyone if the tournament were awarded to President Obama (sorry, USA) or Prime Minister Putin (sorry, Russia)? We shall see.

"Don't mention any backhanders"

The conventional wisdom is that Warner must be “looked after” if England are to win the 2018 World Cup bid, which is why the FA is so terrified of offending the sleazy money-grabber. He can shoot his mouth off all day long, safe in the knowledge that nobody associated with the campaign dare make the slightest criticism of his absurd behaviour for fear of the votes he holds. However, the FA would do well to remember the old saying that if you dine with the devil, you should bring a long spoon. It’s a pity that those involved cannot say publicly what they must think in private about this unprincipled buffoon. Even the normally acidic UK media rarely go further than calling him “controversial”, instead of telling him to “Jack it in”.

In an ideal world, they would surely love to follow Roy Keane’s example of a few years ago. After Warner condemned the then Sunderland manager for refusing to release Dwight Yorke for a Trinidad match, even though Keane claimed that Yorke had retired from international football, the Irishman told Warner that he was a clown, vowing to have nothing more to do with him, “If he’s vice-president of FIFA, God help everybody”.

Having to suck up to the likes of Warner seems to be the price you have to pay to host a World Cup. Greedy, dishonest “presidents” like him are the reason why it is not worth getting involved in this humiliating, squalid process. To paraphrase his classy response to a Panorama reporter, Jack Warner can go fuck himself.


  1. I know this post is almost a year old, but I just read it and it's fantastic. As a soccer fan in the US and A, I can't understand why Jack Warner gets to run CONCACAF in perpetuity. There is no CONCACAF without the USA and Mexico. How does this make any sense? We should liberate CONCACAF from T&T's clutches.

  2. I've only just started reading your blog. I have to say it's one of the best reads on the net!

    As for this article on Warner, it is both brilliant and depressing. 'How do you spell “nepotism”?' - Hilarious!

  3. Excellent read - more strongly worded than many of your posts, but a snake like Warner deserves no less. The fact that he continues to operate his corrupt schemes with impunity is an embarrassment to football.

    His threat to spit on Andrew Jennings in the Panorama programme was disgusting, and exposed him as a man with no dignity or respect.

    I never felt comfortable with Beckham, Cameron & co. courting his favour over michelin-star meals, and Warner has once again proved himself unworthy of such niceties.

    Apparently Sepp Blatter warned the FIFA executive committee of 'the evils of the press' (hint hint) before their vote on 2018.

    The irony is, by humiliating England in the vote, Blatter has subjected FIFA to more scrutiny from the British media than he would have ever thought possible over the next few years.

  4. Hopefully we can now expect for the English press to take Jack down

  5. Truly prescient. A most interesting post.

  6. How in this day and age are people like Warner and Blatter in charge of a world wideorganisation like FIFA, surely its time that the footballing world stood together and take down these despots and fully expose them for what they are, they just think that they can steam rolloer everything through because they are FIFA. Please let someone with some power take them down,



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