10 December ~ Transparency at FIFA has been a big talking point since the usual shady shenanigans surrounding the World Cup hosting allocation process led to what many see as an unhappy result, especially with regard to plucky outsider Qatar’s winning bid. But not everyone on the FIFA executive committee is completely secretive about the way they operate. Concacaf general secretary Chuck Blazer loves a good twitter, and runs a blog documenting his travels as a football functionary. It’s an instructive read, right enough.
Blazer loves to come across as the cheerful, chubby clown by posting pictures of himself in ridiculous Halloween get-up, or wearing a Santa hat. When you laugh at yourself, the joke’s on those who laugh at you. And, as he told Sports Business Journal earlier this year, when he reads or hears negative things about himself – such as the time during FIFA’s court case with Mastercard in 2006 when a New York judge described his testimony as “fabricated” and lacking credibility – “I shrug at it.” When you’ve got an apartment in Trump Tower and you’re travelling first class around the world, you’re pretty much untouchable. Why care what others think?
No wonder Chuck fits in at FIFA – shrugging off allegations of corruption and bribery has been its specialty for the past 20 years. The body is accountable to no one, and it mixes with eager politicians at the highest level. Any member of England’s 2018 World Cup bid committee still baffled as to why Chuck failed to give them a vote need only check out his blog entry for November 25, where he lovingly details a trip to Moscow for a star-struck encounter with Russian president Vladimir Putin. After being told by Putin he looked like Karl Marx, and getting a high-five, there followed “a half hour exchange of wit, charm and effective communications”. Vlad then emailed Chuck some pictures of him helping a sick polar bear to put on his blog. Chuck happily obliged his new “friend”.
In other entries, Chuck lets the pictures do the talking. He goes to England with his slimmer, younger partner Lynn and meets the Charlton brothers at Sunderland v Manchester Utd, blagging some free shirts while he’s at it. Photo op! He goes to Holland and drinks wine on a boat in Rotterdam Harbour with what looks like the Dutch bid committee. Photo op! In all these pictures, Chuck has the widest smile, as well he might. He’s in control. He has something these people desperately want – a vote. And the sickly uncertainty of his hosts’ expressions reflects their inner gut feeling that what they’re doing won’t be enough. Certainly not to compete with a high-five from one of the world’s most powerful politicians.
It’s hard to feel the same antipathy towards Blazer that you might feel towards his close friend and associate, the nakedly unpleasant and demonstrably corrupt Concacaf president Jack Warner, who even FIFA’s lame-duck ethics committee managed to find culpable in the scandal of the 2006 World Cup tickets he sold on from the Trinidad & Tobago Football Association to his family’s own travel agency (punishment – a fine only as great as the profits he made). Blazer may be brazen in his dealings, but he lays many of them out for the world to see. Look at me – I travel the world, I shake hands, I cut deals, and I’m a happy man. Tough nut Warner’s the front man, the bad cop, and you know what that makes cheery Chuck.
You get the feeling that when FIFA finally caves in on itself and they lead Chuck away from Trump Tower, he’ll still be smiling. “I’ve had a good innings,” he’ll laugh. “Do you want to see some pictures of me with my good friend Nelson Mandela and the Pope?” He’s a mascot for the modern game. But he’s not the fool he wants you to believe he is. Many in North American football revere him as the man who was smart enough to dramatically up Cocacaf’s revenues, and add a businessman’s savvy to a financially moribund football region. He never played the game, but he always knew how it could make money. Beneath the smile, Chuck is FIFA through and through. A sporting politician who knows how to work the people and generate the cash. Don’t laugh at Chuck. He’s still at the top of his, and our, game. Ian Plenderleith