Larger than life in Budapest: A 'Chain Bridge' lion . . . and Chuck Blazer


BUDAPEST:  Just when you think it’s safe; just when you think you can raise your head above the parapet; just when the whistling of the shells from warring football politicians appears to have died down; just when you think peace and harmony are about to break out . . . . another bomb goes off.

This one had ‘CONCACAF’ written large on the casing and the fall-out will drift on down for most of the rest of the year. And beyond, no doubt.

New president Jeffrey Webb is a big man and cut a proud figure as he took to the podium at the confederation’s Congress in Budapest to deliver a ‘let’s-clean-up-our-act’ exhortation on having been elected, unopposed, by acclamation.

By the the end of the day, however, he appeared to have aged 10 years after a coterie of American lawyers and accountants and consultants had laid bare a state of legal and financial chaos which sparked a firework display of fury from delegates of the football associations of the Central and North American Confederation.

The targets for their anger were not present.

One was Jack Warner, who quit all football (including his posts as a FIFA vice-president and as president of both CONCACAF and its subsidiary Caribbean Football Union) in the wake of the Bin Hammam Scandal last year. The other was Chuck Blazer, CONCACAF’s general secretary for the best part of two decades until his resignation last December (though he remains one of CONCACAF’s FIFA delegates); Blazer was in Budapest but, reportedly, unwell.

Delegates were angry that the accounts were incomplete; that no tax papers had been filed in the US since at least 1994 (CONCACAF, while tax-exempt, rents a $1m-a-year office suite in Trump Tower in Manhattan); and that the Joao Havelange Centre of Excellence in Trinidad is owned not by CONCACAF itself but by two companies owned by the Warner family.

Delegates were also indignant that Blazer had been paid 10pc commission on TV deals via a company in the Cayman Islands (ironically Webb’s home) and that he was due between $4m and $5m from last year under the terms of a contract signed off years ago by Warner.

Not that Blazer, on that basis, had committed any felony; just that a vengeful green-eyed monster was stalking Congress.

CONCACAF’s Congress very nearly did not take place at all.

Lisle Austin, installed and immediately deposed as acting president after Warner quit last year, has been fighting for his reinstatement through the courts in the Bahamas (where CONCACAF is domiciled legally). His pursuit of an injunction to stop Congress taking place had been overruled only on Monday.

Then there is the issue of the CFU. At the start of the week, meeting in Budapest, it had elected Gordon ‘Banks’ Derrick of Antigua as new president. This was presented as a sign of happy unity.

Quickly it emerged, during CONCACAF Congress, that this unity was illusory. The Spanish connection complained that they had been marginalised in the decision-making process and the French connection complained that there had been no accounts available, not even incomplete ones.

Webb’s coronation as CONCACAF president was witnessed by an assortment of the great and the good from the FIFA family, including president Sepp Blatter and UEFA’s Michel Platini. But once they had left the building so the truce ended abruptly; speaker after speaker competed to reach ever higher levels of self-righteous indignation.

This reached a climax with a proposal that FIFA Congress on Friday should remove Blazer as a CONCACAF delegate on the exco.

On the other hand . . . CONCACAF Congress was peopled by mostly the same men who sat happily on their hands for much of the last 20 years, many of whom had participated in the ‘brown envelope’ conference organised by Warner on behalf of Mohamed Bin Hammam last year.

Wherever the verbal gunfire came from, it wasn’t from the moral high ground.

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