Robin Scott-Elliot: Jack Warner - the man who casts a long shadow in the Caribbean
Trinidad power broker's influence reached far and wide, including two British Prime Ministers
Tuesday 18 March 2014
"He's a very powerful Fifa vice-president. You have to woo these officials if you want to host this World Cup. It's a necessary evil."
Shaka Hislop knew his man. The former Reading, Newcastle, West Ham and Portsmouth player dealt with Jack Warner during his time in goal for Trinidad & Tobago. It was a relationship that did not end well, with Hislop leading the players' desperate attempts to recover bonuses promised by Warner following their fairytale involvement in the 2006 World Cup.
Warner was taken to court by the players after they rejected his offer of $500 (£300) each. They claimed more had been promised. The judge agreed and the players ended up with $140,000 (£85,000) per man. Still, 2006 was not all bad for Warner and family. Their travel firm made an estimated $1m from selling tickets for the finals at inflated prices.
Fifa was to find this was not Warner's fault per se. The world governing body has a faithful habit of finding its people not at fault per se. "He should be more prudent when it comes to ticketing," suggested Sepp Blatter, Fifa's president – a status Warner has helped deliver with the support of his Caribbean votes.
It was in English football's greatest year that Warner, now 71, took his first steps into the game in his native country, beginning one of the more colourful, controversial and corrupt involvements in the sport and one that ended with him moving in the very highest circles. He was, he certainly liked to think, the power behind football's throne. And that was not just a figment of his imagination – two British Prime Ministers sought him out to seek his backing for England's World Cup bid.
Warner's football career came to an end three years ago when he resigned as a vice-president of Fifa, terminating an involvement that stretched back over 30 years. The beginning of the end came via a brown envelope, yet his resignation was accompanied by a statement from Fifa that, as he had jumped before any investigation into bribery claims could be completed, it meant nimble Jack sailed off into a Caribbean sunset with the "presumption of innocence maintained". Warner is believed to receive an annual pension from Fifa of around £20,000 for time served.
Warner left the game in June 2011, days after he was suspended pending the outcome of an investigation that he and Mohamed Bin Hammam sought to bribe members of the Caribbean Football Union to back the Qatari's attempt to unseat Blatter as president in 2010 – there is a suggestion the payments revealed in the latest scandal may be connected to that campaign rather than Qatar's World Cup bid. One of the recipients collected an envelope containing $40,000 in cash, took a photograph and leaked it to the media.
It has been some journey for the former history teacher, who has combined his football politicking with the real thing at home. Warner, who remains an MP in Trinidad as well as having numerous business interests and a large property portfolio – he owns the offices in which the country's FA and the North and Central American federation Concacaf are based. He has twice held ministerial positions –transport and then national security, from which he resigned last year after the publication of a damning report by Concacaf's integrity committee detailing allegations of multimillion-dollar financial mismanagement by Warner and the federation's former general secretary, Chuck Blazer.
Blazer and Warner had been key supporters of Blatter but they fell out and it was Blazer who revealed details of Warner's alleged bribery attempts with Bin Hammam. Warner denies all allegations of corruption, calling Concacaf's report "baseless and malicious".
The world inhabited by Blazer, Warner and Co is one of swirling, ever-changing allegiances in which dark practices are far from uncommon, and some bizarre ones too. An aide of the Uruguayan executive committee member, Nicolas Leoz, is alleged to have suggested to one of England's 2018 bid team that the FA Cup be named after his boss.
It is fitting, then, that a man named McBeth was one of the first to draw attention to Warner's business practices after Trinidad & Tobago played Scotland in Edinburgh in 2004. "He asked me to make a cheque out to his personal account for the game," recalled John McBeth, head of the Scottish Football Association. "I found out later he'd approached several other staff in my organisation to do exactly the same thing."
But no country has been toyed with quite like England. Warner lunched with David Cameron before the 2018 vote and promised his support – which the bid had long sought, with the national team playing a friendly in Trinidad in an attempt to woo Warner.
It failed, as did Cameron's lunch and a meeting with Prince William. England may have danced in vain to Warner's tune but they were far from the only ones left on the dance floor.
Warner bothers: Past controversies
2006: World Cup tickets
Fined by Fifa after family travel business Simpaul was estimated to have made £600,000 from tickets on the black market.
2006: Player bonuses
Taken to court by Trinidad & Tobago squad for offering just $500 a player as World Cup bonuses.
2010: England 2018 bid
Backed England to host the 2018 Cup but failed to vote for them, blaming the country's media.
Resigns from Fifa after allegations he bribed members of the Caribbean Football Union.
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