Arrestment Developments

He’s been around for 17 years straight. Isn’t that enough?

Things not always turn out as expected. I was prepared to blog about Dnipro’s heroic fight to survive Sevilla’s onslaught; about the simplest two-people teamwork goal ever scored courtesy of Matheus and Kalinić; about how right I was to pick Krychowiak as an important figure for the final; about whether this triumph means that Unai Emery will replace Carlo Ancelotti in Madrid and Carlos Bacca will replace Robin van Persie in Manchester… But as the most entertaining European Cup finale progressed, breaking news about FIFA trails and arrests kept surfacing and, unlike the hard-fought 90 minutes in Warsaw, this story never seemed to peter out. Two days before yet another presidential election for Sepp Blatter, his organization took a blow far stronger than the press allegations, human rights reports from Qatar or any other sensational rumours about the corruption inside the traditional World Cup management. Charges and extradition threats literally began to fly across the media within minutes – and, to make it even more intriguing, the whole storm had a backstory consisting of Pharaonic luxury and Howard-Hughesy eccentrity.

This all would not be possible without Chuck Blazer – the man of a name which itself makes him look more like a comic-book character than a real person. This silver-bearded, 70-years old, Santa-Claus look-alike man, known as the Commissioner of the American Soccer League has spent 17 years as a member of the FIFA Executive Committee. He also has been in serious trouble for the past two years, trying to recover from a colon cancer and battling the United States’ IRS investigation over his $20.6 million worth of unpaid taxes. Faced with the criminal charges and further discoveries regarding frauds, money laundering and racketeering, Mr Blazer was on verge of going to jail for 10 years. He chose wisely, though: instead of serving his time, he agreed to become FBI’s insider in FIFA. He, who previously undermined the positions of Qatari administrator Mohamed bin Hammam and FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner, was now supposed to collect evidence and testify against more of his prominent accomplices and finally reveal the the truth about behind-the-scenes bribery that is now reported to go as far as 30 years backwards and as big as $100 million.

 

Despite changing his agenda under pressure, Blazer remained true to himself – and this is exactly where the story gets extravagant. Never short of money or flamboyance, the American paid $800.000 for a classic Mercedes limousine and $6,000 per month for a luxury apartment in Trump Tower, New York City – an apartment rented exclusively for his… cats. As an avid traveller and blogger, Chuck would also pose for the photos with a parrot on his shoulder during the breaks between bragging about his appearances in football events ranging from Champions League final in Moscow to the Beach Soccer World Cup in Mexico. Even Nelson Mandela’s private jet wasn’t a foreign land to his 450-pound self. Meanwhile, as this eccentric lifestyle continued, the bon-vivant collected the evidence. In August 2012, it was him who secretly recorded tapes of meetings he himself arranged in London during the Olympic games. There, the officials from Russia, Hungary, Australia and USA have met to discuss the amount of “money gifts” CONCACAF members of FIFA voting committee should receive to support each country’s bids.

By becoming the kind of whistleblower no authority would praise for his ethical purity, Blazer also betrayed his closest accomplice, Jack Warner. From the year 1990, when Warner has become CONCACAF President and appointed Chuck as his General Secretary, those two careers depended on each other – so much, that the North American football executives started addressing them as “JackandChuck”. However, unlike his American friend, the Trinidadian chairman didn’t know his limits and after building a reputation of one of the most corrupted football activist on the planet, he finally got exposed when his shady links with Mohamed bin Hammam was revealed. In 2011, it’s been speculated that this Qatari executive handed the bribe worth of approximately $1.2 million to Warner for rigging the 2022 World Cup bidding in favour of Qatar. Of course FIFA denied – and their internal ethics committee freed Warner from the charges – nonetheless, Warner soon resigned from his position and left the organization for good. At the time, it seemed that Blatter and his people acted just in time to do the damage control.

 

Four years later, though, it’s obvious that the past has not been forgotten. Warner, who claimed yesterday that the Americans know where to find him and that he has no trouble sleeping at night, already had a chance to test his resilience to insomnia in a prison cell. Released on Thursday morning on a $2.5 million bail, he’ll be still facing potential extradition to the United States – all that while he remains the leader of Independent Liberal Party in Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, he even released the statement regarding this predicament on his faction’s Facebook page – effectively denying everything! Unfortunately for him, both the charges and the prosecutor he’ll be dealing with for another few years are quite serious. Loretta E. Lynch, the first African-American woman to ever hold the position of U.S. attorney general, has already spoken out strongly and issued the symbolic “red card” to FIFA bosses. This attitude, alongside with the reported amount of $150 million worth of bribes and misappropriated money dating back as far as 24 years from now – those should keep Mr Warner busy at least for quite a while.

Loretta Lynch. She’s looking at you, kid.

Of course, neither Blazer nor Warner are the key people to be held accountable – clearly, worldwide nation of football fans unanimously points their fingers at Sepp Blatter and few of his most powerful, most trusted friends residing in Geneva. Unlike in previous cases, when FIFA’s internal Ethics Commitee pretty much worked as a judge in it’s own cause, Blatter’s subordinates will now be supervised on the account of breaking the U.S. law, which should potentially lead to first real trials and punishments. Now, as it’s been already pointed out elsewhere: despite Thomas Kistner’s best efforts, FIFA still cannot be called ‘mafia’, as it fails to fit the definition. Why? Because, unlike the factions we know from The Godfather, Blatter’s acolytes don’t have any reasons to remain loyal to their leader – aside from money, of course. Therefore, whenever one of them is going to be threatened with a long vacation in jail, he should cave in and speak – giving the FBI more names to be further examined. Which is exactly what, in an ideal scenario, should eventually lead to revealing the critical evidence that could be used against Blatter himself.

So far, FIFA seems stoic about all those developments. Their Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Walter de Gregorio informed the press today that the Friday election will take place according to the schedule and that there’s no chance for Russia or Qatar to lose the the status of World Cup hosts they’ve already earned. He also launched a rather amusing counterattack, stating that not only those allegations shall be good to FIFA in terms of cleaning it up, but also that FIFA itself is “the damaged party” – which is obviously true, except that the damage of such proportions could’ve been prevented if the organization itself paid any attention to what it’s members are doing with the power they had. Because frankly, even if we discard the very likely possibility that all those briberies took place without Executive Commitee’s silent approval – the long-lasting presence of several, untrustworthy individuals like Warner or Blazer in FIFA structures was unacceptable in the first place. The main question is: was it merely the case of Geneva executives being indifferent to those issues – or a case of active participation in the frauds?

Regardless of the answer, at the moment, Blatter looks as bulletproof as papamobile. Going into his fifth presidential election, he can be absolutely reassured that the 61st FIFA Congress will yet again allow him to retain his current position and that the challenge from Prince Ali bin Hussein of Jordan is going to be shrugged off. The current president will again prevail thanks to the overwhelming majority of votes from the third-world countries; countries he invested in a lot during his reign; countries he gave hope for hosting the World Cup one day, just like troubled South Africa did in 2010 and desolated Qatar will do in 2022. Project Goal in Zambia, extra funding for federations interested in developing their infrastructure, the compensations paid to associations struck with natural disasters… All are the proverbial carrots on the sticks Blatter uses to earn the support, knowing that if Africa, Asia and South America turn their backs at him, all the benefits he’s showering them with in return will suddenly find themselves in question under new presidents’ rule.

Friday won’t change the captain on a sinking ship; Friday will be only a formality. So, despite this current explosion of revelations, it’s quite likely that everything – or almost everything – will remain the same. The overwhelmingly cynical attitude from Blatter, who’s taking pride in the fact that FIFA’s offices aren’t being inspected and that nobody has to be suspended as the arrested executives weren’t convicted yet – those are all bad signs. The President himself having the guts to link his content-less press release on Twitter and expose himself to the massive outrage of netizens – this might be making the best of a bad game, but it’s probably just the confidence of a very wealthy, very resourceful old man. Is he really that sure that the ties between him and CONCACAF offenders are untraceable? Or that they… never existed? Knowing the nature of FIFA executives – it’s quite possible. After all, as the journalists on SkySports pointed out this morning while covering the story: “So far, Blatter acted as he if thought he’s God. If he wins this election despite Wednesday’s arrests, he’ll get a proof that he indeed is one.”

As it stands, nobody is going to give us the blatantly unjust 2002 World Cup back. Nobody will stop introducing the anonymous, second-rate referees into officiating key international games. Nobody is going to change the ridiculous policy of rejecting the technological developments like action replays for referees who are unsure about their decisions. The green light for Qatar to organize the craziest, most resource-consuming and worker-killing tournament in history will not be switched off. The damage’s been already done – in many departments. Even throwing Blatter in the jail (which is still far from likely) may not change anything. For FIFA, it will take much more to turn their abysmal reputation around; much, much more than the resignation Sepp is currently urged to by UEFA boss Michel Platini. If anything, this is merely a first step; a birth of an idea. A new hope for those who are utterly disappointed with the rotten status quo this body maintains since 1998. And the fact that this hope comes from a country in which ‘soccer’ is a third-rate sport?

Well, at least they have a decent record at dealing with tax criminals. If Al Capone didn’t die of syphilis, he might’ve vouched for that…

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