Monday, June 20, 2011

The Mess You Made

A 2-0 win over an impressive Jamaican side is reason enough to be happy with today's result, but the victory is all the sweeter because of the context in which the game was played.

Proving once again that the T&T/Jamaica/Barbados triumvirate that runs the Caribbean Football Union is without shame, a letter from the Jamaican Football Federation to FIFA was released to the press earlier this week. The letter, submitted by members of the CFU, represents a formal ethics complaint lodged against Chuck Blazer.

On its own, this does not rise to a level of national enmity, as there are few Americans with nice things to say about Blazer and even fewer rushing to his defense, but the substance of the attack should greatly offend American sensibilities. According to published reports, the JFF's letter alleges that Mr. Blazer:

"discriminated against Capt Burrell and certain members of the Concacaf through his contemptuous and denigratory words since all the persons who were singled out were of a specific race".
This is almost too stupid for words. But it is also a clear signal that the defense of the CFU and its current standard operating procedures will be made on delusional, divisive grounds.

The standard appeal of the "smallness" of the Caribbean members versus those of their North American and Central American peers has already been made. The myth of minnows overachieving under the charitable hand of Jack Warner has been repeated ad nauseum; this despite the fact that the total population of the Caribbean members exceeds those of the Central American members; that the achievements of CFU members in world football have been modest, at best; and that in the four largest members of the Union, the game has developed in no appreciable manner.

Now, add to that the specter of racism and rather than have a discussion about the merits of given positions, those supporting the existing regime can whisper about conspiracies and insidious machinations.

Spin this however you want, but $40,000 in $100 bills ain't going to change. Jack Warner's checkered history is not going to change.

What will change is the tolerance of other CONCACAF nations for chicanery within the CFU. Operating under a belief that folks in North and Central America are out to get Mr. Warner, Mr. Austin, or Capt. Burrell out of fear for the CFU's carefully amassed power fails to recognize the obvious: the rise of Jack Warner within FIFA occurred not in the face of opposition from other CONCACAF members but in the wake of their apathy to the prospect.

The self-immolating response of CFU's leadership threatens to stoke ambitions, particularly in Mexico, for greater prominence in world football affairs. I would imagine that the more buffoonish the CFU becomes the more appetites are whet for a fundamental power shift in CONCACAF's affairs.

Mr. Austin's lawsuit and Capt. Burrell's charges no longer appear to reflect a cadre of folks who believe that they are bullet-proof. There is no tactical intelligence in these strategies; they convince few of the justness of the position taken while further solidfying opposition. Instead, these gambits appear to be desperate actions signaling the ferocity by which acquired privilege will be defended.

If this is the case, there will be collateral damage and that can have severe repercussions, as evidenced in another CONCACAF-related story making the rounds.

Outside of the CFU, CONCACAF and FIFA are dealing with the bad publicity attendant to the suspension of Belize from the organization. Most reports are content to note that FIFA has faulted the Belizean government for interfering in the FA's affairs. This is too bad, because the background is remarkable and illustrates the ridiculous lack of accountability within FIFA.

Earlier this month, Belize's Ministry of Sport informed FIFA, CONCACAF, and the Football Federation of Belize that the FFB was not authorized to represent the country. The move followed the exodus of both semi-pro leagues (the Belize Premier Football League and the Super League of Belize) from the FFB.

Now, FIFA's story spotlighting the kick-off of the road to Brazil 2014 (begun with a 5-2 first leg victory for Belize over Montserrat) has been hijacked by Belize's suspension from the organization following the government's refusal to provide services for the return leg in Belize originally scheduled for Sunday. And there is little hope for a quick resolution that would allow for that match to be played.

On one side is the FFB, led by Dr. Bertie Chimilio, who -- like many others within FIFA's walls -- sounds his arguments in terms of conspiracies designed to get him as a person rather than the institution he is supposed to run. And Dr. Chimilio is said to have the full support of Sepp Blatter meriting a visit from the high official earlier this year.

On the other side is a resolute government that has now facilitated the creation of a new organization, the National Football Association of Belize, to represent and develop football in the country. The NFAB includes both the BPFL and the SLB and, in fact, under the auspices of the first meeting of the NFAB, the two rival leagues reportedly agreed to combine to become the Belize Premier Superleague, making the survival of the FFB an even more dubious proposition.

The ultimate deathblow to the FFB may be Belize's willingness to forego World Cup qualifiers and FIFA football should Dr. Chimilio remain in charge. Belizeans are reported to be apathetic to the plight of the nation's football team and FIFA's punishing trump card -- the denial of international football -- may not have an impact.

But maybe not. This isn't the first time that the government has made a run at the FFB. In 2004, the government canceled FFB's registration in the face of reprisals from FIFA and CONCACAF while many within Belize's soccer community applauded. Dr. Chimilio survived. In the near term, only football's supporters suffer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day

Sandwiched around a trip downtown to watch a soccer game, I had a terrific father's day with our little one.

As much as I enjoyed the day with her, I am also grateful for having been afforded the chance to see the U.S. - Jamaica game. Thanks to El Salvador's bare qualification out of the Gold Cup's group stage, RFK was popping and the atmosphere was without precedent for me at the stadium.

The blue wave that descended on the stadium prior to the first game of the doubleheader surprised me. I had (wrongly) assumed that most of the Salvadoran partisans would stay outside the grounds tailgating until the ES - Panama tie grew closer, but, instead, tens of thousands of fans wearing blue filled seats and rooted loudly and forcefully for the U.S. men's national team.

The unique nature of the day should not be understated. For Salvadorans throughout the region, today offered a rare opportunity to show simultaneous love and loyalty both for the country left behind (but by no means forgotten) and for the country that has become home. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

On the field, an early injury to Jozy Altidore left the USMNT with a team that featured Juan Agudelo along with Sasha Klejstan, Alejandro Bedoya, and Eric Lichaj, and all four performed very well. Everyone around me provided better analysis of the game than I ever could, so I'll just memorialize photos of a day at the park:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Keeping On...

If the report that Colin Henry will be representing the CFU and eleven of its individual members, including Dominica, is correct, then Mr. Henry is going to be faced with some interesting challenges as to the various positions of his individual clients.

It was reported today that the president of the Dominica Football Association (and former Prime Minister), Patrick John, declared that his federation did not receive any payments or gifts at the May 10th CFU meeting in Trinidad. This announcement, however, does not situate the Dominica in the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" camp led by T&T/Jamaica/Barbados, as Mr. John has an interesting explanation for why it would not have been bribed: Dominica openly opposed Bin Hammam's candidacy and declared support for Monsieur Blatter. Mr. John's denial, in fact, reads like an indictment of his fellow associations:
“Dominica was never approached about the gift being given because Dominica opposed Bin Hammam’s candidacy at the meeting when he made his presentation,” [John] said.

“He was told that Dominica will not support him and will instead support Blatter. We were very tough on him. Other … members asked some soft questions about when they will or will not get the money, that is, the money for the Goal Project and an increase in the Financial Assistance Project and then the story broke out.”

Mr. John noted that he could not speak for other associations but that the DFA had no awareness as to whether bribes were offered or accepted at the meeting.

This is no bombshell revelation, nor should it be surprising to other CFU members as it is fully consistent with what Mr. John told Dominica News at the beginning of the month:
“The DFA was the only association to refuse Hammam’s proposals and the association has not received any such monies.”
Dominica's claim of exceptionalism has nevertheless led to the association being lumped in with others that have denied that gifts or bribes were given -- a position that seems even more untenable with each passing day -- perhaps, in part, because Mr. John appears to support the belief that Chuck Blazer has pursued claims against the CFU as part of a plot to install North Americans as the leadership of CONCACAF.

What does this mean? At base, I think that the DFA's position is a reflection of how weak the support is amongst the various CFU members for the official storyline peddled by its leaders. If the FIFA investigation has any teeth (and it may not) knives are going to start being placed into backs.

The acting president of the CFU, Jamaica's Captain Horace Burrell, now says that the Union will cooperate with FIFA's investigation following a change in venue to the Bahamas. But the CFU goes into those meetings with a problem that is escalating by the day.

First, the CFU web-site continues to post questionable missives that only seem to further undermine confidence in the organization. There is, for example, this piece originating from Barbados that includes a line that seems to argue for conspiring to prevent the disclosure of wrong-doing at the May meetings:
There is no doubt that, should CFU members individually take the high road, Caribbean football will suffer in the long run.
The most recent posting describes the Barbados Football Association's demand to Sepp Blatter to reinstate Lisle Austin as the head of the CFU; a somewhat problematic request since Mr. Austin has elevated the dispute to yet another level by seeking the intervention of Bahamian court (CONCACAF is supposed to be headquartered in Nassau). Mr. Austin has declared that he's received an injunction that once again installs him as President. And, well, he had a little more to say:
“I am gratified but not surprised by yesterday’s order,” Austin said of the injunction. “I have stood firm in my belief that I rightfully succeeded to the Acting Presidency of Concacaf and (the) order affirms my belief.”
This is kind of like celebrating a clean sheet after ten minutes, but, go on Mr. Austin, do tell:
“My efforts to lead the Confederation into a new era continue again today (Friday),” Austin stressed. “The rogue faction attacking Concacaf from within cannot interfere with our love of this sport and our pursuit of reform and transparency.”
One in a million. Absolutely priceless.

Regardless, we all know how FIFA feels about folks turning to courts of law for relief, so this should turn out well.

However, try as he might, Mr. Austin cannot outclass Jack Warner. Asked if he was going to the Bahamas to participate in the FIFA investigation, Mr. Warner replied:
“I not answering them questions. What you wasting my time for? I not talking to all you about that. Respect my wishes, nah.”
There you go. Don't waste his time. Respect his wishes. Always remember the golden rule: Do unto Teflon Jack as he would do on to you.

And, oh by the way, here's an English language article on the Curacao Football Association's press conference earlier this week confirming that $40,000 was offered to CFU members as a "gift" at the meeting.

And here's a contemporaneous article describing Mohammed Bin Hammam's May 10th meeting with CFU members. Given the subsequent fallout from the address, you have to love this summary of Mr. Bin Hammam's comments:

Bin Hammam mentioned that he did not believe FIFA was a corrupt organization. In light of reports that surfaced earlier in the day regarding allegations that four FIFA officials requested bribes from the England 2018 World Cup bid, Bin Hammam maintained that if there were allegations were to be true then sufficient evidence would have to be provided.

He added that he hoped FIFA would be more transparent and its decision-making process should involve more parties.

Not corrupt? A need for more transparency? Where do I sign up?

Thursday, June 9, 2011


All that time trying to understand Dutch last night and all I had to do was wait a few hours and let Simon Evans catch up with the press in the Netherlands. Suriname's Louis Giskus not only once again confirms the fact that gifts were given, but has strong words characterizing Jack Warner's actions:

Giskus said the invitation to the meeting, from Warner, stated that all transport and accommodation costs would be covered by the CFU, although later Bin Hammam said in a statement that he covered the expenses of the meeting.

"Warner wrote in the invitation that all the expenses would be paid by CFU," he said. "My conclusion is that he was lying. If you say that all expenses paid by CFU and later we hear that Mr Bin Hammam says he paid all the expenses then Mr Warner was lying."

The timing of Evans' article could not be better as it comes the same day as Barbados' Lisle Austin's suspension from CONCACAF was extended for football activities throughout the world by FIFA while the Barbados Football Association's gambit extended to a strained public statement from President Ronald Jones (who is also the Minister of Education on the island) declaring the Association's virginal virtues:

The Barbados Football Association makes it pellucid that none of its delegates were offered any inducements or gifts to support any of the candidates during the meeting on the 10th of May in Trinidad. Our delegates listened to the Speeches by Mohamed Bin Hamman, who was there to make a case as to why he would need the support of FIFA members of the CFU.
But the statement contains some notable wiggle room and leaves open the option of hanging the association's General Secretary, David Hinds, out to dry:
The General Secretary of the BFA has already responded to FIFA Ethics Committee at a meeting in Zurich over the past week. He maintained that he was not aware of any inducements offered to delegates at the meeting. He further explained that he was not in any position to state if any inducements were offered to any other delegates of any Caribbean Federation or Association.

The comments of the General Secretary of the BFA remain the position of the BFA on this matter. As President of the Association, I am positive that our delegates operated with the highest level of integrity and professionalism as I would have expected of any member of the BFA’s Executive.

Bizarrely, the issued statement comes shortly after President Jones is reported to have penned a letter to other CFU members noting the stakes. Jones' letter reportedly opined:
"Comrades, we are on the brink of self inflicted destruction. It was never supposed to be like this. The legacy of Caribbean society and our various struggles over time should have taught us many lessons. Sad to say these lessons seemed to have been forgotten or sacrificed as persons scatter to seek their own comfort and survival."
I'm not sure how issuing statements declaring your own innocence helps the collective but that's probably fairly representative of the CFU.

Separate and apart from Jones' exhortations, many of his CFU colleagues aren't necessarily in a position to circle the wagons. Guyana is apparently in the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" camp of the Union, but the nation's football federation likely has more pressing problems. The Georgetown Football Association, a constituent member of of the Guyana Football Federation, has sought the assistance of domestic courts in an effort to halt the re-election of the Federation's incumbent President, Colin Klass. Klass is reportedly in the United States for the Gold Cup -- not because he is assisting FIFA's inquiry -- and the GFA's complaints are said to arise from their opposition to Klass's leadership and their inability to nominate a challenger.

Some recent leadership battles in the CFU have led to regime change. The U.S. Virgin Islands Soccer Association's longtime President Derrick Martin was kicked out of his post in December by an 8 to 1 vote from the Executive Committee after Martin reportedly refused to answer questions from members regarding the Association's finances. The questions raised, on their face, seem to be significant:

The USVI Soccer Association was founded in 1992 and because it is one of the 208 member associations of FIFA, it receives $250,000 every year to be invested purely on developmental projects like women's soccer, Futsal, refereeing, medical programs and more.

Since Martin has been at the helm, the association has received over $1 million and Martin said the latest $250,000 installment came in September.

The USVI Soccer Association has never organized a recreation youth soccer league, a women's soccer league or Futsal, which is a type of soccer that is played on a smaller playing surface or on the beach. An adult coed league did not happen on St. Thomas this past season and Martin said there has not been a USVI Soccer Association presence on St. John for the last three years.
And, apparently, CONCACAF starts to get concerned about where the money is going after an association fails to hold an annual congress for three years and has most recently reported its financial information in 2007.

But maybe the shenanigans of the Trinidadian/Barbados/Jamaican leadership of the CFU may pay off in the end. After CFU members refused to go to Miami, FIFA will now conduct its inquiry in The Bahamas from June 14th to the 15th. The CFU has also lawyered up and engaged the services of New Zealand's Colin Henry; notably Henry will also be representing a minority of CFU's member associations: Trinidad & Tobago; Barbados; Jamaica; Guyana; Grenada; Dominica; the Cayman Islands; Antigua & Barbuda; St. Kitts & Nevis; St. Lucia; and St. Vincent & the Grenadines (11 of the 25).

CFU gathered its members in Trinidad this past Tuesday to plot a way forward. Some closing of ranks is undoubtedly occurring. But that's perhaps what makes Mr. Giskus's continued public commentary all the more remarkable. Whatever lines have been drawn, some folks are crossing them. More should follow.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Lunatics You're Looking For

One of the most compelling facets of international football is captured beautifully in Steve Menary's "Outcasts! The Lands that FIFA Forgot". To wit, Menary aptly portrays the aspirational quality of a game that links people all over the world.

I've knocked out about half the book this week and the stories of football in the Channel Islands, Greenland, Aland Island (with a reference to IFK Mariehamn no less!), the Shetland Islands, the Falklands, and a number of places that I could not find on a map (and some, like the Principality of Sealand, that may not exist) is in my wheelhouse. Tales of the hopes and ambitions of kids kicking a ball around on the Isle of Man or St. Helena whilst dreaming of playing at the highest levels of the sport are no more ridiculous than the limitless ambitions of young man from Madeira named after the 40th President of the United States.

Menary describes, with appropriate reverence, the lengths that Greenlanders will go to just to get a game and he does not hide his admiration for the sport as played in the Island Games -- the spirit of competition free of the corrupting influence of commercial exploitation.

But before Menary gets to the heart-warming, uplifting stuff, he hits the flip-side of the coin -- what happens when the dreams of young men and women are twisted for (with apologies to Ms. Merchant) the lust and the avarice, the bottomless, cavernous greed of reprehensible human beings.

If you are scoring at home, Menary's book, published in 2007, waits all of eight pages to drop the name of our region's guileless leader:

Trawling through FIFA's 207-strong membership roll, a large number of members are clearly not independent nations, yet all receive US$1 million every four years as part of the world body's financial assistance programme. The money is also a huge political tool and enables regional power brokers such as Trinidad & Tobago boss and CONCACAF strongman Jack Warner to move up through the regional hierarchy into FIFA.

Known locally as 'Teflon Jack,' Warner was deemed in February 2006 to have a "conflict of interests and that the code of ethics had been violated as a result" of ticket allocations for that year's World Cup finals made to the Trinidad & Tobago FA that were being distributed by a travel agency owned by his family. Warner was never punished by FIFA, but he is certainly guilty of using his position in CONCACAF to test the idea of international football and provide a block of voters, who, awash with FIFA grants, are willing voters to support Warner and his protector, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter, come election time.

Thirty of CONCACAF's forty constituents are members of Warner's principal playground, the Caribbean Football Union. And 25 of CFU's members are also FIFA members. The CFU, as a block, controls over twelve percent of FIFA's 208 members.

Although the CFU has not produced terribly memorable footballing sides (Jamaica qualified for the World Cup in 1998 and Trinidad & Tobago did so in 2006), some of the members have made their mark through cynical abuse of federation offices. Menary has one more shout out from the greatest hits album of CFU corruption at page 11:

In Antigua & Barbuda, more than ₤200,000 went missing on a new FA headquarters that was never built. The Antigua & Barbuda FA secretary general, Paul 'Chet' Greene, a friend of 'Teflon Jack' Warner's went unpunished.

A 2008 article by Trevor Morgan notes that a $471,364 FIFA GOAL Project grant towards building a training centre in Antigua & Barbuda netted... an empty lot but was still followed by a second grant, this time for $503,098, in 2005. And Morgan's article also identifies a similar FIFA financed money pit in Barbados finally shelved in February of 2008 (while also running FIFA's reply that it was a non-event).

Fast forward to this week, when at least 18 of the 25 CFU FIFA members are reported to have refused to travel to Miami to participate in the FIFA-led investigation of brown bag cash payments made to CFU members in order to solicit support for Mohamed Bin Hammam's candidacy for the FIFA presidency. Why did they decline? These CFU members refused to be pulled into a vast American conspiracy to destroy the noble history of the CFU, as outlined by the full-time stand-up comic, part-time head of the Barbados FA (how's that training centre coming?) Lisle Austin in a letter exposing all of this for what it really is: a C-O-N-SPIRACY.

On one side of the CFU, the heads of the federations of the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Turks & Caicos Islands have each supported the allegation that $40,000 in $100 bills was given to CFU members in brown envelopes at a CFU meeting at the Port of Spain. That's five of the 25.

Published reports say that at least 18 of (presumably the other 20) CFU members have refused to cooperate with the FIFA investigation, meaning that the orchestrated American assault on the Caribbean likely does not include the American possession of the U.S. Virgin Islands -- an entity that wields the same number of votes (1) as the United States despite the fact that a $40,000 cash grant would result in a $0.36 distribution to everyone living in the territory (a similar amount given to USSF could be spread amongst Americans one one-hundredth of a cent at a time).

Current acting CFU president Captain Horace Burrell has publicly declared, on behalf of the Jamaican Football Federation (which he also heads), that Jamaica received no cash gift at the meeting. Not surprisingly, the two attendees representing the Barbados Football Association have also publicly declared that no payments were made at the meeting.

Same with Carlos Prowell, Guyana's representative at the meeting, who says no money was offered to his federation and none was taken. But that hasn't stopped folks from asking whether this claim is, in fact, true and wondering where all of the money has gone ("Editor over the years we have heard of talk of large sums of money to be had in this game of football, but we have not been seen any real development of the game in Guyana."). (In a May 2010 post, Steve Menary raised similar questions about Guyana's federation following a false start after near qualification in the Gold Cup in 2007.)

The British Virgin Islands Football Association's head, Franka Pickering, declared early on that she too had seen no evidence of any bribery. Ms. Pickering, who presides over a national football squad that managed to lose its two 2010 Caribbean Cup matches 17 to 0 against Haiti and 10 to 0 to CONCACAF powerhouse (*cough*) Dominica, deftly added: “we discussed why he (Mohamed Bin Hamman) was running for President and that was about it. Us small Islands are just a drop in the bucket”.

However, the "we didn't see anything" line is not universal amongst CFU's other members. According to this Radio Netherlands report, Curacao's Rignaal Francisca has stated that after Bin Hammam's presentation on May 10th all attendees were given $40,000 PLUS a laptop PLUS a projector. Francisca, however, claims that he turned down the funds -- asking that they be wired to the federation -- and that there was no understanding that the money was given to support Bin Hammam's candidacy (although the question of what the grant would have been for remains unaddressed). Because of this latter point, Francisca apparently saw no reason to inform FIFA of any of the unquestionably strange approach (one he terms as being not in the normal course of business). My Dutch is limited to what Google translator tells me the words mean, but Francisca seems to argue that it is not terribly unusual to be given donations of thousands of dollars in the world of football.

Even better, Suriname's Louis Giskus admits to receiving $40,000 at the meeting, but was initially reported to have taken the position that he didn't feel he was being bribed with the generous offer of 400 $100 bills. It was, instead, a dispensation for a kind and benevolent CFU totally divorced from Bin Hammam's presentation that directly preceded it. Subsequent reports indicate that Giskus may no longer be holding that view, that Curacao's Rignaal Francisca was also present, and that while Giskus doesn't know if Francisca accepted his gifts, Giskus received $40,000, a laptop, and a projector believing these to be contributions from the CFU for the development of football in Suriname. A June 7th press conference was to be held, but I've been unable to locate anything that would confirm that Suriname is assisting in the investigation.

Giskus's admissions -- which are frequent to the Dutch press -- should make the positions adopted by the federations of Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados, the British Virgin Islands, and Jamaica untenable. They should also make the rest of CONCACAF extremely concerned about how much damage Warner and his cronies are going to do to the organization in the near term. The stupidity of the arguments presented defending what transpired on May 10th is what is most disconcerting. Not the bit about this being an American plot to destroy peace-loving God-fearing Caribbean nations; that's just hackneyed. But the concept that Cuba -- population in excess of 11 million -- the Dominican Republic -- population in excess of 8.5 million -- and Haiti -- population of nearly 10 million -- were all given $40,000, a laptop and a projector to advance the sport in their country while, at the same time, Montserrat -- with a population that approaches all of 5,000 people (one-sixth the size of College Park, Maryland) -- was given the exact same amount is stupendously idiotic. And these amounts were only given to CFU's 25 FIFA members but not to the five members (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Saint-Martin, and Sint Maarten) who happen to have not been included in that august club (and, as such, have no vote in FIFA's election)?

As former Antiguan national coach Veron Edwards Sr. noted in the wake of these disclosures:

“No. I think that everyone knows how football [is] run in the Caribbean and it is not only the Caribbean. I think what you have here is a collective body and I think that most of the CFU members went to this meeting as a block on who the candidate was they were going to vote for and I guess the money came in after,” Edwards said.

What possible argument can there be that something else was going on?

Something is very, very wrong with the CFU. When soccer was struggling to gain a foothold in the U.S. what happened in the Caribbean was of no consequence to Americans. This, however, is no longer the case and looking the other way while CFU members pilfered, or, at a minimum, frittered away, large amounts of resources is no longer a viable option.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tsk! Tsk!

We took the little one to a playground last night and she finally decided to take a break from doing potentially dangerous things about a half hour into our visit. I took the opportunity presented by the brief respite to check the news through the Chicago Tribune's mobile site, quickly read the story about Carlos Zambrano's comments following another pathetic loss, and realized that this Cubs' team was going to be at least as depressing as the 2006 and 2002 versions of the squad.

And so what? That the Cubs suck is not exactly surprising. I was optimistic about the coming season because of the addition of Matt Garza and a firm belief that Alfonso Soriano would have a turnaround season, but I am also an idiot who always finds reasons to believe that -- despite all evidence to the contrary -- this will be the year.

Or maybe I wasn't so bullish on this year -- the moment that Jim Hendry announced that Mike Quade, not Ryne Sandberg, would be the coach of the Cubs, the possibility of a miracle effectively ended.

Maybe this year would be tolerable if it was Sandberg at the helm. The losses absorbed now could be accepted as valuable lessons endured for a glorious return just over the horizon. Now? I doubt that there a more than a handful of Cubs fans that believe that Quade can do anything with the team; they will be horrible not only this season, but the next, and probably 2013 as well.

And, as an added bonus for all of the Cubbie faithful, Hendry's shunting of a Cubs legend (who paid his dues and did everything asked of him) has created a perfect storm that will usher out three of three franchise's most loved and prolific players -- Kerry Wood, Aramis Ramirez, and Carlos Zambrano.

It was inevitable that Zambrano's comments would be used as a launching point for the lecturing and sanctimonious hectoring that has, with notable exceptions, replaced sports reporting in the city. Cue David Haugh -- who, sticking to his now cemented role as a clown, brands Big Z as an "immature hothead," a "prima donna," and "selfish."

Fortunately, there are exceptions, and it is awesome to see Bob Brenly voice support for Z and, even better, read Bruce Miles' measured thoughts on the same subject. (Indeed, Miles has it exactly right: "You're going to get some of the easy and predictable reactions in the media, like the Cubs should suspend Z.")

I'm starting to take perverse enjoyment in Haugh's writings. They're predictable, they are all holier-than-thou, they are all slated to management, and they're lazy. Here's what he says about Zambrano's tenure with the following:

"It was another symptom of the immaturity that has made Big Z's career a big disappointment given his physical potential."

Disappointment? To whom?

Zambrano has had one of the best pitching careers of any Cubs' starter -- second only to Greg Maddux -- in the thirty plus years I've followed the team.

Let me write that again ... Carlos Zambrano has had the second-best pitching career of any Cubs' player in the last thirty years.

I only caught Rick Reuschel and Fergie Jenkins at the tail end of their careers. But from just a pure numbers standpoint, Big Z holds up with the greatest to take the mound for the team.

This year (likely in his next start), Zambrano will break the 1,500 strike out mark for the Cubbies. That's second all-time, behind only Fergie. Zambrano's won 121 games in 271 starts (8th all-time), that's a 44.6% ratio -- the same as Maddux's (133 wins in 298 starts). Reuschel won 135 times in 343 starts (39.4%) and Fergie had 167 wins in 347 starts (48.1%). A career 1.31 WHIP, a career 3.52 ERA, 7.635 k's per nine innings (6th all-time and second only to Kerry Wood amongst pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched in a Cubs jersey).

In case you had not heard, Zambrano is kind of good. He's been kind of good for a decade. Miles is, again, dead on:

And despite his problems of last year (which started with the Cubs shunting him off to the bullpen), the guy's got some cachet around here. He outlasted both Wood and Mark Prior as starting pitchers. He's overcome some of anger-management issues and redefined himself as a guy who can get you out by thinking and finesse and also by the occasional power pitch sometimes.

He's been the Cubs' best pitcher of this day. Ten or so years ago, watching in spring training, I turned to somebody and said, "Wow, this guy's got better pure stuff than either Wood or Prior." And he did.

Rock on Z. Don't let the bastards get you down.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fair Play

After finally successfully convincing The Decider that our home was not complete without a flat-screen high-definition television, I celebrated the new acquisition with two things: (1) running the bank heist/standoff scene of Heat with the volume at its maximum and (2) christening the television with the Trinidad & Tobago World Cup 2006 match against Sweden in Dortmund.

Like most everyone else in this country, our rooting interests were with the clear underdog and we were thrilled to see the Soca Warriors pull off a draw, particularly after the ejection of former Bohemians (and future D.C. United) alum Avery John.

The game ended up being the highlight of T&T's German tour, as 2-0 losses to the UK and Paraguay ushered the team back home.

Despite being denied a win in Germany, that Soca Warriors World Cup team ended up winning important victories ... in court, well after the closing ceremonies. And this is how I first heard of Jack Warner.

FIFA's organizational structure bore little interest for me and certainly the fact that the organization is consistently dogged by issues of corruption was neither surprising nor terribly noteworthy. But the infantile, deeply idiotic manner in which the Trinidad & Tobago Football Association (TTFA) sought to screw its own players who had brought national glory gave me pause.

After the tournament, Shaka Hislop, Kelvin Jack, Brent Sancho, Avery John, Marvin Andrews, Ian Cox, Cyd Gray, Atiba Charles, Chris Birchall, Aurtis Whitley, Anthony Wolfe, Collin Samuel, Evans Wise, Cornell Glen, Kenwyne Jones and Stern John brought a complaint to the Sport Dispute Resolution Panel because of unhappiness that an agreement with TTFA for a 30/70 split of World Cup-related profit for the federation -- increased by Jack Warner to a 50/50 split after the historic draw -- resulted in Warner offering each Soca Warrior a paltry $5,600 for their efforts. Warner, who is nothing if not classy, responded to the legal action by deriding the nation's heroes as greedy mercenaries and seeking to renege on the promised increase in the split.

Following the adverse judgment, the TTFA refused to honor it, concocting spurious allegations (principally that the players had violated a confidentially clause) and 15 of the 16 steadfastly pursued the relief previously granted in domestic courts in Trinidad. At almost every turn, the players have won their claims, the TFFA has been rebuffed, and, yet, the case continues. In February of this year -- finally -- an interim payment was ordered to be made to the players. That is, in February of 2011, five years after the World Cup in Germany. (After filing yet another appeal challenging another confirmation of the TTFA's culpability, the Federation recently announced that it was withdrawing the appeal).

TTFA's response -- after outrageously refusing to be held accountable -- was to declare that it had no money to make the players whole and threaten bankruptcy. And if there was any confusion about how import Warner is to football in Trinidad, the TTFA's commentary made clear that it exists at the whims of one man. Oliver Camps, the President of the Federation, was quoted as saying:

What we must all be cognizant of is the fact that at present the TTFF does not have that kind of money, as over the years we have been depending almost solely on our benefactor Jack Warner to take care of the financial needs of the Federation.

Apart from whatever help we receive from the Government from time to time, Mr. Warner has been funding all our eight national teams single-handedly. I will discuss with him whether or not he is mindful to assist us in this matter or whether as a Federation we will be forced to file for bankruptcy.

For the players who brought the case, while there was always some possibility of a large judgment down the line, pursuing the action came at great personal cost for the careers of a number of the players. At base, the suit was one brought against Jack Warner; it was and remains an effort to hold Warner accountable for his mendacity (Shaka Hislop, one of the most respected names in Trinidadian football and one of the footballers that brought the case, noted to BBC Sport that the whole debacle raised questions about Warner's involvement with the national federation and their dubious financial accounting). Regardless of what it meant for the national team's competitiveness, those who brought suit were ostracized and some struggled to find work as professionals in result.

Nevertheless, they stood up to Warner and deserve the respect and admiration of everyone concerned about the integrity of the game. Indeed, in my absurdly large collection of player issued/match worn shirts, one of my most prized assets is an Avery John D.C. United CONCACAF Champions league jersey that consistently reminds me of the group's perseverance.

I keep this in mind watching the inevitable fallout from the latest fiasco involving Warner -- one that has now led to the ridiculous, although highly comical, rantings of Barbados' Lisle Austin as he does his "greatest hits" tribute to incompetent deposed LDC dictators.

As the head of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), Jack Warner is now alleged to have facilitated the payment of brown bag cash bribes from Mohammed bin Hammam made in an alleged effort to win the votes of the CFU's 25 FIFA members (CFU has 30 members, but five are not yet full-fledged FIFA members). The 25? Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti,
Jamaica, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The payments are unrelated to the decision to hand Qatar a World Cup, rather FIFA's presidency was the issue at stake at the May 10th CFU meeting in Trinidad, and the scale of the corruption alleged is paltry -- $40,000 in cash to the 25-voting members (for the tidy sum of $1 million total). But the actions taken by the representative of the Bahamas Football Association, Fred Lunn, in response to the bribe are remarkable. To wit, Lunn rejected pressure from CFU staff members, notified the Federation's president (Anton Sealey) of the curious approach, refused the "gift," and condemned the behavior.

Warner's defensive missive assures the world that he has the statements of 13 of the 25 CFU members denying the allegations that such payments were offered.

Therein lies the issue that should most concern the rest of CONCACAF. The Bahamas FA should be lauded for what Mr. Lunn and Mr. Sealey have refused to do. They must also be protected. Notably, Eric Labrador, the President of Puerto Rico's FA, has confirmed the Bahamas FA's account of a $40,000 payment, following initial confirmation of the claims from the football associations of Bermuda, Cayman Islands, and Turks and Caicos Islands. But that means that only five of the 30 CFU members have made public declarations regarding what was, at best, horrific decision-making by the CFU, while on the other side of the ledger, 13 CFU members have sought to obfuscate.

CFU's importance in world football derives purely from its numbers. CONCACAF's powers in international competition come from North and Central America. Retribution against the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, and Puerto Rico by the rest of the CFU will not register outside of CONCACAF. Regardless, the potential blowback is something that should concern the rest of CONCACAF. Warner's reign has coincided with an increase in interest in the sport in the United States and Canada, but his continued presence threatens the further advancement of the sport. Whatever the pragmatic reality, Warner's antics should fundamentally offend everyone involved with U.S. soccer. This is, after all, our regional federation as well and the well-being of those federations within CONCACAF that have spoken up should matter.

Hanging 'Em Up

Our Memorial Day vacation in Southern Maryland began with a detour to Regency Furniture Stadium for our first independent league baseball game. The sidetrip was a bit of a lark as we were running by the stadium on our way to Lexington Park. I figured we would drop by the game, maybe grab a hot dog, see what the Atlantic League had to offer and get back on the road.

We ended up staying much longer than I had anticipated and for the first time in her young life, our daughter made it all the way through a baseball game.

Although we entered the stadium in the first inning, we did not get to our seats until the eighth. Regency isn't so much a baseball stadium as it is an amusement park for little kids. Nationals Park has a playground and Prince George's Stadium (home of the Baysox) has a carousel and an inflatable bounce house. Regency, however, has a playground, a bounce house, a massive inflatable slide, a climbing wall, sand boxes with crane shovels, and bumper boats. Bumper boats.

The setup is not conducive to watching a baseball game and has unfortunately warped our daughter's expectations of sporting events. Following Saturday's game, she's asked to go to a baseball game every other day and declined to join me for the Real Maryland match tonight as Richard Montgomery High School cannot compete.

When I did get to watch the game, what was on the field was almost as surprising to me as how much our daughter was enjoying the amenities off the field.

The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs were facing the Camden Riversharks and on the mound for the Riversharks was the familiar visage of Jason Johnson:

Johnson, as a Baltimore Oriole between 1999 and 2003, was a regular on my fantasy baseball teams (that obviously finished near the bottom every year). And he wasn't the only familiar face, as Camden's starting lineup also featured former Astro Mike Lamb (2004-2007), former D-Ray Toby Hall (2000-2005), and World Series ring owner Pedro Feliz -- each of whom made a cameo appearance on my fantasy bball teams at one time or another.

Watching Johnson get shelled and Lamb and Hall struggle at the plate against former Cub Jason Waddell wasn't terribly enjoyable. And although the turnout (of over 4,000) meant that these former big leaguers were not toiling in total anonymity, there is something fundamentally wrong with seeing an athlete that has achieved as much as Pedro Feliz being mercilessly heckled by drunken never-have-beens while living out of a hotel in Camden and earning $2,500 a month.

Feliz has chosen his path, so presumably he knew what he was getting into. Nevertheless, I was surprised by how much the spectacle of deterioration detracted from my enjoyment of the actual game. This is not a tribute to achievement; Feliz is not celebrating his career. Instead, he's holding out a gossamer thread of hope at renewal and he's hitting .233 against Atlantic League pitching.