Welcome to WTF Day

If you find yourself confused by various pieces of FIFA news this week, well, you're not alone. However, as luck would have it, if you're looking for answers you've come to the right place.

Just pour yourself a cup of coffee (shot of Bailey's strictly optional) and we'll take a look at a few of those pesky head scratchers:


Why the hell did FIFA's Ethics panel decide issue a lifetime ban to old, used up, out of power, irrelevant and utterly disgraced Jack Warner, a guy who a) resigned all his soccer posts back in 2011, b) is generally believed to be on his way to prison in the US and c) has about as much chance of ever being involved in running international soccer again as Miley Cyrus?

You may recall how it all went down back in 2011: after the Great Port of Spain Bribe-O-Rama exploded, along with Mohammad bin Hammam's campaign, Jack Warner was the guy at the center of the storm.; Big Mo wasn't even on the island when the CFU officials were being handed those envelopes full of US $100 bills. Jack arranged all of that after the Qatari Santa Claus had lifted off.

Additionally, it wasn't necessary for FIFA to prove that bin Hammam was behind the payments; the simple act of handing out cash to soccer officials is strictly prohibited by FIFA statute and since there were dozens of witnesses along with photos and actual bags of money which had been turned in - not to mention the video which surfaced showing Warner ordering the assembled CFU Presidents to keep their mouths shut -  that part of it was beyond debate.

(Irony fans please note: Jeff Webb, Warner's successor at CONCACAF, was unable to attend the Cash Grab. Everyone who knows him agrees that, had he been there, he most certainly would have taken the money along with everybody else. But he didn't, so when the dust settled he was one of the few CFU officials with clean hands and when Blatter went looking for a new CONCACAF President, Webb was one of the very few eligible guys who weren't under investigation. It's a sad note on the state of FIFA that Webb would have been better off to have been there and taken the cash, thereby disqualifying himself from a job which landed him in a Swiss jail cell, a Brooklyn courtroom and house arrest in Atlanta.)

FIFA opened an investigation of the entire affair and Warner immediately resigned all of his posts down to and including his role as "Special Adviser" to the T&T Federation, at which point the Ethics committee announced that since Warner was no longer involved in soccer they had no legal right - or legitimate reason - to investigate him, calling that part of the inquiry "closed".

Which is where it stood until Monday when the Ethics Committee announced that, after a long and careful investigation, Jack Warner was "banned for life" from participating in soccer.

So why bother, at this late date, banning a guy who the security staff at FIFA HQ probably already have a Shoot on Sight order on? (As if Warner would risk getting on a plane anyway. His fear of flying is greater than Sepp's; he hasn't set foot off his island since his sons were picked up by the FBI in 2012.)

Obviously the ban itself, having no practical impact whatsoever, now or in the future, is strictly symbolic. The only question is: symbolic of what?

A couple of things are likely here: first of all, as the legendary Keir Radnedge is saying, this is simply a case of Ethics Chairman Hans-Joachim Eckert - lately they refer to him as "FIFA Judge", but I'm not sure where that originated - "clearing the decks" as it were, tidying up the loose ends of the ugly past in order to pave the way for more relevant decisions.

Mixed metaphors (four in one sentence - that may be a record) often serve as cover for lack of clarity, and this may be one of those times.

Still, one supposes that a case can be made, from a legal standpoint, for looking at it as a necessary preliminary step. Jack has always been a dead rat in the wall whose stench has remained long after his body has ceased it's rummaging around, and as more and more scandals emerge, many of them with Warner's fingerprints, it may have seemed like making some kind of statement about his culpability was the appropriate thing to do before going forward.

There's one other intriguing theory, however:

While the Ethics Committee is empowered to go where it will and look at whatever it wants to, their targets, topics and proceedings are strictly confidential.

However, what IS known is that the Swiss Attorney General's Office has taken up the Qatar and Russia World Cup bids as their special part of the cooperative project with the US DoJ (NASL owners Traffic Sports, Conmebol and/or Chuck Blazer's income taxes not being of much interest to them).

It's also known that there's been a good deal of cooperation and information sharing between Ethics and the Swiss OAG's people, leading to speculation that the Warner ban is largely the result of new information which they've uncovered while looking at those bids. They sure aren't doing this in response to the 2011 money giveaway.

Furthermore, the theory goes, they have the goods on Sepp Blatter and a bunch of other guys who conspired to make Qatar happen, and the Warner ban is both a sign and a warning to Sepp:

We've got the goods, we're coming for you, and maybe vacating your office sooner rather than later would be the smart way to go.

You could call it a shot across the bow but I've already gone over my metaphor budget for the month.

On Monday I commented in passing that sources close to Sepp Blatter are saying that the Old Swiss Curmudgeon may be plotting to stick around after the scheduled elections in February. Since then a number of other outlets have said the same thing (not that they're reading my stuff and taking my lead - I leave that to the Washington Post's bloggers) and people are starting to ask how that would be possible considering that he swears he won't be a candidate and the filing deadline is almost upon us?

This one is easy, but a little complicated:

Basically, it comes from a comment he made at a monthly assembly of FIFA employees. These meetings are supposed to be strictly confidential, but someone blabbed.

Sepp told his loyal minions - many of whom look remarkably similar to the ones in those annoying movies - that that he is still the President of FIFA until Feb 28 "and maybe after that" since "if no one is elected" Sepp himself would be forced to stay on. Humbly of course.

Which sent some people scurrying to the rules for the special election and they found two interesting things:

First, they discovered that if only one person is officially listed as a candidate, the Congress will be asked to vote "Yes" or "No" on that individual. If he doesn't get a majority, then the election is null and void and the current president continues in office.

Now yes, that one seems like a long shot, but Sepp does have ways of pulling strings in these situations. It's not outside the realm of possibility, especially since FIFA has four months in which to vet every candidate. If you work at it hard enough, you can find dirt on anybody.

However, there's another stipulation that has people just a bit more concerned:

If one - just one - federation representative rises from his chair and moves that the election be cancelled, the presiding officer must immediately call the question. No second is required.

And if the Congress then votes - by secret ballot of course - to not hold a vote (a simple majority will do) then the current president will continue in office.

Not feeling as cocky as you did a minute ago, are you?

Finally, there's the whole question of Michel Platini's $1.5 million dollar payment in 2011 which he claims was due from work he did from 1998 to 2002.

So of course the obvious question is: why did it take so long for FIFA to pay the guy?

The Ethics committee is surely taking note of the timing of the payment, which came a few weeks after Platini broke his promise and voted for the Qatar bid, and just before he himself dropped out of the Presidential race and threw his support behind Blatter.

Aside from his obsequious non-explanation letter above, which he sent to every UEFA federation, there's every reason for Platini to panic here. Unlike in the past, bribetakers are out of fashion at FIFA, and his candidacy to replace Blatter has taken a serious hit, with Chung, Prince Ali and the rest of the candidates - even Maradona - all calling for him to step down.

He did offer a belated explanation earlier today, explaining that FIFA was broke back then and couldn't afford to pay him so he said he'd wait.

Now it's true that 2002 was the middle of the ISL scandal. Short version for those who came in late:

adidas Chairman Adi Dassler started a marketing firm (ISL) to handle all of FIFA's TV contracts, ticketing, etc. Sort of an early version of NASL owner Traffic Sports. They got the contracts by bribing the pants off of everyone at FIFA, eventually causing the Swiss AG to arrest everyone and shut the place down.

When the dust settled, it turned out that ISL had already sold all the TV rights to the 2002 World Cup to various broadcasters - who now held legally enforceable TV deals - had used the money to bribe FIFA, Olympic and other officials (they were trying to expand) and were now bankrupt, while FIFA hadn't yet seen a dime of their end.

In other words, FIFA really WAS broke.

The single greatest feat of Sepp Blatter's tenure was his leadership at that time. He managed to sell the 2006 and 2010 TV rights way, way in advance and used the money to keep FIFA out of receivership. Not coincidentally, although FIFA had no money he was able to borrow enough cash from Swiss banks to make sure all the federations got their usual World Cup bonus, yearly stipend and GOAL grants. Never skipped a beat.

And you wonder why they love him so.

Bottom line, it's certainly believable that FIFA owed Platini for some work he did and that Blatter asked him if he'd be willing to wait for the money.

But just barely, and it doesn't explain the rather unfortunate timing of the payment. It does indeed smell like a payoff and there's just not much Platini can do about it.

Fair? Maybe not, but when you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas.

Thus endeth the lesson.

BONUS NEWS FOR THOSE BRAVE FEW WHO STAYED UNTIL THE END:

The Swiss announced this morning that they will extradite former Costa Rican federation president and FIFA ExCo member Eduardo Li to the US. He has 30 days to appeal.