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.

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