Here I weigh in on the FIFA corruption scandal which has engulfed world football, reacting to the arrests on 27 May, analysing Sepp Blatter’s resignation and listing possible ways of achieving reform…
Background: On Wednesday 27 May 2015, seven FIFA officials were arrested by Swiss police officers at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Switzerland. They included the FIFA vice-president and CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb. In total, 18 officials were named in the US indictment – including the seven arrested in Zurich – and charged with a total of 47 offences including racketeering, fraud and money laundering. Among those charged and later included on a wanted persons list by Interpol were the former CONCACAF president Jack Warner and Nicolas Leoz, a former head of CONMEBOL. A handful of sports marketing executives in Central and South America allegedly involved in dispensing $150M (£98M) in kickbacks were also named alongside the nine football officials.
Carrying on the dirty work?
Just when you thought CONCACAF was making strides as a confederation, this happens. It seemed as if Jeffrey Webb was doing an admirable job having taken over from the discredited Jack Warner as president in 2012. It seemed as if those dark days of Warner and his assistant, Chuck Blazer, ruling this region were beginning to disappear and be replaced by brighter days. Webb certainly talked the talk and clearly, based on the 47-count indictment released by the US Justice Department last week, he went about his business quietly. The Caymanian took over when the confederation was going through a difficult period (post-2011 CFU bribery scandal) and it appears that he and his general secretary, Enrique Sanz, only carried on the dirty work of their predecessors. Granted, innocent until proven guilty, but it’s highly doubtful that the authorities would get involved in such a high-profile case if they weren’t absolutely sure they had enough evidence. Former Cayman Islands international Antwan Seymour commented on Jeffrey Webb’s time as president by saying: “Jeff went up in status and Cayman’s ranking went down.”
Credit must be given to US attorney Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice for actually stepping in and doing something. For too long CONCACAF’s public image has been tarnished due to incompetence and negligence off the field. Now it desperately needs strong and robust leadership in order to restore its reputation. However, the Americas are knee-deep in this mess and there’s surely more to come.
What has been the reaction to Blatter’s resignation in the Caribbean?
The news that Sepp Blatter decided to resign as FIFA boss just four days after securing a fifth term came as a shock to everyone. It was widely expected that he wouldn’t last the whole of his next term but, nonetheless, very few would have predicted Tuesday’s press conference to be a resignation announcement. From a Caribbean perspective, this hasn’t gone down very well. On the whole the Caribbean islands are very much pro-Blatter, supporting the status quo and gratefully accepting the annual grant of $250,000 as part of the Financial Assistance Programme (FAP), which was established by FIFA in 1999. The FAP “is designed to motivate and empower the associations and confederations to organise development programmes that meet their needs and strengthen football and its administration in the long term.”
We must remember that Blatter has played a huge role in improving the quality of football in the developing world, as his predecessor João Havelange laid the foundations before the Swiss was appointed in 1998. Havelange moved the game into once-peripheral areas, distributing large quantities of money to Asia, Africa, Oceania and indeed the Caribbean, generated from advertising, sponsorship and commercialisation. Blatter continued to do so and that in turn has formed the solid base of his support network. Indeed, at the CONCACAF Congress held in the Bahamas two months ago, Dominican Republic FA president Osiris Guzman compared Blatter to “Jesus”, “Mandela” and “Churchill” rolled into one. Trinidad & Tobago FA’s Raymond Tim Kee called the head of FIFA the “father of football”. At the event leaders of the Jamaica, Haiti, Turks & Caicos, Cuba, St Vincent & the Grenadines and Puerto Rico associations vowed to vote for the 79-year-old in Zurich on 29 May. This was an illustration of the Caribbean’s unwavering support for Blatter.
The secret ballot means we will never know if these associations actually followed up on their promises, but it is highly likely that they did. There is one possible explanation for why some Caribbean associations might not have conformed to the status quo at the presidential election. There was a rumour that because Blatter didn’t show support for Webb following his arrest, a small portion of delegates opted for alternative routes. Guyana, for example, voted for Prince Ali and therefore bucked the trend.
It is worth stressing, though, that FIFA under Blatter has done some magnificent work not only for the Caribbean, but much of the developing world. In light of recent events it is easy to forget that. The world governing body has provided training gear, coaching sessions, seminars, refereeing courses, women’s football programmes and Goal Projects. The British Virgin Islands have been a beneficiary of FIFA’s financial support, with plans to construct a stadium in East End, worth about $3M. It’s a joint initiative between the Government, BVI Olympic Committee and FIFA, who will contribute $1.5M. The multipurpose Greenland Stadium includes a 400 metre track field, regulation-sized football field with associated facilities, netball court/volleyball court, concession stands and over 200 parking spaces. The Bermuda FA have this week moved into their new headquarters at the Clyde Best Centre of Excellence, named in honour of the former Gombey Warriors hero. Work started on the 4,000 square-foot building 12 months ago and funding for the field and building was provided by the Goal Project programme. The two-storey complex amounts to $1.3M. A piece on the Jamaican Gleaner website went as far to claim that Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago “would more than likely never ever have qualified for the World Cup” if it wasn’t for Blatter.
But then you hear and read about these negative stories when member associations are showered with money and it goes missing. Simply disappears and there is either no punishment whatsoever or if there is punishment from the powers that be, it’s usually tame. For example, the aforementioned Guzman, head of the Dominican Republic FA, allegedly used $400,000 donated by FIFA for personal use. The money was supposed to be invested in the reconstruction of Parque del Este to install new lighting, seating, stands, paint and fix the pitch. However, Guzman apparently invested the money in a construction company owned by himself. No work was ever carried out. In 2003, St Lucia was granted $400,000 for a Goal Project yet this coincided with a new government and at the time they deemed social issues more pressing than football issues. The project was abandoned and nowadays it’s a shrimp farm. In 2014, the Antigua FA mortgaged their Goal Project without FIFA’s prior consent, so they could fund national team 2014 WCQ games. A fine of 30,000 CHF was issued for breaching regulations and the FA was reprimanded.
It is so frustrating and frankly unacceptable when this kind of money is wasted when it should be put to good use. And the fact is some of the blame must be attributed to Blatter, after all he was in charge at the time. Former Trinidad & Tobago goalkeeper, Lincoln ‘Tiger’ Phillips, said in an interview with CaribNation TV last year that “people in the Caribbean don’t understand the principle of power” and they almost become “different people” when they have it. This is an important observation. This perceived inability to cope with pressure and authority has tainted the region’s image. The aim is surely to try and eradicate this corruption by working with and educating officials and national programmes, instead of ignoring and turning a blind eye to it. Something the new president will have to weigh up very carefully. On a side-note, it’s worth highlighting that not all Caribbean officials are like this. Fred Lunn and Anton Sealey, vice-president and president of the Bahamas FA respectively, maintained their integrity during the 2011 CFU cash-for-votes scandal by refusing to accept the $40,000 offered to them. There are honest, hard-working people within these associations.
So, while the region has benefited from the investment and resources given out by the world governing body, it has also suffered. Blatter’s failure to address various examples of corruption, particularly in the Americas, ultimately led to his downfall. What happens next? The Caribbean, similar to the rest of the world, now watches on with intrigue. It will be fascinating to see what’s to come…
What is needed to achieve reform?
As Football Federation Australia (FFA) chairman, Frank Lowy, has said: “FIFA’s problems are deep-rooted and tangled in a culture that has developed over decades. It will take a united, concerted effort by its football associations to fix the mess.”
Here are some of the issues which need to be addressed as part of the reform process.
A credible, competent leader. A shift in presidency alone is insufficient, but it’s a start. Somebody who is strong-minded, has the respect of the electorate and is willing to promote transparency and accountability. Prince Ali? Luis Figo? Jérôme Champagne?
Cap on terms. No president can stay in office for more than two terms. This would have a fundamental effect, preventing Blatter-esque dynasties from building.
Grassroots influence/shareholders. At the moment the shareholders are the 209 member associations – we need more people from grassroots making a contribution and having an input. Let’s hear what the real, ordinary fans have to say.
Re-vote on 2018, 2022 World Cups. This could come as a result of the Swiss authorities investigation depending on what they find. On the Qatar 2022 situation, no qualms about the hosting rights going to an up-and-coming country, but the vote wasn’t for a winter World Cup and the way in which migrant workers have reportedly been treated is frankly appalling.
Publish full Garcia report. Let everyone see the proper, original report by Michael J. Garcia into allegations of corruption in world football and not merely the “legally appropriate version.”
Keep ‘One Country, One Vote’. Many people believe this system is the root of FIFA’s corruption yet the system itself isn’t actually the issue. In theory it works fine. The issue is when officials at FIFA manipulate and play about with it, exploiting and targeting smaller, poorer countries. With a president who doesn’t let this happen (regulates and if necessary punishes those attempting to take advantage of the less powerful nations), corruption among these countries would significantly drop. Why shouldn’t Montserrat have the same democratic power as Germany and Anguilla the same as Spain? After all, how do you measure who is more qualified to have a say? Is it population? (meaning China and India make more important decisions than England, Italy, France). Is it footballing tradition? (meaning a nation such as Hungary, the birthplace of Ferenc Puskás, share same power as a nation such as Brazil). Or is it how many people play football there? (which, essentially, closely correlates with population as the greater amount of citizens, the greater the chance of them getting involved with the game). Giving all the power to Europe – where the best players play and most of the money is – runs the risk of creating an elitist, capitalist attitude. We must ask ourselves: is the game for the select few at the top or everybody?
Abolish block vote systems. The Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president, Gordon Derrick, announced in April earlier this year that he had abolished the CFU block vote. It was favoured under Warner as all 25 Caribbean member associations at FIFA voted as a collective unit and it still goes on within other confederations. Now islands can vote independently and separately, like they did at the presidential election last Friday, and not have to go along with what the dominant opinion is. Sure, they could all still vote for exactly the same thing but at least then it would be on an individual, democratic basis and not part of a controlled system.
Downsize Executive Committee. This was proposed by Blatter in his resignation speech. At the moment this group of over 25 executives possess far too much power and influence.
Take a leaf out of IOC’s book. The International Olympic Committee introduced ‘Agenda 2020’, designed to make the Olympic Games friendlier, more flexible, and above all, affordable. What can be learnt from them?
By Nathan Carr