Caribbean question turns Sepp into silent type

Author: 
Andrew Jennings
Date Published: 
2001-10-22
Source: 
espn.com

Sepp Blatter, the usually loquacious president of FIFA, was stumped for words. A hush fell on the room, Blatter fiddled with his glasses and adjusted the microphone.

The question shattered the calm of his choreographed meet 'n' greet with reporters at the World Under 17 Championships in Trinidad.

I had asked him: 'Jack Warner's family has won a mass of lucrative contracts generated by the tournament here in Trinidad. Might there be a conflict of interest?'

Warner is a FIFA vice-president and the most powerful man in Trinidad soccer. He chairs the committee staging the Under 17 tournament and presides over Concacaf, the regional federation.

His role has become a delicate matter for Blatter, who eventually said: 'If I have to give you an answer, I need to give it in writing when I return to Zurich next week.'

It seems the Warner family has been busy lately. Warner's travel agency handled the air tickets for teams and officials - about 500. Press reports say some teams are staying at hotels where he has an interest.

The catering contract at the five stadia has gone to his son, Daryan, while his other son, Daryll, has a $1.9million contract for video screens in hotel lobbies.

Warner, as chairman of the organising committee, had a say in allocating the contracts to build four stadia and, as Soccernet has revealed, the exclusive television rights also belong to him. Warner said: 'This is the best run and most successful world event ever.'

But the media in Trinidad disagree. One newspaper stated: 'The Under 17 tournament has been a significant fillip to Mr Warner's business interests. He seems to be enjoying the lion's share of the benefits.'

Les Avory, commissioner for Soccer Australia, said: 'Jack tried to fly us to London and then to the Caribbean. That would have been more expensive than the route we wanted via Los Angeles and Miami.'

Then the Australians encountered problems. It was said that their hotel did not have a porter to help with 86 pieces of luggage, some of the rooms had broken toilets and lacked hot water and, just to add to their misery, they were denied a move to another hotel.

They also discovered they had been allocated a training pitch more than an hour's drive away. They ended up training on scrubland in a public park. Avory said: 'All it was good for was a dirt-track rally.'

It got worse. FIFA advises a three-day gap between games. The Australians managed 41 hours' rest before playing the host country. 'It's gamesman-ship and I'll be writing to FIFA,' declared Avory.

Warner's powerbase is the Trinidad & Tobago Football Association. He refers to himself as 'an adviser', but the TTFA is financed by him.

Nine regional teams have made it to the World Cup but not Trinidad, despite a wealth of capable coaches. Fourteen have come and gone in the last seven years, some more than once. Talent has been recruited from Brazil, Germany and Yugoslavia to no avail.

This saddens former sports minister and Trinidad midfielder Ken Butcher. He said: 'When Warner took control of the local soccer federation in the Seventies he installed his clique and we've never been able to get rid of them.

'His committee members have two votes. He got the referees' vote in a crucial election by promising them an office and sending them on courses and he paid the fares to fly his delegates in from Tobago.

'And when the accounts were queried he said to go to his office and he'd explain, but there was always an excuse why they were not available. Eventually we walked out and now the best coaches and officials do not get involved.'

Butcher added: 'As Jack Warner has risen in FIFA, the development of soccer in Trinidad has been in continuous decline.'

Warner is the creation of former FIFA president Joao Havelange. He obliged the Brazilian by delivering the 35 votes of the Caribbean and North American region on demand.

Blatter has inherited Warner from Havelange and now has to rely on this powerful man if he is to get the crucial votes he requires to be re-elected next year.