KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENT: The arrest of Canover Watson in the Cayman Islands does not mean he is guilty of anything; he has denied the money-laundering accusations levelled against him.
Allegations against him do not touch football. They stem from his time as head of the Health Service when it was introducing a swipe-card payments system. He has not been charged with any offence; only arrested, questioned and bailed.
However the simple fact of his arrest points up a number of worrying issues for, among others, not only for the world football federation but for CONCACAF president Jeff Webb and European federation UEFA.
The fact that Watson, while subject to a lengthy police inquiry, was appointed to FIFA’s eight-strong audit and compliance committee – a role of enormous significance – underlines all too clearly the original fears of Mark Pieth.
He is the Basel governance expert who complained that, for all his work, FIFA had not gone far enough with its reforms. He blamed UEFA for a self-contradictory attitude to the reform process.
Watson was a close associate of Webb and both were highly placed in the CONCACAF system whose financial mismanagement, under Jack Warner, was the subject of a damning report by Sir David Simmons.
No suggestion exists that either man knew how Warner was ripping off the Caribbean, north American and world game.
But, as Simmons demonstrated, Warner used the Caribbean Football Union, a body with no formal status within FIFA, as a virtual private fiefdom for all his nefarious purposes.
In the circumstances it was beyond logical credibility that anyone with any connection to the CFU should have been appointed to the audit and compliance panel created amid the reform process.
To spell it out: members of the audit and compliance committee should be as far beyond reproach as Caesar’s wife.
Pieth had not even wanted the separated spheres of audit and compliance mixed together in the first place. He wanted FIFA to ‘own’ its own compliance unit with the duty of vetting each and every new appointment.
UEFA, however, blocked this apparently sensible and protective move. It insisted that ‘fit and proper person’ work should be the domain of the individual confederations.
Naturally, all those other confederations which had feared ridicule or suspicion for expressing opposition, grabbed hold of these misdirected European coat tails.
UEFA’s misplaced faith in itself was exposed last month when Carlo Tavecchio, running for the Italian federation presidency, uttered his infamous “banana eater” comments about African footballers.
Despite his views and readiness to express them being well known within the game he was – and remains – a member of UEFA’s youth and amateur football committee.
Clearly the confederations are unable to police themselves and, in this sphere anyway, are hampering FIFA’s own attempts to police itself.
Should Canover Watson be proven innocent of all allegations he may at least console himself that he has, inadvertantly, proved that FIFA’s reform work is far from complete . . . and that the confederations share the responsibility for what has not been done . . . and for what needs to be done.
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