R. Rose
November 12, 2013
Football – Game of the people or game of manipulators?

When will the world of football, including our local chapter, be able to rid itself of public brawls about accountability, so damaging to the sport? Must our own national Federation be seen as a clone of those on the regional and international level who are giving this glorious sport such a bad name?{{more}}

These are perfectly valid questions which can be posed in the wake of the latest public brawl about the handling of the affairs of the SVG Football Federation. That brawl, brewing for some time now, came into the open last week with the resignation of the first vice president of the Federation and serious allegations over both the administration of the body as well as lack of accountability for funds.

Regrettably, such public disputes and open washing of “dirty linen” is not new to the football fraternity here. Football has long had a history of vitriolic attacks in the struggle for leadership, which goes back almost four decades. Contenders for leadership have waged their campaigns using virtually any means necessary. This happened when football had little or no resources, so one should not be surprised about the intensity of the battles now that FIFA money is sweetening the pot.

There is enough reason to believe that persons elected to the helm of local sporting bodies treat them almost as their personal fiefdoms, eschewing all the promises of democracy and accountability. Football might be in the limelight and possibly the biggest offender, but it is by no means unique in this regard. The sporting community has a huge task on its hands to rectify this image.

One can only give full support to the efforts to clean up sport, including football’s notorious Aegean stables. (These were legendary stables kept so dirty that it took Hercules 30 years to clean them). It will therefore take Herculean efforts to bring some sanitation to the world of football, starting with the very head, the Geneva-based headquarters of the world body, FIFA. That organisation has earned itself the dubious record of being among the most corrupt and scandal-ridden in the entire world of sport.

Time and again FIFA has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons – bribery, manipulation and lack of accountability being amongst the most notable. Former leaders of the organisation have been indicted for fraud and corruption and the current President, Sepp Blatter, is the butt of ridicule in all corners of the globe. Those sins have not rested in Switzerland, the FIFA home, so notorious for shady financial dealings and wheeler-dealer offshore accounts.

Our own hemispheric (CONCACAF) and regional (CFU) bodies have become infected, principally through the activities of football’s Jack-the-Ripper, Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliamentarian and former Minister of Government, Jack Warner. The EXPRESS newspaper has been running a series of investigative reports on the activities of Mr Warner, long-time boss of CONCACAF, CFU and de facto controller of football in the twin-island republic. They are enough to make Mafia bosses blush with envy.

This is not the place and time to detail these, but it is enough to note that under his leadership, the reputations of both CONCACAF and the CFU have been badly tarnished. The local Football Federation is affiliated to both bodies. However, the EXPRESS has reported that both organisations were used by Warner for his own purposes, with a series of dubious transactions involving a web of companies he controlled. Cross-contamination seems to have occurred with the various national Federations in the Caribbean involved in allegations of each receiving bribe money in the sum of US $40,000, via Warner, to support Asian Football president bin-Hamman’s bid to unseat Blatter. To this date the local Federation has not publicly accounted for this unseemly “gift”.

Among allegations made in the EXPRESS series were that Warner himself had received a cash payment of US $250,000 from bin-Hamman; that he obtained television rights from FIFA to broadcast World Cup matches for US $1, only to sell it through his company-web for millions; that he ended up with the US $26 million Centre of Excellence in Trinidad as another “gift”; that he was paid US$10,000 in attendance fees for CONCACAF meetings in addition to expenses paid (increased to US$15,000 in 2010). Most shocking, CFU, to which we faithfully had allegiance, was not a legal entity until May 2012, after Warner left, and was used as a shell of conveyance. Incidentally, according to the EXPRESS, the offshore account for Warner’s Cayman Island offshore company, J&D International, was set up by Jeffrey Webb, Warner’s successor as CONCACAF head, and the man touted by Sepp Blatter to succeed him as FIFA boss!

Given such a context, those who have raised the issues of probity and accountability, have every good reason to do so and it is important that these substantive issues, not personal agendas, prevail. Many times in the past we have witnessed red flags raised by those outside the seat of power, only for much of the same ‘muchness’ to continue when the accusers get into the seats of power. We have to be mindful, though, in carrying out such cleansing that we do not further so sully the name of the sport, football, in this case, as to cause would-be administrators to baulk at the idea of serving, to turn off supporters, and to give the business community reasons not to invest or sponsor.

Football is in a bad shape, internationally, regionally and locally. It calls for not only honesty, admittedly a very scarce commodity nowadays, but also maturity in handling the contentious matters.

Renwick Rose is a community activist

and social com- mentator.