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.

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