21 June ~ The associate of ex-FIFA vice president Jack Warner spoke the truth yesterday when he said Warner had stepped down from his position “for the good of the game”. There’s no denying football is better off without an autocratic, belligerent man who has never satisfactorily answered questions regarding allegations of his own corruption, and who has always slithered free of real punishment. But his resignation also gave FIFA the excuse to cancel its investigation into Warner’s part in the cash payments made to members of the Caribbean Football Union last month as part of Mohamed Bin Hammam’s bid for the FIFA presidency. Now, says a relieved FIFA, Jack must be presumed innocent. Yet again.
“It’s not unusual for such things to happen and gifts have been around throughout the history of FIFA,” Warner told the Bloomberg news agency yesterday, referring to the CFU scandal. “What’s happening now for me is hypocrisy.” He’s right about the hypocrisy, of course, but his casual presumption that gifts have always been part of FIFA business betrays a cynical culture of acceptance by a man who’s been on the inside for too long. Warner is blithely dismissing “gifts” as merely part of the way that FIFA and its delegates typically conduct business, and anyone who thinks otherwise is naive. Those who call for a change in that culture are misguided fools and idealists (or troublesome journalists).
Lest anyone believe that the allegations of financial foul play that have surrounded so many of Warner’s football dealings really are an attempt to have him “hung out to dry continually”, in Warner’s words, it’s worth looking back to the 2006 World Cup to document two of Warner’s least glorious moments in football administration. The first involved egregious self-enrichment, at the very least for his family and possibly for himself. The second was a shameless, shifting manoeuvre to bilk the workers, in this case the members of the Trinidad & Tobago national team who had qualified for the 2006 tournament.
Warner was “special advisor” to the Trinidad & Tobago Football Association. This very special role allowed him to get his hands on Trinidad & Tobago’s entire allocation of World Cup tickets, all of which he sold on to Simpaul, the Warner family travel firm. Tickets for Germany 2006 were then only available to T&T fans as part of an expensive package deal from Simpaul. FIFA found him guilty of breaching the its ethics code on three counts, but the punishment was a limp slap on the wrist (“You breached the FIFA ethics code. Bad boy”) and a $1 million (£618,000) fine for his son, Daryan, Simpaul's managing director (Warner had smartly sold his shares in the firm by the time of the investigation). That amount was deemed by FIFA's auditors, Ernst & Young, to be the profit Simpaul made from the packages, so in effect it was no fine at all, and it’s unclear whether it was ever actually paid to FIFA in full.
Warner had also made a deal with the Trinidad & Tobago players that they would receive a 50 per cent share of the profits that the country’s FA made from Germany 2006. After the tournament, he offered the players $1,000 each, saying that was all that was left over from the $3m profit. So many overheads, to be sure. When the players announced they were forming their own union and disputing the amount, they were banned from playing for the national team, which sent a scratch squad to the 2007 Gold Cup. But when the T&T government later declared the FA had made no less than $28m profit from Germany 2006 (no doubt in Warner’s world $25m is easily mislaid), Warner lifted the ban and swiftly went to arbitration, where a settlement more favourable to the players was reached.
These two examples adequately reflect the shady, underhand way that Warner operated in the football world. His legacy to football is little more than rhetorical threats, broken promises and dubious deals. That he was eventually shopped to FIFA headquarters by his former Concacaf best buddy and protégé, its general secretary Chuck Blazer, not only demonstrates the ruthless internal machinations of football politics, but suggests that even by the negligible moral standards of FIFA, Warner had at last gone too far. Or had been seen to have gone too far.
Warner perhaps realised this was one enquiry that was going to finally nail him, if only to make him an example so FIFA could put on a public show of being tough on ethical transgressors. After all, he’s never been a man to stand down and admit he was in the wrong. But after 30 years of “gifts” and other not unusual happenings, there eventually comes a time when there’s too much evidence to refute, even for the most vehement contrarians. And although a sceptical football world will not for one second believe that Warner’s resignation will change the way that FIFA operates, his retreat to domestic politics can only be a good thing for everyone bar the T&T electorate.
But it’s only a start. As long as FIFA and its attendant federations are rotten to the core with spineless functionaries and lickspittle parasites overseeing a culture of cronyism and corruption that stretches far beyond Warner’s territory, his resignation gives us limited scope for joy. Ian Plenderleith