KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force has ceased to function, with no sign yet of a successor being appointed to succeed Jeffrey Webb as chairman more than three months after his arrest in the FIFAGate corruption scandal.
Webb had been promoted to lead FIFA’s high-profile anti-racism effort in 2013 after the world and European game had been shamed by Kevin-Prince Boateng’s dramatic protest in leading Milan players off the pitch because of racial abuse during a friendly match in Italy.
At the time Webb was riding high. He was celebrating a first year as head of CONCACAF after the ousting of Jack Warner and was being talked of as a possible future FIFA president.
Now, in the absence of a chairman, the anti-discrimination panel is apparently frozen in time.
This challenges an assertion last week by audit chairman Domenico Scala that FIFA could still function effectively despite the governance crisis prompted by the impending departure of Sepp Blatter as president and the muddled reform process.
The task force chairmanship could be addressed by FIFA’s executive committee next week but this appears doubtful. A new FIFA president is due to be chosen at an extraordinary congress next February 26. The task force may have to wait until then on the composition preferences of a new leader.
A FIFA spokesman was unable to answer a question about Webb’s replacement, saying only: “Discussions are now ongoing concerning the future of the structure.” The reference on FIFA’s website to the ‘task force against racism and discrimination’ has only blank space next to the title posts of chairman and vice-chairman and no membership list at all.
This runs in direct contrast to the high-profile status apparently being afforded the fight against racism and discrimination by FIFA before Webb’s downfall.
Howard Webb, England’s 2010 World Cup Final referee and a member of the task force, said this past week that the last meeting he attended had been back in April. This was ahead of the presentation, in May, of an anti-discrimination monitoring system for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
The system was unveiled at Wembley in the presence of FIFA’s head of sustainability Federico Addiechi, Howard Webb, Piara Powar from Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure and Heather Rabbatts from the Football Association [Rabbatts later quit as a task force consultant in reaction to Blatter’s re-election].
Jeffrey Webb was surprisingly absence, bearing in mind his high-profile spat on this issue with disciplinary chairman Claudio Sulser during the 2014 World Cup; Webb had complained to Sulser at a news conference about FIFA’s failure to provide anti-discrimination monitors at matches during the finals in Brazil.
Less than a fortnight later, on May 27, Webb was among the seven senior football officials arrested in Zurich by Swiss authorities, two days before FIFA congress, on an indictment issued by the United States Department of Justice on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
At the time Webb was a FIFA vice-president, president of the central and north American confederation, an executive committee member of the Caribbean Football Union and head of the Cayman Islands Football Association. He was stripped of those roles almost immediately as a consequence of an indefinite suspension from football ordered by FIFA ethics judge Hans-Jochim Eckert.
Webb, 50, was accused of having received a $1.1m bribe to award the 2012 Gold Cup/Champions League contract to marketing company Traffic USA and a further US$2m for the 2013 Gold Cup. He and other CONCACAF officials were also said to have received millions more for deals connected with the 2016 Copa America Centenary tournament.
US investigators alleged that Webb used some of a $500,000 bribe in 2012 to pay for work on a swimming pool at a family home in Loganville, Georgia. The money was said to have come from Traffic Sports USA and to have been paid into an account controlled by Costas Takkas, the former general secretary of the Cayman Islands Football Association.
The FIFAGate defendants face maximum jail terms of 20 years.
Extradition proceedings were opened in Switzerland on July 2 and Webb problems were exacerbated two days later when charges were laid against him in a healthcare fraud case in the Cayman Islands.
Webb did not contest the US extradition application which was enacted two weeks later. On July 18 a Brooklyn court released him under house arrest after he denied all charges. A $10m bail bond was allowed against 10 properties, three cars, a dozen luxury watches plus diamond jewellery belonging to his wife.
Later the court varied the residence condition so Webb could go home to his family in Georgia.
Where ‘his’ task force goes next remains open to question.