(Update: Yes, I did post this same piece a week or so ago. Maybe you saw it before it vanished down the Interhole. Where it went, how it got there, where is it now - these are questions beyond the ken of anyone here at BigSoccer World Headquarters. FIFA hackers maybe, or perhaps Jack Warner is honing his keyboard skills. Who can say? Anyway, due to actual, real live requests (thanks Mom) herewith a repost. New piece coming shortly, so stay tuned.)
Since apparently making jokes about the Swiss is politically unpalatable and I have no urge to insult the people who invented cheese with big holes, I have removed any quotations from Joseph Stalin. Blessed are the peacemakers.
Fortunately, Joe isn't around to offer his assessment of CONCACAF, but we can be confident that it would be something pithy.
International soccer was supposed to change after the Black Marias showed up at the five star Hotel Baur au Lac in Zurich and dragged half of FIFA's power structure off to jail. Reform was the word on everyone's lips. A new FIFA headed for Golden Horizons.
Unfortunately, it turned out to look more like Golden Showers. The only difference is that while seedy, motheaten old Sepp Blatter was buying the votes of the various federations for a paltry $250,000 a year, Gianni Infantino has quadrupled that, then added another million because Covid 19 and then tossed in another $500,000 if you asked nicely.
So the price for sitting still and shutting up has now reached $2.5 million. For Europe and the North American feds, it's doesn't really change much but for Namibia, Papua New Guinea and Mongolia, it's party time, baby.
And that goes double for all of the Caribbean federations where a place like Anguilla - total population roughly 14,000 - which recently lost a full international to hapless Trinidad & Tobago 15-0, is willing to ignore a lot of Swiss ugliness for two and a half mil. In other words, the names have changed but the game is the same.
Which, not at all coincidentally, brings us back to where CONCACAF lost its virginity: Jack Warner's T&T.
I had it all planned out. this was going to be a piece describing the latest developments - or lack thereof - in the never ending saga of alleged human being Jack Warner and his efforts to keep his corrupt old ass out of the US prison cell where the DoJ is still diligently trying to send him.
Unfortunately, that plan got torpedoed over the weekend when reports started circulating around the islands that the Pirate of the Caribbean was dead. This in turn forced his "PR team" (I can't explain it either) to report that Uncle Jack was alive, but had been admitted to a Port of Spain hospital after testing positive for Covid-19.
Said "team" then posted a cheery "Hi, this is Jack and I'm doing great and here's a joke about hospital food" message to his Facebook page claiming that everything was fine but a 77 year old man with a history of heart disease and a positive PCR test is not in the pink and until we know more, in the interests of good taste we're going with Plan B which fortunately has a lot to do with Jack Warner anyway.
Or at least that's what FIFA and CONCACAF think.
You will recall that when Jack Warner was finally forced to resign all his soccer-related positions, he stole literally everything the T&TFA had: not the headquarters building, he of course already owned that, but everything else down to the bank accounts, telephones, office furniture, files, computers, uniforms, bags of balls, first aid kits, practice cones, he grabbed it all.
The TTFA had quite literally nothing.
Since that time, the federation has struggled, both on the field and off. They've limped along on the yearly FIFA stipend and grants from the T&T Sports Ministry but it's been pretty much a hand-to-mouth existence. Still, they've been no worse off than the rest of the region, albeit with a fairly substantial amount of debt. For a very poor country it's not unheard of but for a country which has a history of producing good players and that actually qualified for a World Cup in recent memory, it's a sad situation.
Still, nobody was terribly alarmed until about a year ago when Jack Warner filed a claim with the TTFA , demanding $2.5 million that, according to him, he had "loaned" them over the years. Now to you and I, it seems beyond ridiculous for a guy who stole every dime the federation had for 20 years to turn around and claim that he loaned them money to pay the bills and should be repaid.
Of course, he had no documentation of any of this, and since he'd stolen all the files when he left, the fed didn't either. No matter. Jack wanted to be paid.
The President of the TTFA, David John-Williams, had an elegant solution, he thought: he announced that yes, they owed Jack the money but, sadly, the statute of limitations on presenting bills had passed years before and thus he couldn't legally give Warner the money.
And that's when things got interesting.
Suddenly a new group arose - The Unity Party - and announced that they were going to run a slate of candidates in the TTFA elections scheduled for November 2019. It escaped no one's attention that the candidates, led by William Wallace - no Mel Gibson jokes, please - were all reliable old cronies of Jack's. Indeed, at least one of them, Keith Look-Loy, plays poker at Warner's house every Saturday night.
The group hired a truly slimy "consultant" who has been run out of football at several European clubs, who said he had come up with a stellar collection of companies that had agreed to sponsor T&T's national team, including Nike for a stunning $25 million and another company that was going to partner in a $25 million soccer training complex. Or maybe it was $50 million. Details were sketchy.
All that was necessary to cash in on this cornucopia of money was to elect Wallace.and his team.
When FIFA and CONCACAF caught wind of the fact that it looked a lot like Jack Warner was making a back door play for control of the TTFA, they reacted like scalded cats.
Legions of officials descended on the island. They wanted everyone to know how much they loved and supported John-Williams. They hurriedly constructed what they called The Home of Football, in Couva. (No one had the ill manners to mention that FIFA still technically owns The CONCACAF Center of Excellence not far away, which Jack has squatters rights on). Offices, fields, facilities for everyone.
Four days before the election in November, half of Zurich air-dropped into Port of Spain for the Grand Opening. Infantino, General Secretary Fatma Samoura (she's black of course so she makes a better visual than all those pale Swiss folks), CONCACAF President Victor "Donuts" Montagliani, the whole shebang. Bands, parades, ribbon cutting, press interviews, quite the extravaganza with all and sundry grinning and gripping with John-Williams. The message could not have been clearer.
Left unmentioned was the fact that the place wasn't really finished, didn't have government approvals to open and was still largely unusable, but it really didn't matter. What mattered was FIFA and CONCACAF putting the heavy finger of money on the electoral scale: John-Williams is our guy.
A few days later, the TTFA council voted and John-Williams lost. It turned out soon afterwards that every single one of these massive sponsorship deals was a fraud. Not an ounce of truth or a single dollar. Nike said they'd never even talked to anyone from down there.
Nobody ever accused Wallace of being reticent. Or particularly smart. Pretty much his first act as President was to announce that he was reinstating Jack Warner's $2.5 million claim and intended to pay it, just as soon as the TTFA had some money. Which they didn't, but the FIFA money was due so no problem.
Anybody seeing the problem here? Like, it will be a cold day in hell before Infantino hands the TTFA two and a half million bucks to pass on to Jack Warner?
Then Wallace proceeded to do some other strange stuff, like hire the aforementioned sleazy operator to a $20,000 a month contract to bring in commercial sponsorships. Like hire a new national team coach for another $20,000 a month even though they already had one under contract for another year.
And all this while no one - coaches, office staff, nobody - was getting paid because there was no money.
Then, Wallace decided that because the Home of Football didn't have fire extinguishers and some other stuff he was closing it. Apparently there's a shortage of fire extinguishers on the island because it remains closed nine months later.
Finally, FIFA had enough and pulled the Death Penalty card, installing the dreaded "Normalization Committee", which basically means the entire board has been superseded and replaced by an appointed director who will run the TTFA until such time as FIFA decides they can call new elections.
They claim they were forced to do this because the TTFA is heavily in debt with not much of a plan to get out.
In fact, there are many non-Warner, even historically anti-Warner voices - the wonderful Lasana Liburd, a gutsy journalist who took on Uncle Jack when he was the country's Defense Minister and was trying to assemble both a secret police force and a concentration camp - who point out that Wallace was President for less than 4 months, and had almost nothing to do with the estimated $20 million debt racked up by the previous administration.
The same previous administration that Infantino, Montagliani and the rest were desperately trying to get reelected. The fact is that FIFA never said a thing about all the debt until their candidate lost, at which point it was such a crisis that the entire organization had to be taken over by Zurich.
Anyway, after FIFA basically fired him, the first thing Wallace did was race to the bank and demand control of the federation checkbook. The bank pointed out that a) legal control of said book is a matter for the courts and b) there isn't any money so there's no point.
The next thing he did was go to the CAS (another Swiss institution) and file to have FIFA's decision overturned. Unfortunately, he discovered that the CAS requires a $20,000 bond from all parties and the defendants can ask to have the plaintiff pay their bond as well, which FIFA did.
Wallace tried some sort of Go-Fund-Me deal to raise the money but only came up with around $2500.So he announced that he was withdrawing the suit because the CAS is a bought-and-paid-for stooge of FIFA (which is of course more or less true) and the whole process was rigged (see previous comment).
He then filed a lawsuit against FIFA with the T&T High Court, demanding that, yes, the check book for the empty bank account be turned over to him. (He's still convinced that one of these days Infantino is going to stuff it full of money). Moreover, he asked the court to declare that FIFA had no jurisdiction over the TTFA because the TTFA's constitution declared the board sovereign so they should be ordered to go away and leave him alone.
Unsurprisingly, Wallace won in his local court, and just as unsurprisingly FIFA doesn't give a crap. Notwithstanding that, Wallace has reached out to FIFA, demanding that they give him the $2.5 million because the local judge says they are the ones in charge of football down there and are entitled to the money.
What's worse is that Wallace refuses to accept that FIFA holds all the cards. They not only have the cash, without which he can't operate, they also control whether any other national team is allowed to play T&T since, as we all know, if Wallace had all the money in the world the Soca Warriors still can't play anyone unless FIFA gives its' blessing. They wouldn't even be able to hire a referee.
Wallace says he wants mediation. FIFA says there's nothing to mediate. Wallace sent out an appeal to "Caribbean Unity" asking the "brother federations" to stand by him, but they're too busy counting their FIFA money to send a reply.
Meanwhile, the draw for CONCACAF qualifying is coming up in a few days and if T&T isn't cooperating, T&T will not be able to participate.
And through all of this, no one has been paid in five months. Not staff, not coaches, not anyone. FIFA would be happy to send Robert Hadad, their appointed administrator, the money the TTFA is owed so he could pay the employees but the court ordered that any FIFA money that hits the island belongs to Wallace, so that's out.
Fortunately, wiser heads are beginning to be heard. Trinidadians (and Toboggans?) are a proud people, and particularly with their history and culture - the island was populated almost entirely with slaves for a hundred years - they're extremely sensitive to the appearance of being pushed around by white Europeans. It understandably doesn't sit well, and Jack Warner played that card like a master for decades.
Wallace isn't as adept, and he's in an impossible situation. A number of the federation members are calling for an emergency general meeting to vote on replacing Wallace to placate FIFA. They're not happy about it, but they don't have much choice. Yet at this point, with time running out, they still can't get the majority they need to call the meeting.
Wallace has said that FIFA is showing everyone just who and what they are, and it's a lesson all smaller countries need to heed.
Gianni Infantino would certainly agree.
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