The incorrigible Jack Warner

Published : Oct 31, 2009 00:00 IST

The Trinidadian may be the main man in CONCACAF, but what England do or do not is frankly none of his business.

Jack Warner from Trinidad, the main man of CONCACAF, the North and Central American federation, has been described in the English Press of late as “a powerbroker.” The depressing fact is that this is probably true. And the reason why of late the members of England’s bid committee for the 2018 World Cup have reportedly been “wining and dining” him. In plainer words, grovelling. To a man whose lamentable career has been ruthlessly exposed by tha t arch investigator Andrew Jennings in his book ‘Foul’. A plentitude of accusations of greed, manipulation and turpitude. Though the book, having given abundant and damning chapter and verse on Warner’s profiteering on match tickets for the 2006 World Cup finals, came out before Jennings could do justice to Warner’s treatment of the gallant Trinidad and Tobago team, who surpassed themselves in Germany.

For long months, the players were complaining that they had still to be paid the money promised to them. Most recently Warner, who never ceases to make spiteful criticism of English football and the Football Association, has surpassed himself with a fusillade against England’s current attempt, which indeed may be inadequate, to bring home the World Cup finals of 2018. Warner may be the main man in CONCACAF, the North and Central American federation, he may be as alas he is a vice-president of FIFA — did someone say “vice”? — but what England do or do not is frankly none of his business.

Last year, he was fulminating against English football in general, alleging that it was poorly esteemed in the game at large; the reason for his outbursts seemingly being that when England played a summer friendly in Trinidad’s Port of Spain, the current FA Chairman, Lord Triesman, didn’t bother to turn up. But since CONCACAF control some 34 votes in FIFA, Jack Warner has had a charmed life. Sepp Blatter the ever controversial President of FIFA has always treated him with kid gloves, often eulogised him. Warner, you see, has the votes.

Of late, he has excoriated England’s 2018 bid for the World Cup on the grounds that its committee is too light weight, that it needs the support of major celebrities. Again, this may not be true and certainly nothing that the committee has done so far has been especially impressive. But what on earth has this to do with Warner?

The absurdity of it is that even in the English Press — bar a furious attack in the ‘Daily Express’ which accused him of being, somewhat absurdly, a “racist,” but to call him corrupt was far less contentious. Warner has darkly vowed revenge though it seems to stop short of pursuing the paper through the law courts; something he significantly hasn’t done, despite his threats, with Jennings. Who tells the whole shabby story of Warner, his wife, his two sons and the 2006 World Cup match tickets. Originally exposed by a brave Trinidadian journalist called Lasana Liburn. His reward for this, on top of endless vulgar abuse from Warner himself, was to find himself refused accreditation by FIFA for the finals; a decision which fortunately was reversed at the last moment. Though how shameful it should ever have been taken at all.

What happened in Trinidad was that with the World Cup finals due, a company called Simpaul Travel advertised first round match tickets plus such bonuses as a T-shirt and 12 nights in a shared hotel room, for a massive £2700. It was later calculated that in each such deal, quite illegal under FIFA regulations which prohibited such “packages”, Simpaul would be making £1700 on each deal.

The squalid story spread far beyond Trinidad being taken up and exposed by major newspapers all over Europe, and eventually Simpaul backed down. FIFA confirmed that the deal was forbidden under their own regulations, but Warner predictably slipped through the net, unscathed.

Jennings also tells the tale of the wholly superfluous Dr. Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence which would be opened by the then President of FIFA himself in May 1998. If such a grandiose undertaking been necessary or advisable, it should never have been built in Trinidad, so far South of the main centres of soccer in the area. It contained not only a 6000-seater stadium but three practice pitches, a swimming pool, offices, a conference hall and a fifty-bed hotel for visiting dignitaries. To build all this, Warner coolly demanded no less than $16 million from FIFA, whose whole development budget over three years was only $10 million. But guess what, Warner got his money. Votes, after all, are votes.

Then there was the Under-17 World Championship of 2001 which Warner managed to have allocated to Trinidad; a veritable goldmine for its organisers. Warner established a committee which included his friend Amer Edoor, later to be made chairman of Trinidad’s airport authority, Sadiq Baksh, then Minister of Works and Transport, and the Finance Minister, Brian Kuei Tung. In May 2004, all three were among the politicians and businessmen arrested and charged with corruption over the building of a new airport at Piarco.

Warner became deputy chairman of the organising committee for the tournament. He drew up the budget which was approved by the FIFA finance committee of which he himself was deputy chairman! But Trinidad’s Contractors Association complained to the Prime Minister that tendering laws over the 340 million Trinidad dollars and their allocation were being “violated”.

Early in 2001, the potential broadcasters sent a technical team under Keith Thomas to examine the new stadia. A fiasco: power supplies, TV cameras and cables had had scant attention given to their location. But when he reported his alarm to FIFA, an official appropriately called Walter Gagg rebuked him. And guess who had the contract for the competing teams’ travel arrangements? No, not the FIFA travel office in Zurich which would normally be the case but yes, you’ve got it: Simpaul!

At the CONCACAF head office in New York, Warner’s laudatory number two is Chuck Blazer. Recently one of two FIFA executives savagely criticised in a New York court by the woman judge for lying, in a case brought by Mastercard when FIFA were trying to wriggle out of their longstanding contract and give it to Visa. The other executive returned to Zurich, was briefly suspended and is now the chief executive of the organisation!

In that old Sicilian saying, “One hand washes the other.”

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