KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Chuck Blazer, whose enforced and self-incriminating admissions lifted the lid on the scandal-wracked excesses within FIFA’s leadership, has died at 72 after a long battle with cancer*.
In the spring of 2011 Blazer was hailed as a whistleblower after reporting to the world federation how Caribbean officials were handed cash-stuffed envelopes in Port of Spain at a conference to raise support for the FIFA presidential campaign of Qatari Mohamed bin Hammam.
Blazer was then general secretary of central/north American confederation CONCACAF of which Trinidadian Jack Warner was president. The two had worked closely for two decades. But admiration for Blazer did not last long.
As Warner was banned from football so a damning internal report into his leadership of CONCACAF uncovered the way he and Blazer had cashed in personally on their work to the tune of millions of dollars.
In December 2012 Blazer quit as CONCACAF general secretary though he remained a member of the FIFA exco until the following July 2013 when he was banned provisionally for 90 days from all football.
Subsequently he was banned for life from the game he had worked hard, years earlier, to promote and develop in the United States. That had included working to help bring the World Cup to the US for the first time in 1994.
In the fall-out from the CONCACAF scandal it emerged that Blazer had not made any personal or corporate tax declarations for years.
Under pressure from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Internal Revenue Service he lifted the lid on the crooked web operated by many on the FIFA exco and among his colleagues within both CONCACAF and the South American confederation CONMEBOL.
Thse revelations led on directly to the dramatic arrests of seven senior football executives on the eve of FIFA Congress in Zurich in 2015 and to the FIFAGate investigation.
The latter has seen more than 40 individuals and companies (including Blazer and Warner) charged with corruption offences concerning more than $200m skimed off football sponsorship and broadcasting contracts in the Americas.
Blazer made the most of his power, celebrity and wealth. He established CONCACAF in Trump Tower on New York’s Fifth Avenue where he had two apartments of his own. One he shared with his pet parrot named Max Blazer and one was, for years, reserved for his girlfriend’s cats.
He kept a vintage Mercedes-Benz parked in the FIFA garage in Zurich but, in latter years, grew so corpulent he could move around only with the use of a mobility scooter.
It was while heading for one of his favourites New York restaurants that his excursion and career were brought to a literal halt by FBI and IRS agents.
World Cup hosting
Blazer, however, had been one of the original influential figures in the rise of modern 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.
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 Trump Tower suite. 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 bribes
Over the next 14 years he profited, by his own admissions, from vote-linked bribes in at least two World Cup bidding campaigns before the house of cards all came crashing down.
The beginning of the end was the Caribbean Football Union conference organised by Warner in Port of Spain in May 2011 to support Bin Hammam’s bid to oust Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.
After the meeting delegates were offered envelopes containing $40,000 in cash as “expenses.”
Several delegates told Blazer, then in New York, he told FIFA and events subsequently ran beyond his control. Blazer’s own financial arrangements with CONCACAF were exposed in a report commissioned from former Barbados Chief Justice Sir David Simmons.
Blazer was revealed to have received more than $20m in compensation from CONCACAF, including $17m in commissions. Blazer had 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 by CONCACAF of Blazer’s Manhattan apartments and that he had sought to buy $4m worth of property in the Bahamas, in 2007, using football funds.
The high point of Blazer’s associated FIFA exco tenure had included deputy chairmanship of the football committee and membership of various other panels overseeing the World Cup, players’ status and club football.
Above all, Blazer rose to become chairman of the crucial marketing and TV committee which negotiated the deals on which the finances of of both the World Cup and the world federation itself depended.
In that role he championed the controversial exco vote to run bidding simultaneously for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The decision may have paid off in the short term but in the long term the political damage proved financially catastrophic as potential sponsors vanished over the horizon.
Ironically, Blazer once named his football idol as former long-serving FIFA president Joao Havelange – “a majestic symbol of elegance in our sport.”
As Blazer’s world collapsed so simultaneous events saw the Brazilian resign as FIFA’s honorary president over his banking of millions of dollars in bribes from its former marketing partner, ISL.
Now both Blazer and Havelange, for all their positive contributions to the game down the years, will for ever be associated only with its worst scandals.
** Charles Gordon ‘Chuck’ Blazer: born April 26, 1945, died July 12, 2017