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The FIFA scandal – Is this a case of power corrupting?

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Over the last two weeks the scandal involving top officials of FIFA has rocked the football world. FIFA is a rich and powerful body, supervising what is the world’s most popular sport.

Given the allegations of corruption that have been made for some time, we should not have been surprised by recent developments. What might have surprised us is the magnitude of the charges and allegations being made. Top officials of FIFA have been caught in a net, so it seems.{{more}} Admittedly, those alleged to have been part of a corruption ring have to be considered innocent until proven guilty. What has surprised me is that Sepp Blatter stands above it all, or so he claims, although the word around is that he is also likely to be charged. I was surprised that he opted to seek re-election. Perhaps not to do so might have suggested some level of involvement. Even if Blatter is innocent, his resignation or decision not to seek re-election should have been on the table. The evidence that appears to be coming forth suggests at least incompetence. If we accept the authenticity of some of the charges, then we have to ask how he could have been unaware of such massive wrong-doings. Were there no adequate systems in place? Was all of this concealed from the auditors or was it a case of he who pays the piper calling the tune? Why did he resign four days after being re-elected? Was he pressured into doing so? If so, by whom or by what? All of this sounds like high-class drama.

Of course, the Caribbean cannot be left out of this. We like action! It is interesting to see the political connections. One can argue that what Warner and other officials did parallels what our Caribbean politicians have always been accused of doing. This political play, however, involves Jack Warner and his role. We were always amazed by his rise to power at the top of this powerful international body. There must have been something special about him. Although I have my suspicions, I must confess that I really do not know what accounted for his spellbinding rise. No wonder he had been making waves in the political arena in Trinidad and Tobago. Warner built a name for himself in the Caribbean and elsewhere through his involvement in football administration. His resignation from CONCACAF and FIFA, amidst allegations of corruption, was followed by his entry into politics as a member of the UNC and governing People’s Partnership Alliance. He was highly regarded for his ability to get things done. He was supposed to be fabulously rich, although not many were prepared to openly question the source of his wealth. His departure from the UNC and partnership government has opened a can of worms, especially since it was alleged that he helped to bankroll the last election for the UNC. Warner is one hell of a man. To have risen so quickly from the ranks of a lowly schoolteacher to be among the top bigwigs of FIFA, one of the largest governing bodies, shows, maybe, that he is a ‘bright’ man. But ‘bright’ men can and usually do outdo themselves. Warner had been so convincing in his declaration over the years of being innocent of the allegations being cast, that many hesitated to apply any other labels. Some of the charges have now become more specific. He has threatened to spill the beans on Blatter and Kamla Persad-Bissessar and to reveal all he knows about FIFA corruption. It is not clear if he is now unwittingly admitting to involvement, since based on recent statements, he seems to be suggesting knowledge of corruption in FIFA. Warner, along with other top officials, has been indicted in the United States on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery. He has been accused of asking for money in exchange for votes and of misappropriating funds. He is currently on TT$2.5 million (US$394,601) bail, as the US seeks his extradition to face the charges.

Warner moved from football administration to the political arena. He had become an important member of the governing coalition, even acting on at least one occasion as Prime Minister. What all of this mess does to Trinidad’s politics and its image is not good for Trinidad, or for that matter, the Caribbean. How all of this will ‘pan out’ is left to be seen. Is this about politics bringing together strange bedfellows or maybe not strange at all? Does it have to do with the idea of power corrupting? Some persons claim that these allegations and charges arose because of the US’s failure to get the World Cup. This might possibly be so, but even if only a small bit of the allegations turn out to be valid, this would certainly have come to the surface at some time. Caribbean football did benefit from Warner’s involvement, but that is no justification for turning a blind eye to the level of corruption we are hearing about. But that is not surprising, because allegations of corruption about Caribbean leaders are constantly being made, but we seem not to be listening. Power is one hell of a thing. The true test of an individual is how he handles and deals with power and we see this in all walks of life; husband-wife relationships, parent-children and political relationships, among others. There is obviously more to be revealed about the football/political connection. We have, however, to stay tuned.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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