KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING: The tables have been turned on Chuck Blazer, with the original whistleblower now being banned himself by world football federation FIFA.
The New Yorker has been suspended provisionally for 90 days from all football activities in the fall-out from the damning report into his and Jack Warner’s financial stewardship of regional confederation CONCACAF over almost two decades.
Although Blazer quit his role as CONCACAF general secretary last December he remains, technically, one of the confederation’s delegates on the FIFA executive committee until Congress on Mauritius on MAy 30 and 31. Fellow American Sunil Gulati will then take his place.
Under FIFA statutes a replacement for Blazer should be appointed as soon as possible. In these circumstances it would seem appropriate for Gulati to make an early start to his four-year tenure.
A statement from FIFA said: “The chairman of the adjudicatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee, Hans-Joachim Eckert, has decided to provisionally ban FIFA executive committee member Chuck Blazer from taking part in any kind of football-related activity at national and international level for a maximum period of 90 days.
“The decision was taken following a request made by the acting deputy chairman of the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee, Robert Torres, based on the fact that various breaches of the FIFA Code of Ethics appear to have been committed by Chuck Blazer and that a decision on the main issue could not be taken early enough.
“The investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee previously opened investigation proceedings against Chuck Blazer in response to the final report of the CONCACAF Integrity Committee (cf.www.concacafintegrityreport.
“The chairman of the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee, Michael J Garcia, declined to participate in this investigation due to the fact that he holds the same nationality as Chuck Blazer (cf. art. 35 par. 2 c) of the FIFA Code of Ethics).”
Though Blazer has been a larger than life figure on the United States soccer scene for more than 30 years, he hit international headlines in May 2011 when he ‘blew the whistle’ on an infamous conference of he Caribbean Football Union in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Cash in envelopes
The conference had been called to hear Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam canvas votes for his bid to become FIFA president. After the meeting, organised by the then CONCACAF leader Warner, delegates were offered envelopes containing $40,000 in cash as “expenses.”
Several delegates told Blazer, then in New York, he told FIFA and thus exploded one of the biggest scandals in the organisation’s history.
Subsequently questions were raised about the complexities of Blazer’s own financial arrangements with CONCACAF and these featured in the recent report produced by former Barbados Chief Justice Sir David Simmons which excoriated not only Warner but Blazer, too.
Simmons said Blazer received more than $20m in compensation from CONCACAF, including $17m in commission. He added that Blazer worked without a contract from July 18, 1998 and his compensation was discussed only three times in CONCACAF forums during 21 years.
The report also found “no business reason” for the renting of apartments used by Blazer in Manhattan and said the American had tried to buy property in the Bahamas, in 2007, for about $4 million using football funds.
Blazer was described by Simmons as “entirely negligent” for failing to file income tax returns for CONCACAF in the United States which led to the body losing its tax-exempt status as a non-profit organisation.
FIFA’s own statement – though lacking in transparency on the substances of the issues – makes it clear that the suspension has been imposed because of first-instance evidence in the Simmons report.
Both Blazer and Warner have always denied any wrongdoing.
Blazer, originally, was one of the most influential powers in the rise of professional soccer in the United States which culminated in the hosting of the World Cup finals in 1994 and launch of Major League Soccer.
He developed the USSF’s national team programme in the 1980s, served one term as executive vice-president of the federation and was then commissioner of the American Soccer League before gaining access to the levers of international football power through the general secretaryship of CONCACAF which he assumed in 1990.
The controversial Trinidadian Warner and Blazer turned a hitherto sleepy confederation into a political force within world football.
Blazer’s particular pride was in the high-tech television control suites he constructed within a suite of offices in Trump Tower on New York’s prestigious Fifth Avenue.
He was soon a fixture within various FIFA committees and joined the exco in 1997 as CONCACAF delegate for North America after the death of long-serving Mexican Guillermo Canedo.
World Cup deals
The high point of his FIFA tenure was as chairman of the crucial marketing and TV committee which negotiated the deals on which the financial success of both the World Cup and the world federation itself are founded.
The beginning of the end, however, was Warner’s decision to turn his back on long-time FIFA president Sepp Blatter and support Bin Hammam in the 2011 presidential campaign. That led to the Port of Spain conference which has proved almost everyone’s undoing.
Subsequent reports of investigations in Blazer by the FBI and IRS have never been confirmed by either organisation though one of Warner’s sons has been in the US ‘assisting’ the FBI with certain inquiries.
The FIFA ban debars Blazer from non only the FIFA exco but also from his roles as deputy chairman of FIFA’s football committee and as a member of the committees overseeing the World Cup, players’ status and club football.
Ironically, in an interview formerly on FIFA.com, Blazer has named his football idol as Joao Havelange – “a majestic symbol of elegance in our sport.”
Last week veteran Brazilian Havelange resigned his role as honofrary president of FIFA after being proven to have accepted millions of dollars in bribes from the federation’s former marketing partner, ISL.