July 26, 2011
Football Federation must come clean

Fri, Jul 22, 2011

The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation owes the people of this country, in the name of whom it acts, a public explanation as to the extent of its involvement and that of its leadership, in the bribery affair affecting the world governing body, FIFA.{{more}}

Last Friday, FIFA slapped a permanent life ban on one of its top officials, Mohammed bin Hammam, following the Report of its Ethics Committee which investigated allegations of bribery in the lead-up to FIFA’s Presidential elections in June.

The Report concluded that there was “comprehensive, convincing and overwhelming proof” linking bin Hammam to allegations of the attempted bribery of officials from some 26 member-countries of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), to which our local football Federation is affiliated. Crucially, CFU General Secretary, Ms. Angenie Kanhai, testified before the Ethics Committee. Hers was a damning condemnation, charging that disgraced CFU boss Jack Warner had given her a locked bag containing sealed brown envelopes, containing what he said were “gifts” for the representatives of the various Federations who had been invited to a meeting at the Hyatt Hotel in Port of Spain, May 10 and 11, 2011.

The CFU General Secretary said that she was later told by two other CFU officials, Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester, both of whom faced charges and have been suspended from all football-related activities for one year, that the envelopes each contained US$40,000 in cash. Crucially, one delegate, Fred Lunn of the Bahamas, was reported to have photographed the cash before returning it to Kanhai, while another, from The Turks and Caicos Islands, is also reported as having returned his “gift” as well.

So, what of St. Vincent and the Grenadines? While it may have been inappropriate for the Federation to make a statement when the investigation was on-going, now that it has been concluded, does it not owe us all some explanations? Who attended the Hyatt meeting? Did that delegate (or delegates) receive the US $40,000 gift? What became of it? Was it returned? Or is it still in the possession of the Federation? Did the delegate(s) promise the support of our Federation for bin Hammam’s failed bid to gain FIFA’s top job? Are we then implicated in bribery at this level?

We raise these questions, not to cause any embarrassment to the Federation or its leadership, but because there is a lot at stake here. In the first place, the name of the Caribbean is being tarnished the world over. There is no bigger sport than football, and persons in every nook and cranny of the globe are hearing of Caribbean football as being associated with bribery. Secondly, Jack Warner himself has retorted that the handing out of such “gifts”, is part of the FIFA culture. One would recall that Warner has been an influential figure where our own football and its relations with the CFU and FIFA are concerned. Has the Federation been benefitting from such “gifts” over the years? To what extent? And, were they tied to support for any individuals?

If, at that level, we get into the habit of bribes for votes, what impact or spill-off does it have on our own local football politics, especially when it comes to leadership elections? FIFA has earned itself a most unsavoury reputation where sleaze is concerned. The CFU itself is tainted in the process, though it is to the credit of those who refused the bribes and blew the whistle for “offside” on Warner and bin Hammam. We cannot afford to be counted among those who accept such practices. Please, SVGFF, let us have some clarity.