Warner gives Cameron a lesson in the brutal realities of Fifa politics

Trinidadian ExCo member typical or an organisation answerable to no one and with no interest in being scrutinised by English media
Click to follow
The Independent Online

For the last five days in Zurich, Jack Warner's chauffeur-driven Fifa limousine has nosed its way through the city's traffic to take the 67-year-old former school teacher to meetings with Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham, who have treated Warner like a friend and ally.

Yesterday, Warner delivered a lesson to Britain's young Prime Minister and its even fresher-faced heir to the throne that there are no politics in international sport more brutal than those of Fifa – where men will say one thing to your face and do quite another when they approach the ballot box in the boardroom at Fifa House.

Cameron was fortunate that he was out of Zurich and away from the television cameras when Warner delivered his stitch-up of the English bid in which neither he nor his Concacaf colleagues, representing North and Central America and the Caribbean, voted for England. In Cameron's gilded political career it would be difficult to remember a more blatant humiliation than the one dealt him by Warner.

Make no mistake, English football was well and truly shafted yesterday by an organisation that has no interest in being scrutinised by the British media. The 22 men of the Fifa executive committee (ExCo) do not care whether it is politicians, princes or Goldenballs himself from whom they take the hospitality and the plaudits and then screw in return. True, Warner never publically said he would vote for England but he enjoyed their generosity and they never seemed to have been given the impression they were wasting their money.

It was claimed last night that at one point this week Warner put his arm round Prince William and promised him all three Concacaf votes.

As the ExCo members took their seats in matching blue suits in the auditorium at the Zurich Messehalle yesterday, it was hard to imagine a collection of more pompous, self-important little dictators – all of whom have struggled to the top of their local federations to occupy a seat of power at Fifa.

They come from all over the world – Cameroon, Guatemala, Egypt and Trinidad among them – but they share one thing in common. They understand the power of Fifa and its independence from the regulation of sovereign governments that the popularity of football has given it. And they are not afraid to punish anyone.

Getting into bed with Warner was always a dangerous business, given his implication in a 2006 World Cup ticket scandal over which even Fifa was moved to sanction him. But the English bid team thought that they could tame Warner and persuade him to deliver the three Concacaf votes. By last night they were coming to terms with the scope of their political miscalculation.

England chased Warner all over the world, sending Fabio Capello's England team to play Trinidad & Tobago in June 2008 in what turned into a rally for Warner the politician.

They dispatched Beckham to hold a training camp there and the FA's top brass consented to lectured and harangued by Warner, a man from an island with virtually no football history, in return for him coming through for them at Fifa House yesterday.

It will long be regarded as a source of great embarrassment that English football ever took this despicable little man seriously but the humiliation he visited on them will never be forgotten.

There is a general consensus that the English do not understand Fifa politics. That they fail to see that this is, by necessity, a global entity in which compromises and deals must be struck between the men who, for better or worse, have come to run football in their regions of the world. But after yesterday, the question must be asked again: if indulging men like Warner is the price of a World Cup, can English football bear the cost?

In the aftermath of defeat yesterday, Andy Anson, the 2018 chief executive, bit his lip and tried to make sense of the wreckage of England's campaign. It should be pointed out that he spoke to the English media before he learnt that his bid had earned just two votes and today he may not feel quite so charitable.

"We don't have a [Michel] Platini [Uefa president and an ExCo member] and we don't have a [Franz] Beckenbauer [ExCo member], but we don't integrate ourselves into the international community well," Anson said. "I think that has been a problem all along. Geoff Thompson [England's ExCo member] has done a good job and he is a solid guy, but he is stuck out there in Fifa and Uefa on his own, he's not really integrated into the FA and the Premier League." But who would wish to be integrated into this group of men? The next World Cup finals England can bid for will be the 2030 tournament but for those who remembered the crushing disappointment of this week, putting their faith in that campaign will be a very hard leap of faith.

Richard Scudamore, the Premier League chief executive, summed up the sense of doom whenever England attempts to ingratiate itself with Fifa. "What's gone against us is not having to build 20 new stadia," Scudamore said. "It almost feels as if we are on standby for when somebody can't host it. That's all very well but on that basis we will never get it."

In Russia and Qatar, however, Fifa has selected two nations for whom failure is simply not an option. Watching Roman Abramovich on stage last night celebrating with his fellow Russian delegates, it was hard to decide whether he was genuinely happy or just relieved. They all knew that somewhere Putin was watching. Last night the Russian Prime Minister flew into Zurich to hold an impromptu press conference.

There has been some serious bowing and scraping to Fifa over the past two years. English football has divested itself of the "football's coming home" sense of entitlement, it has set up legacy programmes and international development. Beckham has flown all over the world. Friendlies have been promised. The world, as the English 2018 bid slogan goes, has been invited. And the world has turned round and said, "No, thanks".

No doubt over the next few days there will be plenty of Fifa men lining up to tell England where they have gone wrong and you can bet that Warner will be among them, wagging his finger. We can choose to listen in the hope that one day they throw us a scrap or make a promise that they might just keep. Or we could just do the simple thing and ignore them.

A history lesson

As if English football didn't suffer enough yesterday, Sepp Blatter once again claimed that football was invented in China. In one moment he was labelling England the "motherland", in the next he was continuing Fifa's bizarre campaign to rewrite history and place the birth of the game in the sport's greatest untapped market (can you spot a possible connection? China are interested in hosting in 2026).

According to football historians outside FIfa House, the game starts with Ebenezer Cobb Morley writing the rules of Association Football in 1863, whatever Blatter may try to claim.

Comments