Saturday, August 27, 2011

Student Athletes

For Maryland (and, more directly, University of Miami) football fans, the fallout from "The U"'s latest heinous scandal is a matter of great interest in advance of their September 5th opener up here in College Park. As yet more Miami athletes are accused of receiving improper payments and benefits from a crooked booster, the academic aspect of collegiate athletics seems entirely absent.

There are a number of reasons why making the trek over to Ludwig for Friday night's huge matchup between the two elite women's soccer teams of Stanford and Maryland (it ended up being a fantastic game fraught with tension on a beautiful night), but what stood out to me the most was the play of Stanford's Chioma Ubogagu.

Maryland boasts some impressive talent -- Jasmyne Spencer is a very entertaining player (and should have been awarded a penalty that would have determined the game) -- but Ubogagu is a special player. The freshman had a brilliant first half and I spent halftime trying to learn more about her on the wireless: from Coppell, Texas; fresh off a team that won the Class 5A state championship; the granddaughter of a former Tottenham Hotspur and Nigerian national team player and one of the most heavily recruited female soccer high school athletes from last year's class.

Chioma was so heavily recruited that she turned down an offer from the elite women's program in the country at the University of North Carolina to play soccer at Stanford. Why?:
“It was just the best of both worlds, educationally and soccer-wise,” Ubogagu said. “I kind of wanted to go a place that I could start a tradition. Stanford has never won a national championship, and I'd love to be a part of that as opposed to just being another ring.”
Ms. Ubogagu's profile notes that she boasted a 4.975 GPA in high school. In a February 2010 interview, Chioma was asked what some of her goals were in her junior year in high school. Her answer:
Academically, my goal this year was to make all A’s [every] 6 weeks which I have kept up with so far. Soccer wise, I would love to win another state championship.
Per a nice profile on ESPN Rise, prioritizing academics comes from her parents and the opportunity to play soccer is conditioned on excelling in the classroom.

I am deeply ambivalent about big time college football and men's college basketball. While the poor academic achievements of the majority of Gary Williams' and Ralph Friedgen's players may not have bothered many supporters of the college's athletics programs, it has been, alongside the abusive nature of student support for those two teams, a major factor in keeping our family away from their games.

But when the balance is right -- when athletics is something clearly and intrinsically tied to the academics of a university -- there's no ambivalence in the stands. Chioma Ubogagu would seem to be the living paradigm of all that collegiate athletics aspires to be.

A few random unrelated additional notes riffing on Maryland alums:

This household was very happy to see the news that Rodney Wallace has been called in to the Costa Rican national team. Listed as a midfielder, he'll get a chance to play on the wing alongside or behind Christian Bolanos -- one of our favorite international footballers. We'd have much preferred to see Wallace get a shot in the U.S. men's national team, but it is hard to see how he'll be able to generate enough buzz off of his performances for the Portland Timbers to catch Jurgen Klinsmann's eye.

I love nearly everything about the Timbers' entry into the MLS, but the team is not exactly developing Maryland talent. And, for that reason, we were similarly very happy to see Jeremy Hall move to FC Dallas. We had hoped that getting away from Red Bulls would allow Hall to show his terrific talent and while that may not have worked out, early returns for Dallas have been promising. If nothing else, Hall's change of address led to me watching a phenomenal performance tonight from Brek Shea in Kansas City.

On the other side of the spectrum, we noted that the Harrisburg City Islanders beat the Rochester Rhinos in a USL Pro semifinal and will face Orlando in the championship on September 3rd. Neither Jason Herrick nor Drew Yates will take part in the game, as both were lost to season-ending injuries early on. Herrick reportedly suffered a concussion that killed an already disappointing first professional season, and Yates injured his ACL. I've not been able to locate information discussing either's progress (or lack thereof) in recovery, but we hope that it is swift for both.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Badge of Honor

There's no real new news on the progress of FIFA's ongoing investigation of CFU officials.

There's the temporary spectacle of a non-Colin Klass led Guyana Football Federation, where Franklin Wilson expects to keep his seat warm until Mr. Klass's suspension concludes. And then there is Mr. Klass's concession that he expected FIFA's actions. Not, of course, because he did anything wrong, but because he is "one of the outspoken leaders in Caribbean football . . ." Mr. Klass is, then, fully understandably "very disappointed" in the Ethics Committee and he's "upset about it . . ."

The mother ship's move to silence leaders of Caribbean football would lead to more hue and cry from the region if, say, it looked like there was such a crackdown. For while Mr. Klass's future career in international football looks to be very much in doubt, fellow compatriot and Jack Warner-loyalist Captain Horace Burrell is entertaining visions of running not just the CFU but CONCACAF as well. It is a possibility currently openly discussed in Jamaican football circles, with an eye towards the benefits that would potentially inure to the country should Capt. Burrell be elevated.

Around these parts, Bill Archer -- who has provided brilliant commentary and background on the topic for uninitiated Americans like myself -- has asked for someone to lecture him on how Andrew Jennings has no obligation to consider his sources with respect to the current low-intensity campaign to discredit one Chuckie Blazer. I'll confess to bemusement at the full-throated defense of Mr. Ten Percent.

First, the source of the information does not detract from the newsworthiness of the content of the information. The fact that Jack Warner is the person behind the information fed to Andrew Jennings seems uninteresting. What is, instead, interesting is the validity of the information provided. And while we may quibble as to whether characterizing the FBI as investigating Mr. Blazer's financial transactions is misleading, the reality is that Chuck's financial affairs are most curious.

Second, the history of Mr. Jennings' reporting would seem to have established that he is heavily reliant on self-interested whistleblowers disclosing information to attack opponents and, further, the return fire from such escapades in order to obtain information that is otherwise entirely concealed from the public. One sinner hands Mr. Jennings a dossier of documents with the goal of undermining another sinner; the sinner in the cross hairs, in turn, slips other sheets of papers under the many doors of an unreliable blogger hoping that he will run with it.

Here, Jennings runs stories criticizing Chuck Blazer's financial dealings. Mr. Blazer, in turn, lets loose on Jack Warner's continued interference in CONCACAF's affairs and how he's screwing CFU. And the rest of us are awaiting the next salvo while wondering what the problem is with stoking this conflict. Chuck Blazer's not just a really fat rich guy. He's a really fat guy who became rich as an executive in international football on the coattails of Jack Warner's profligate reign over regional football while acting as an attack dog for other men who made it rain off of the beautiful game.

Playing some FIFA executives (and former executives) off of others would seem to be a very fruitful strategy for a reporter.

Consider, for example, Yves Jean-Bart, who took a different angle in pleading his innocence earlier this week. Jean-Bart noted that there was no shame in FIFA in being investigated by an Ethic Committee. After all, as Jean-Bart explains, Sepp Blatter, Julio Grondona, Ricardo Texeira, Jerome Valcke "and others" were all under investigation at one time or another and who would not want to be part of that illustrious group?

For what it is worth, Yves Jean-Bart claims that he is only being investigated because representatives from Haiti failed to meet with investigators in the Bahamas (Jean-Bart, alas, had no Bahamian visa, and the association's secretary, Jacques Lionel Desir, was at the Copa America). Dadou is clean and everyone, even those that despise him, knows this:
"Je suis clean. Tout le monde le sait, et meme ceux qui me haissent."

All of which doesn't really explain why Jean-Bart is the only official from the national association under investigation, but no matter. It makes him part of the constellation . . . Blatter, Grondona, Texeira, Valcke and now, Jean-Bart!

Where else but FIFA could being the subject of an ethical investigation constitute a badge of honor?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Terps 2.011

Two very pleasant trips to campus today.

An early morning constitutional following the Arsenal and Liverpool tie (nice to see Carl Jenkinson getting a full run out in major games -- he looks like he will be able to hold his own in the EPL) took us to the football stadium shortly after the end of the open practice, but still in time for the three-year old to get autographs from Coach Edsall, Coach Crowton, Kenny Tate, and Danny O'Brien.

The university does a terrific job with these events. The relaxed atmosphere was perfect for introducing my daughter to the stadium, showing her where our seats would be, and planting the idea of adding football games to the portfolio of sporting events the she will accompany me to. It is also nice to see how much a small community of Terps football supporters genuinely appreciate the access to and time spent by the team's staff and players.

We were back on campus seven hours later for the men's soccer team's exhibition against Georgetown. The event marked the first live soccer game attended by our youngest and we could not have asked for a nicer night as the backdrop for the match.

Maryland's starting eleven featured many familiar faces -- including three players that spent time with Real Maryland this summer (Will Swaim, Karou Forbess, and Alex Lee) -- and one unfamiliar face, as Marquez Fernandez paired up with Lee in the back.

While the game ended in defeat and had long stretches of sloppy play, I walked away impressed with Sasho Cirovski's team. Maryland started the game with two solid fullbacks, London Woodberry and Taylor Kemp, have a very strong holding midfielder in Helge Leikvang, a clever, entertaining wide player in Sunny Jane, and a strong, talented attacker in Patrick Mullins. Alex Shinsky got a run out as a substitute -- the team is certainly not hurting on depth.

But the principal takeaway from the game (for me at least) had to be Kyle Roach.

Brian Wiese's men came to Ludwig with aggression in their minds and hearts. Maryland players were punished in the midfield, with Georgetown's number 7 (I believe Gabe Padilla) rocking some clattering challenges against the Terps. Maryland is an extremely skilled and well-coached team (really liked the design of an early corner -- Forbess short to Kemp, curled past the back post to Mullins/Stertzer, with the ball headed back into the middle and the defense thoroughly unsettled), but they can be bullied and thrown off their game. When the referee allowed hard challenges (fouls), Maryland seemed unsettled.

Enter Mr. Roach as a substitute for Taylor Kemp at left back. Although a freshman, Roach is clearly the most physically imposing player on Maryland's roster and he left his mark on several Hoyas. Late in the game, Roach put in a poor corner and, in subsequently trying to win the ball back, blew up a Georgetown player to draw a caution (a straight red might also have been appropriate). Although not particularly tall (5'10"), Roach is big and fast and he gives Maryland an element of ferocity that, in the absence of Matt Kassel, Jason Herrick, and Ethan White, would otherwise be sorely missed.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


I am very late to this party.

Discussing Chuck Blazer with friends during D.C. United's terrific home performance against the Vancouver Whitecaps led one of them to note, "You haven't heard the story about the CONCACAF credit card and Scores?"

I had not and, as such, had missed Mel Brennan's excellent description of what it is like to be the General Secretary and Treasurer of CONCACAF. The outrage and disappointment Mr. Brennan felt on his first day on the job is palpable:

The [American Express Centurion credit] card existed on the back of the aggregated wealth of CONCACAF; the everyday commitment to football made by the people of CONCACAF’s forty nations (and the subsequent investment television broadcasters and advertisers make in football to reach those audiences, and the resultant sales they expect to garner from those audiences) made it possible.

And it was in Chuck’s name. And it just paid for food, strippers/dancers, and a set of massages.

That’s what the General Secretary and Treasurer of CONCACAF, the FIFA Executive from North America, spent the region’s money on…regularly.

Brennan's imagery is of gluttony unbound; of a man distinguished more by his avoirdupois than his professional achievements paying for women to pretend that they see past the folds with funds intended to promote the world's game in the region.

As much as Andrew Jennings (correctly) hangs the devastating public airing of Mr. Blazer's perfidiousness around the big man's neck, it is the picture painted by Brennan that should stick with people when Blazer tweets his congratulations to the U.S. Women's National Team for their good work. And that portrait should entirely eclipse any characterization of the man as an intrepid whistle blower willing to sacrifice the trappings of power for principle.

It is almost enough to make one eager for the coming reckoning.

Yet, there are far worse things than feckless executives with a taste for silicon.

Based on one of Bill Archer's recent posts, I picked up and read Stewart Bell's "Bayou of Pigs."

It was well worth the time, because it would otherwise be impossible to fully appreciate the insanity of Patrick John's role in international football.

Less than two months ago, Mr. John was handed another four year term as the head of the Dominica Football Association. The absence of Mr. John's name from the list of CFU officials under investigation -- following his decision to provide a sworn affidavit to FIFA during the 48-hour "come to Jesus" window -- would seem to indicate that there is a good chance that he'll finish out the new term.

Or perhaps not; not because he'll face discipline from FIFA, but because the boundless ambition of a small man has led him to eye bigger and better things.

If you click through the link and read the article, let that sink in for a moment. Mr. John moots his name as a potential replacement for Jack Warner at the top echelons of FIFA leadership while simultaneously declaring an undying love and affection for a man that is supposed to have nothing to do with international football. Mr. John's love letter to his forlorn friend reads:

"I would just like to tell him that he has been my friend and we will continue to be friends. I respect his decision to pull out from the football arena, but as a member of CONCACAF and CFU, I will still be in touch with him. I will continue to get his assistance and expertise in moving Dominica forward, as it relates to football."
The thought that Patrick John, enshrined by Jack Warner into the CONCACAF Hall of Fame in 2007, might be a serious candidate for promotion within FIFA is mind-boggling.

Patrick John was convicted of hiring a mercenary group composed of Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis to violently overthrow the elected government of his country. He spent almost a decade in prison because of the crime. Per Bell's reporting, Mr. John defended himself in court against the charges using a line of argumentation that may have foreshadowed his participation in FIFA:

"It was only two thousand years ago when evidence of untruths and half truths, evidence contrived for obvious reasons and designed and created by persons with special interests, was given against a man who was charged with conspiracy to overthrow a government and install himself as king, and the court then condemned [him] and found an innocent man guilty. They raised and praised and claimed a murderer, Barrabas, and set him free, giving him all he desired, and up to today, descendents are living with the consciences. I am not guilty and I am totally and completely innocent of any charge."
The "Bayou of Pigs" story is incredible; it exemplifies the maxim that truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. That Patrick John -- who owes his position to the machinations of Jack Warner to depose the legitimately elected former officers of the association -- has now cemented his involvement in the governance of international football is an equally incredible story. And they are both stories that every person interested in football in the CONCACAF region should know.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Keep Talking

Andrew Jennings has quite correctly turned the good ship Transparency towards the large floating mass that is currently heralded as its faithful steward -- one Chuck Blazer.

Jennings has been fed information regarding Blazer's remuneration and, well, Mr. Blazer's done well for himself.

The timing and substance of the information leaked means that you don't exactly have to be Nancy Drew to figure out where it is coming from. Indeed, Mr. Jennings' piece includes priceless missives from Lisle Austin's legal team of one Barry Blum, including the following:
‘It is laughable that FIFA enjoys a status as a not for profit sporting organization. It is actually a sinister business organization operated by robber barons with no regard for ethics or integrity; power is all that matters.’
(Just to clarify, Mr. Blum, you're suing to get your client back in charge of one of the outposts of the sinister business organization operated by robber barons with no regard for ethics or integrity which should not be considered a non-profit tax exempt entity? Good luck with this litigation strategy.)

On the substance of what Mr. Jennings reports, it is not exactly shocking or earth-shattering news that a FIFA executive loyal to Sepp Blatter has pocketed many, many farthings off the back of the beautiful game. All around the world the same song. The scope of Mr. Blazer's compensation is remarkable; his public trumpeting of his good fortune even more so. And certainly Mr. Jennings is absolutely correct in observing:
Nonetheless Blazer, Chairman of FIFA’s Media Committee, enjoys favourable reporting in the American media. He has been lauded as the ‘whistleblower’ who ejected Warner from FIFA.
The same may be said of the USSF as our own federation had made no effort to distance itself from the man.

But the support that Mr. Blazer enjoys in the federation and the apathy of the American media towards the circumstances of his enrichment may ultimately facilitate a reckoning. Because if there is one thing that Mr. Blazer has in common with many of his brethren in CONCACAF -- particularly in the CFU -- it is that he likes to talk. And not just talk, but locate himself as morally superior to all that may try to impeach him.

There is a nice example of this in Mr. Jennings' piece where it catalogs Mr. Blazer's outrage at being asked about his son's employment at CONCACAF:
‘Your question about my son is completely inappropriate. I am a public person and recognize that harassment from people like yourself with agendas to sell books and papers and who have little regard for the truth, comes with the territory.’
(Note: the desire to make money is obviously why anyone would report on the financial affairs of FIFA's executive members. It is, of course, a wholly dubious, commercially-corrupted enterprise. And a total insult to FIFA's doyens, who commit their time and energy to soccer in a selfless, tireless public-minded effort to bring world peace, through football, to the panting masses.)

But the better example can be found over with Richard Conway, who has a reply from Mr. Blazer up on his blog, which begins with "Mr. Jennings is an unreliable blogger who doesn't care much for accuracy or the facts." (Oh, snap! Do you see what he did there? "Mr." Jennings doesn't even merit the word "reporter" or "best-selling author" or "investigative journalist." He's only a mere blogger). Mr. Blazer is so certain that his number twos have no aroma that he decides to go into detail about the small matter of $250k remitted to him by the Caribbean Football Union:
In the instance of the mentioned 250k payment, Mr. Warner owed me the payment of a loan for over 5 years in the amount remitted. I was dismayed when he sent it with his accountant drawn on the CFU account, but was told by the accountant not to worry, it would be properly reflected to show that it was his money. Since then, Jack has resigned, but has not turned over the checking accounts of the CFU to their Executive Committee and Secretariat. I have had to bail them out by providing offices to them in our Miami CONCACAF offices to operate the regions competitions. Once he has turned over the accounts, we will be able to determine, whether as described by the accountant, the funds were Jack's, or if they were not.

I have previously stated that if they were not properly Jack's funds, as they alleged, then I would return it to the CFU.

At this point, Jack continues to thwart the progress of the CFU by not giving them access to their accounts and locking the CFU staff out of the office, while providing space for four accounting personnel paid by CONCACAF and now exposed as working for the WGOC (Warner Group of Companies). How absurd.

We are sending investigators into Trinidad to get the information from the banks and to protect our assets.

In other words, the story that Mr. Blazer has decided is entirely reasonable is that he was owed money for a loan by one Jack Warner. Mr. Blazer was repaid said loan not by payment drawn from an account belonging to Mr. Warner, but, instead, was paid from a check drawn from funds belonging to the Caribbean Football Union -- an organization headed by one Jack Warner. Mr. Blazer recognized that this did not seem kosher, but having been assured by Mr. Warner's personal accountant "not to worry," Mr. Blazer locked his concerns up in a little box, placed it in his morality chamber, and cashed the check.

How absurd.

This is from the same dude who earlier commiserated with Sky News regarding his absolute shock and horror at the audacity of Mr. Bin Hammam and Mr. Warner:

It is amazing to me that two intelligent men, who were both in possession of the FIFA Ethics Code, never recognized that what they were doing was in violation of that code and wrong. Furthermore, in their leadership roles, they clearly sent the message to others that what was happening was "approved" or "correct" given their advice to the members. What a tragedy to have leadership sending their members in directions so clearly wrong. They are fully accountable for this and even today seem to be condoning the inappropriate gifts they feel is a norm. Someone needs to adjust their norms.
How noble. How stirring.

The problem with Mr. Blazer's public declarations are that they are wholly reliant on the credibility of the person making the claims. Here, the track record isn't comforting.

But why does this matter?

Ultimately, with Mr. Blazer's guidance, CONCACAF has improved and the U.S. Soccer Federation has seen quantum leaps in the development of the game in this country. That Mr. Blazer is also rich because of it is, for him at least, a happy consequence.

Still, there is the small matter of who is going to run CONCACAF. And while officials like Jack Warner, Lisle Austin, and Colin Klass may receive their comeuppance, one name not on FIFA's lists is Captain Horace Burrell, leaving him free and clear to pursue the top posts at both the CFU and CONCACAF.

In a rational world, Captain Burrell's close ties to a fallen regime and his continued loyalty to persona non grata Jack Warner would disqualify him from serving, but, as Captain Burrell recognizes, the math is quite simple:
"There are some 40 countries in CONCACAF and approximately 30 in the Caribbean, so we just have to wait and see."
It is difficult to imagine a scenario where Captain Burrell will not be able to line up CFU's members in support of his candidacy -- there are likely to be many aggrieved individuals within the CFU looking for a chance to exact vengeance in the near term on Mr. Blazer and the lack of interest here at looking more closely into Mr. Blazer's affairs will undoubtedly be a rallying point for the Captain's supporters.

The risk to American soccer supporters is that opportunities for further development of the game will be caught in the crossfire.

With every word Mr. Blazer speaks in defense of himself (to the profound shrug of shoulders from American media), the coming power struggle in CONCACAF is cemented to play out as a battle between the CFU and the United States. And we're going to lose that argument.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Final Marks

Before getting to the 16 CFU member association officials who will now be in the crosshairs of FIFA's ethics committee, spare a thought for the plight of Barbados' Lisle Austin.

The former acting President of CONCACAF was suspended by FIFA for a year for seeking relief in a Bahamian court against CONCACAF's treatment of him.

Mr. Austin's response? He's ticketed himself a vacation from organized football for quite some time:
/PRNewswire/ -- The following is a statement issued by Lisle Austin:

FIFA's desperate attempt to suspend me through its kangaroo court affirms that it believes my rights to judicial due process are inferior to its interests of sweeping under the rug any attempt to bring transparency to the football world.

FIFA's present leadership has once again shown that it is a corrupt cabal of arrogance and cronyism, administered by individuals who continue to act outside the rule of law, seeking to destroy anyone who dares to question the existing regime.

The hearing was yet another attempt to marginalize and silence calls for reform and transparency in FIFA's lucrative dominance over the game of football.

I call on those who have already raised their honest voices – and those who have watched silently in fear -- to stand with me and demand accountability and good governance of world football, and an end to the dishonestly and greed that threatens to destroy the game we so love.

I will continue my action in the Bahamian court. I must fight for what is right and have no doubt that ultimately fairness and truth will prevail.

SOURCE Lisle Austin

Just to review, Lisle Austin paid a commercial service to distribute a press release that is -- I don't know how else to put it -- batsh*t crazy. Cue the conspiracy theories that Lisle Austin is being paid to make Sepp Blatter seem palatable.

But the tale of one man's utter delusion should not distract from the marquee: FIFA announced investigations of 16 CFU member association officials.

Colin Klass and Noel Adonis (Guyana);

Yves Jean-Bart (Haiti);

Franka Pickering and Aubrey Liburd (British Virgin Islands);

David Hinds and Mark Bob Forde (Barbados);

Richard Groden (Trinidad and Tobago);

David Frederick (Cayman Islands);

Osiris Guzman and Felix Ledesma (Dominican Republic);

Anthony Johnson (St. Kitts and Nevis);

Patrick Mathurin (St. Lucia);

Joseph Delves and Ian Hypolite (St. Vincent and the Grenadines);

Hillaren Frederick (U.S. Virgin Islands)
Attention paid to the members of this list will first be given to Colin Klass -- the only one of the 16 to be provisionally suspended pending completion of an investigation -- because of his long and controversial history in FIFA.

Recounting Mr. Klass's greatest follies is totally appropriate, but perhaps the more interesting thing is the fortuitous timing of these events. There are some parallels between Klass's current predicament and that of Dr. Bertie Chimilio in Belize. Mr. Klass faces growing domestic opposition amongst his own constituents and a looming threat of intervention from the government of Guyana. By naming Colin Klass (and Noel Adonis), FIFA has created the possibility of dreaming of a world where Mr. Klass isn't screwing Guyanese footballers.

The second name on the list that will garner attention is Haiti's Yves Jean-Bart because of his defense of FIFA and Mr. Blatter in the face of proposals to delay the President's re-election. And that's fine, but the inclusion of Mr. Jean-Bart and the Dominican Republic's Osiris Guzman and Felix Ledesma in the scope of FIFA's inquiry underscores the absurdity of the original official CFU line holding that the $40k was a grant to advance football in small nations.

The nations of Hispaniola are home to the second and third largest populations in the CFU. Amongst the far more accomplished footballing nations in Central America, only Guatemala has a bigger population than Haiti or the Dominican Republic. The little country meme doesn't fly there. Instead, these federations stand for where the CFU (and CONCACAF) have failed to make meaningful progress to develop the game in the region.

Switching gears, of interest from previous posts here, the problems of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation continue with the inclusion of the association's secretary Richard Groden on the list. And, as Stanford Conway at SKNVibes foreshadowed Sunday, FIFA also names St. Kitts & Nevis's President Anthony Johnson.

Of the remaining names, the fact that the U.S Virgin Islands' Hillaren Frederick is there will probably fly under the radar. If the investigation implies a potential suspension down the line, this would be a huge blow to USVI football which has made huge strides since ousting former President Derrick Martin in December.

Indeed, FIFA's announcement of an investigation of Mr. Fredrick was issued the exact same day as FIFA also released a puff piece lauding the rise of USVI's national team, with the article crediting Hillaren for bringing in Keith "Grell" Griffith in May to lead the team.

And I think that just about sums up the lunacy of all of this.

Derrick Martin headed the USVI Soccer Association for years. Mr. Martin failed to properly account for funds coming into the Association. Under his leadership, the federation simply stopped reporting financial information after 2007 and failed to hold an annual congress for three consecutive years.

And FIFA/CONCACAF/CFU did not care. And footballers in St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas suffered for it. Prior to Mr. Hillaren's presidency, the USVI's men's national team had played only 28 official games, losing 20 of them.

Exit Mr. Martin. This year, the team has beat the British Virgin Islands twice and advanced to the group stage of World Cup qualifying for the first time in the country's history. In two months, the USVI has moved up 51 places in world rankings.

But it may not be the hiring of Coach Griffith that will be Mr. Hillaren's most memorable act in May of 2011. One brown envelope has put the team's progress in jeopardy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pencils Down, Time Is Up

Tariq Panja reports that the other shoe has dropped; FIFA will begin "corruption proceedings against more than 10 Caribbean officials . . ." Per Mr. Panja's reporting, FIFA's ethics panel will meet today following more witnesses coming forward.

The committee will separately hear claims made against the august former CONCACAF head man Lisle Austin for his bizarre actions following the initial fallout. However, the identities of those that may be implicated regarding the May meeting is, as yet, unknown.

Some educated guesses can be made.

Trinidad's The Guardian notes that the country's FA president, Oliver Camps, stated that the federation had declined FIFA's invitation to provide more information regarding their involvement in the meeting.

So that probably doesn't bode well for a federation already in crisis.

And its probably worth pausing on the state of the T&TFF in the wake of Jack Warner's stewardship: it is bankrupt.

A trip scheduled to Port-au-Prince for a friendly against Haiti was canceled over a lack of funds.

And why is T&TFF bankrupt? Cue Trinidad's Minister of Sport Anil Roberts:
"The TTFF is the worst-run sporting organisation in Trinidad and Tobago," stated Roberts. "They flout all rules and procedures. They totally disregard all checks and balances that are here at the Ministry of Sport and the Sport Company. Checks and balances are very important for transparency, accountability and making sure we get value for money. This is taxpayers' money we are dealing with."
Minister Roberts was happy to provide examples to defend the decision to support football in Trinidad but not the federation:

"They presented a document which states that a assistant coach with the national team is being paid $120,000 per month. Our investigations shows that no assistant coach was getting anything close to that figure.

"So, at that time in August, we asked for all contracts for the coach Russell Latapy, the assistant coaches, the technical consultant, all of these things. We asked for contracts to verify these figures so that we can say this is a legitimate figure. We have not received one contract for anybody, whether it is Russell Latapy for a year ago, or whether it is now Otto Pfister." . . .

"We have no clue how much Mr Pfister works for. We have not been given a contract for Pfister or for anyone. No money can be disbursed to anyone without legitimate documentation. So, the Government has agreed that we will fund football. However, the TTFF will not get a blank cheque, or a cheque for any amount of money for them to do as they please," Roberts insisted.

But surely Mr. Warner has left a legacy for football that can be the foundation for a renewal?

Mr. Camps, Mr. Camps?:
"Football is just like any of the other sports. Just like many of them we don't have a permanent home for football, and just like many other sports we have to book the stadium and such venues for matches."
I seem to recall that a whole bunch of soccer stadiums were built in T&T. Wonder what happened to that.

In any event, as Mr. Camps explains, there just isn't any money to be made in football in Trinidad:
"You know that local football doesn't generate funds," Camps declared. "To generate spectator interest, we have to bring in top teams to generate funds. And usually after paying for these teams and paying the players and other expenses, most times we just break even. People think we make big money, but many times we just break even."
Just break even. I think that is Mr. Warner's motto.

Leaving Trinidad for now, Stanford Conway of SKNVibes penned a fine story published on Sunday regarding the role of St. Kitts and Nevis's FA in this rollicking feel-good story.

Per Mr. Conway's piece, the president of the St. Kitts-Nevis Football Association, Anthony Johnson, explained:
"We have in the past cooperated with the FIFA Ethics Committee in their investigation and we will remain committed to doing so in the future. That really is the gist of our position and I don't really wish to add anything further to that."
And that follows a June 6th press release from the association declaiming any involvement in nefarious affairs; no bribes offered or accepted there. So nothing really to see here.

But Mr. Conway is undaunted and he posits the following entirely appropriate questions:
If it were a fact that the money offered by bin Hammam to the CFU officials was gifts for the enhancement of their respective organisations and not as bribes, then why did the officials from The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos return theirs?

If it were a fact that the envelopes containing money were given to all officials present at the Trinidad conference, why did 15 of them denied [sic] receiving any? And if they had indeed accepted cash gifts for their associations’ development, was it recorded in their accounts ledgers? What was it used for? Where is the tangible evidence of its disbursement and why was it not publicised?
And most saliently for those members that chose not to come clean to FIFA:
If there were no infringement to FIFA's rules and regulations concerning the illegal transfer of cash, why then were Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester placed on a one-year ban by the Ethics Committee?
Mr. Conway sought out James Buchanan, a past General-Secretary of SKNFA, for his thoughts and, as explained in the article, the unwillingness of some CFU officials to provide honest disclosures or to walk away from Jack Warner has endangered the Union's power.

Buchanan describes Mr. Austin's ill-timed broadside against Chuck Blazer as "premature and tactically bad."

He also offers good advice for CFU's leadership:
"They cannot ostracise the CFU members who reported receiving cash. It is time for Captain Burrell and Colin Klass to step up and step off on their own and bring new direction to the CFU. The problem is that they will first have to come clean on the CFU scandal and avoid any FIFA sanctions."
Yet, even if they wanted to, Captain Burrell and Mr. Klass will be unable to follow the recommendation.

That train left the station a while back.

Or, switching metaphors, the test of leadership created by bin Hammam's "gifts" to the CFU is over. If Bloomberg's reporting is correct, a whole lot of people failed.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Seeds of Hope

Reviewing the corruption and abuse that has infected far too many of FIFA's constituent members (to say nothing about FIFA itself) inexorably leads to the conclusion that the international football is so deeply and fundamentally bent that it is beyond the possibility of reform. Cynicism, therefore, reigns supreme. When another venal federation official commits another horrific violation of the public trust, those that have seen the same story played out over and over should be excused for merely nodding their heads in disgust and moving on.

Cynicism, of course, concedes the territory. If we expect that FA officials are, by nature, venal, mendacious, and corrupt, then the corruption of football is an unremarkable consequence; an inevitability that must be accepted.

But why should the corruption of a game that millions enjoy playing and watching be something that is tolerated?

On Tuesday of this week, a remarkable thing happened: FIFA failed to throw the full weight of its support behind the Football Federation of Belize (FFB) and the FFB's President Dr. Bertie Chimilio. FIFA blinked.

When the Belizean government took on the FFB, FIFA took action in defense of its member organization. Belize was suspended from international football. Rather than cave at the threat of a shunning, the general popular wisdom in Belize seems to have been "So what?"

FIFA changed tack, lifting the suspension and facilitating a "Belize" team to play in a World Cup qualifier outside of the country. The game went on under the direction of the FFB and over the objection of the government . . . a slap in the face of the government and a show of solidarity with the good people at the FFB.

But Belize's advance to the next stage of qualifiers did not spark a popular movement to quell the government's actions. If anything, it signaled how far the game had fallen under Dr. Chimilio's guiding hands. As Amandala observed early this week:
[I]f FIFA wants an idea of just how deep and painful are the wounds caused to the Belizean football public by those presently in control of the FFB, they only need to note the fact that there was no national outcry or lament, except from a select few FFB stalwarts, when the FIFA suspension was first announced; and neither was there any great celebration when it was lifted. In fact, the qualifier games in Honduras were hardly even discussed in Belize football circles. What the Belize football family was most concerned about was the FIFA visit, and the possible changes that they hoped may result. As one aggrieved football family member put it, “it is not Belize, but instead it is the Bertie Selection that is participating in these games.”
Thus, although FIFA allowed the farce in Honduras to proceed, nothing changed in Belize. If FIFA was going to suspend Belize (and all financial support as well), so be it -- the price of continuing under this iteration of the FFB was simply too great.

In the face of unyielding opposition, FIFA took the easier way out. FIFA backed down:
Their Football Federation of Belize has received a sharp, stunning come-uppance from FIFA that's so severe, it can't even be called a slap in the face; it's more like a kick in the rear end.

Forgive the crude analogy, but it's that rough.
Specifically, FIFA ordered that FFB has to organize a Special Congress by September to adopt new statutes and an electoral code. New elections are to be held in December.

Now, Dr. Chimilio may still retain his title come January 2012; there is plenty of time to get districts back in line. But whether there is a new President of the FFB or not, the crux of this dispute was the government's unwillingness to recognize a private football association that had disclaimed any accountability to anyone other than CONCACAF or FIFA. And, in the end, the stand taken by the Belizean government forced FIFA to intervene and demand that the FFB make reforms.

For football fans and players in Belize and football supporters generally, this is a promising turn of events. Belize may never be a power in Central American football, but they should be much better than they are now and talented Belizean footballers ought to have the chance to compete at the highest levels, just as their neighbors do. Cleaning up the FFB is the first step in correcting these deficiencies.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Getting the Word Out

I am headed up to NYC this weekend and am thinking about stopping by Belson Stadium on Sunday to see where the Red Storm play and catch my first USL PRO game of the season (having not followed through on my intent to go see a match in Harrisburg or Richmond).

Proving once again that the "USL PRO is the strongest, most sophisticated and most experienced North American men’s professional soccer league below MLS, both on and off the field," FC New York's web-site contains virtually no information about the club. Because nothing says that you're "[f]ocused on franchise stability and longevity" like being incapable of telling (or unwilling to tell) the general public anything useful about your professional franchise.

But sifting through the rubble of Queens' answer to Crystal Palace Baltimore led me to a press release that I had missed two weeks ago (that, for some reason, refers you to FC New York's embarrassing web-site): FC New York will be the first professional team to visit Guyana since Hull City dropped by in 1974.
Garth Nelson, on behalf of the Guyana Football Federation and President Colin Klass, wrote that the GFF “would like to invite F.C. New York to participate in a three games tour in Guyana. The venture will be a positive boost to Guyana’s football.”
If after over two decades of autocratic rule, Colin Klass was finally able to bring a professional team as esteemed as FC New York to Guyana, imagine what he will be able to do with another twenty years in office?

Because the press release contains the same delusional self-promotion that has permeated much of the USL (“With this trip I hope we can gain even more positive exposure as F.C. New York continues to grow globally”), it is a frustrating read. But the tie to Mr. Klass, and the FO's decision to include a side-trip to Trinidad to face Caledonia AIA, is a heck of a way to pay tribute to your Caribbean fans while standing next to regimes that are attempting to foment a conflict with a NYC-based member of the U.S. Soccer Federation.

Just a week prior to F.C. New York's announcement of its February 2012 tour, Mr. Klass came out publicly in support of Lisle Austin's call for an audit of CONCACAF finances. With an unimpeachable history of high minded civic service and an unwavering commitment to transparency, Mr. Klass decreed:
"We must anchor our ship or we will forever be lost, we cannot submit ourselves to the tyranny of a minority, the audit must be done now," Klass said.

"While I will not cast aspersions on the questionable characters of those who have foisted themselves in leadership positions and those who have scarified our names and our soldiers for their own political ambitions, I will describe the delaying tactics of the CONCACAF Exco (executive committee) and its general secretary (Chuck Blazer) on this matter as very strange. Why is this happening?"

He added: "Could it be that Chuck Blazer is attempting to perpetuate a culture of secrecy at the organisation to prevent a true accounting of what has gone on at CONCACAF during his tenure?

"Is there credibility to claims that this review would unravel and expose the lavish lifestyles of certain employees funded by CONCACAF accounts"?

Everything I have read about Mr. Blazer indicates that he should not elicit a great deal of sympathy from American soccer supporters and that he has, in point of fact, managed to provide for himself very well (thank you) off of the back of the beautiful game in the region. But he has also been instrumental in the advancement of the sport in this market and a substantial increase in revenues attendant to the development of the game -- something that Mr. Warner and his cohorts, particularly Mr. Klass, cannot similarly claim.

I read comments from CFU folks like Mr. Klass and wonder how things within FIFA have been driven so ludicrously through the looking glass that grown men stand around pointing fingers at each other and loudly decrying illicit actions of which they have also been alleged to have undertaken. It must be like a support group for adulterers where the members are required to lambaste one another for their infidelity in public scoldings.

But the story of Jack Warner, Colin Klass, Horace Burrell, Lisle Austin, and the rest may just be a story of the disinterest of the cadre of select journalists and commentators that cover soccer in the United States.

F.C. New York can announce a trip to Guyana, organized under the benevolence of one Colin Klass, because (1) F.C. New York's travel plans aren't exactly page 1 news in Metropolis and (2) for those that do care, the name Colin Klass likely does not register.

My shock and dismay at FIFA outs me as a naive ingenue when confronted with the hue and cry marshaled by Bill Archer on the subject. I mean, my gall man, this is the Patrick John I have been referring to in past posts? This is the guy that is running Dominica's FA? How is this not mentioned each and every time Mr. John's name comes up or he surfaces to comment on anything related to FIFA?

Now would seem to be the appropriate time to connect those dots. If reports are correct, Mr. Klass gave inaccurate information to investigators regarding his knowledge of what took place during Bin Hammam's visit to Port of Spain. That should mean that the non-voting member of CONCACAF's Executive Committee will be in for some unwanted attention over the next few months. And that should also mean that outlets that have more than five people reading them a day have the opportunity to educate soccer fans about the officials that currently have a stranglehold on football in the Caribbean.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


If you google "Josh Wicks," its not terribly flattering. Wicks' Wikipedia entry, at the moment, highlights some of the things that led United supporters to turn on him. Then you have to sift through more results -- many exceedingly negative -- before you run across this terrific article by Craig Stouffer including Wicks' candid assessment of his shortcomings and his personal demons.

But perhaps that will change.

Last Saturday, IFK Mariehamn traveled to Helsinki and frustrated HJK for 80 minutes. The team dropped points after Wicks botched a punch trying to clear a corner kick that was put into the netting to secure a 1-0 win for the homeside.

The result was disappointing, but IFK's play this season has once again exceeded expectations and Wicks is being called one of the best players in the Veikkausliiga this season.

The dramatic change in Josh's fortunes has led him to be the subject of another terrific article by Brian Sciaretta over at Yanks Abroad which highlights just how far Josh has come. Gone, but likely not forgotten, are the days of just trying to get someone to give him a chance.

Now, instead, what is articulated is fulsome ambitions: (1) contribute to IFK finishing in the top four (or, better yet, three) of the league; (2) play at even higher levels in Europe; and (3) catch the eye of U.S. Soccer officials to earn a national team cap.

No doubt some will call Wicks delusional, but it would be a mistake to -- once again -- underestimate what he can achieve.