It was considered one of the greatest friendships between colourful characters at the helm of world football. The kind of friendship and connection within the higher echelons of football management and administration that even identical twins do not share, the association with and liking of one another that was cordially termed the joined-at-the-hip-type of relations or the hand-and-glove type of relation.
Ladies and gentlemen I present to you two associates in world football. In the left corner, born in 1943 and bred in Rio Claro, Trinidad & Tobago, is Austin “Jack” Warner, a politician, businessman and football executive (president of CONCACAF), a graduate from Presentation College, Chaguanas, University of the Western Indies. In the early years Jack Warner defied his parents whom had wanted him to become a policeman, while his mind was completely set on becoming a teacher and went straight to a teachers college, but eventually became a Politician and into sports administration when he was elected president of CONCACAF in 1990, which gave him the chance to be involved in Football and eventually got elected Vice President of FIFA.
In the right corner is Joseph Sepp Blatter, born (1936) and bred in Visp, the Alpine town in Switzerland. He graduated at the College of Sion and St Maurice with a school leaving certificate and then gained a degree in Business Administration and Economics from the University of Lausanne. He had an illustrious career in Swiss football administration having started off at a giant sport apparel manufacturer Addidas AG. In 1981 he was elected Secretary-General at FIFA and served until his presidential election success to become the 8th president in 1998 who served as the eighth FIFA president.
At one time both ran the biggest independent sport organization, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). Being at the helm of this massive organization guaranteed office bearers with unlimited influence in the allocation of resources to two hundred and nine (209) football member associations across the globe. Most importantly, they were guaranteed the one-on-one audience with heads of states, some of whom being dictators in their own right, with the intention to persuade them to bring the coveted and prestigious Soccer World Cup tournament, which takes place every four years, to their countries.
Jack Warner and Sepp Blatter served as FIFA executive committee members for at least three decades. In 1998 they were now working very close to each other and their friendship of trust and honesty grew from strength to strength. Jack Warner and Mohammed Bin Hamman led Blatter’s 1998 bruising presidential campaign against the then Union of European Football Association (UEFA) president Lennart Johnson. Mohammed Bin Hamman was a very rich man who made his bones through his family business with stakes in real estate and oil operations in the tiny Middle East country of Qatar. It is understood that he bankrolled Blatter’s 1998 and 2002 presidential campaigns by offering his own private jet to Blatter during his lobbying activities across the 209 football associations, each of whom have a voting right during the presidential elections, and that he was instrumental in bringing the controversial 2022 Qatar FIFA World cup tournament. Now, the three musketeers ((Sepp, Jack and Mohammed) were seen posing for pictures with heads of states during the taxing presidential campaigns, and at some points even finishing one another’s sentences. The question now arises: Was the relation honestly God-made or was it only the boardroom one to deceive member associations?
After Blatter’s triumphs, Mohammed was rewarded with cushy chairmanship position for the FIFA Goal Project whose grants provide financial support for member associations across the world with issues of football development and infrastructure. Big chunk of the Goal Project was targeted at previously marginalized football regions outside Europe such as Africa, the Caribbean and some parts of Asia just to name a few. It is widely believed that Sepp Blatter’s intention to hold on to his position, by having backing from the beneficiaries of the Goal Project would have his back all the way, as these are very large regions who vote as a block and their voting power constitutes about sixty-five percent (65%) of the votes during the elections. Keeping their beaks always wet guaranteed Sepp Blatter a continuous tight grip of FIFA presidency.
However, there were murmuring audible within the corridors of FIFA that Mohammed himself is positioning himself to take over the reins, and that he wanted to challenge his friend Sepp Blatter head-to-head for the top position at FIFA. A person of his immense wealth could not be taken lightly therefore he was to be kept in check at all times. At the time there were only two very strong candidates who could mount a strong presidential campaign against the incumbent Sepp Blatter. The two were Austin “Jack” Warner and Mahommed Bin Hamman, whose combination appears like some high-flying box-office Hollywood-made movie!
Sepp Blatter knew that the rumour about these two colleagues’ ambitions cannot be ignored because he was fully aware of their treacherous maneuvers and capabilities. No smoke without fire.
Pressure had now mounted for Blatter to officially declare whether he was standing for re-election to the position of FIFA president or not. Then in August 2010 Mohammed Bin Hamman came out and vowed: “I will be backing him to remain in office for a new mandate. He is my very good friend…” The statement caused more confusion than clearing things up. The cloud of uncertainty remained hanging in the sky.
The 61st FIFA Congress (31 May – 01 June 2011) was fast approaching and it was widely expected that Mahommed will be running against the sitting president. As was expected, when Mahommed was asked if he was standing for FIFA presidency against Blatter, he said, “People have to try change. Change is good” and that Blatter “… was an experienced person, he has made significant contributions to football worldwide but I believe there is a time limit for everything. There is now a time for a new face and new heir.”
At last someone with balls had raised his hand, but that was the beginning of rumblings, flying of skeletons out of the woodwork, political maneuvers and sabotage at length. Long and very sharp knives were drawn out to feast on the available and vulnerable pieces of the stake! Mahommed and his buddy Jack Warner were in for a torrid war against themselves unleashed by Sepp Blatter’s supporters within FIFA corridors. The battle of the soul of FIFA had just begun and the lines were drawn and lines had already been crossed. The partnership of the three musketeers was now in tatters, and by the look of things, has even ceased to exist. Sepp Blatter on his own on one side, and the other two, Jack and Mohammed were on the other side.
Back in Jamaica Mohammed’s campaign was in full swing spearheaded by Jack. At one of the executive meetings he allegedly handed $20K to visiting members of Caribbean Football Union (CFU) as a gift from Mahommed Bin Hamman. Jack Warner also mentioned that Bin Hamman had fresh ideas, implying that he was capable of implementing fresh ideas should he be voted for to head FIFA. Jack knew it and had confidence in the power that the thirty-five (35) CONCACAF member associations had on the outcome of the FIFA presidential elections if they voted as a block. The events at CFU did not seat well with Sepp Blatter and his crew of supporters because Jack and Mohammed were mounting a serious campaign and they had to be stopped at all costs. Charges of bribery against Jack and Mohammed were trumped up and presented to FIFA Ethics committee, which was headed by Jack Blazer, the former Secretary of CONCACAF, who then took a decision to charge both Jack and Mahommed and to suspend them from all football-related activities pending the outcome of a full inquiry into the allegations that they offered financial incentives to members of the Caribbean Football Union. Mohammed withdrew from the presidential race just a day before the Ethics committee meeting, leaving Blatter to run unopposed.
On the other hand, jack Warner was being accused, among others, for instructing the Scottish Football to pay the match fee between Scotland and Jamaica to him, mismanaging funds intended for the victims of earthquakes to attend and watch the FIFA World cup tournament, stealing $500K from FIFA termed as ‘stadium development’ and selling of World up tickets in the black market at inflated prices.
The undertone of this relationship was broken down due to greed, power mongering to hold on to position of influence at all cost. Bin Hamman cried foul on the whole matter, and has taken the issue of banning him from all football-related activities to the appeal court of sport. This breakdown in relationship between the three musketeers exposed deep-rooted problems of corruption and bribery within FIFA. Several members of FIFA executive committee together with football sport marketing officials have been accused and charged by the United States (US)-based law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on allegations of fraud and money laundering, which led to FIFA president Sepp Blatter announcing his intention to willingly vacate office immediately after being re-elected.
The resignation of Sepp Blatter has been welcomed by various voices in the administration and sponsors of continental and world football, calling for reforms within FIFA ranks. It remains to be seen who will take over the reins at Lusanne glass house from Sepp Blatter when a special elective congress is held in February 2016.
Early pundits and football analysts were betting on the current UEFA president Michel Platini to take over from Sepp Blatter, until he was suspended by the FIFA Ethics Committee from all football related activities for 90 days, amid allegation of fraud and corruption. This has put a spanner in the works within UEFA corridors, and the division are quite evident through one’s naked eye. UEFA executive committee have called on an emergency meeting in Nyon, to discuss amongst other things the implication around Platini’s suspension.
Also in contention for the coveted position was honorary president Juan Hung Moong, whom experienced the same fate as Michel Platini however he was slapped with a six year ban from football, which effectively rules him out of the race.
We are surely headed for a very interesting period within world football. Major Football associations are calling for the postponement of the upcoming presidential polls. Irrespective of the outcomes of meetings held behind close doors, the face of football has taken a 360 degree turn for the worst or good?
You be the judge………………..