Et tu Chuck: Blazer looks to have betrayed his old friend Warner
American's allegations have rocked ruling body but is he a whistle-blower or opportunist?
Cahal Milmo is the chief reporter of The Independent and has been with the paper since 2000. He was born in London and previously worked at the Press Association news agency. He has reported on assignment at home and abroad, including Rwanda, Sudan and Burkina Faso, the phone hacking scandal and the London Olympics. In his spare time he is a keen runner and cyclist, and keeps an allotment.
Thursday 26 May 2011
With his avuncular looks and rambling website where he records his meetings with the rich and famous as he travels the world, Chuck Blazer resembles more of a John Candy character than a cold-eyed insurgent whose actions could yet spark a brutal global civil war among football's ruling sect.
Even the name of the rotund 66-year-old from New York sounds as if he is a satirist's creation – the image of the American sporting bureaucrat, full of hot air, filibuster, and hot dogs. But Blazer's complaint, and one that is reported to be accompanied by further witness statements, that he saw Jack Warner offering gifts to the leaders of a number of Caribbean football associations in return for a vote for Mohamed Bin Hammam in next week's Fifa presidential election is potentially the most damaging that world football's governing body has suffered.
In itself it is a serious allegation against two of the most powerful men in the game, and coincidentally or not, two men who could decide the future of Sepp Blatter as president of Fifa. They both deny the charges, and both point out the coincidence of next week's election in which Bin Hammam and Blatter go head to head in a contest that Warner, with his 35-strong block of Concacaf votes, would expect to have a loud say in.
It follows a slew of other allegations that have cast doubt on the selection of Qatar as the hosts of the 2022 World Cup finals, as well as the probity of a number of the 24 members of the Executive Committee (ExCo) who govern the game. There will almost certainly be more to come, especially with Warner in the firing line. This is not a man to go down without a bloody struggle.
Warner has been here before. In 2006 he was found guilty of breaching Fifa's code of ethics over a ticket scandal involving a family firm and the re-sale of tickets for the 2002 World Cup; yet he remained a member of ExCo. There have been regular accusations, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet has pursued him for a number of years with a series of allegations over what amounts to ticket touting, while John McBeth, the former president of the Scottish Football Association, claims that Warner suggested monies paid for a game between Scotland and Trinidad and Tobago be given over to him.
Warner, a former history teacher from Rio Claro, a small town on the Atlantic side of the island of Trinidad, has been a survivor not least because his powerbase is so strong. Under his stewardship, Concacaf has grown rich – although that applies to most confederations across the same period – and so has consistently done as he wishes. The region's 35 votes in the Fifa elections, out of 208, are usually delivered en bloc and they have previously gone in Blatter's favour. It was expected that the Swiss incumbent would be on the receiving end again, with Concacaf following Uefa and the African confederation in declaring for Blatter. They were expected to do so during their congress in Miami earlier this month – where Warner was unanimously re-elected as president for another four years – but there was no such statement. A week later it was at a meeting of the Caribbean Football Union that Bin Hammam and Warner are now accused of offering gifts in return for votes.
Even in the often vicious world of Fifa politicking, this is a startling turn of events, and one that is difficult to read. Warner has long been seen as a key Blatter supporter, Blatter is widely tipped to win the election with plenty to spare, and Blazer has long been regarded as part of the Praetorian Guard in Warner's empire. It is an 'et tu Chuck' moment, although there will be little sympathy across the football world.
Blazer is an unusual figure, although as befits the current image of a key player in Fifa he was once described by a US court as delivering evidence that "lacked credibility". It is rare for an ExCo member not to have headed a federation or confederation, and a trawl through his hugely entertaining website creates the impression of a man happily starstruck by celebrity. In Zurich last year he is believed to have backed Russia for the 2018 World Cup and in the weeks leading up to the vote he paid a visit to Moscow after which he wrote a fawning blog entry in praise of Vladimir Putin, and posted a series of photographs of the Russian Prime Minister in full action-man mode.
He is general secretary of Concacaf, a position he took on in 1990, the same year Warner first took the presidency. Blazer claims that under their partnership a turnover of around $140,000 has been transformed into one of close to $40m. Last year when commentating on The Sunday Times' allegations of Fifa corruption, he said: "If it turns out what they are saying is supported by fact, then I would have a lot to say on the matter."
He will have his say later this week in Zurich, but whether his actions are those of a genuine whistleblower, good ol' Uncle Chuck, or somebody rather more opportunistic, hardened by decades in Fifa's greatest game, remains to be seen.
Fifa now has two separate corruption allegations to deal with before next week's presidential elections on 1 June.
* Jack Warner, Mohamed bin Hammam and two officials from the Caribbean Football Union face the Ethics Committee on Sunday accused of bribery.
* Fifa (and the FA) are also considering Lord Triesman's bribery allegations against three members of the ExCo, including Warner.
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