September 23, 2020

Cayman Island’s Jeff Webb receives a standing ovation and it’s not business as usual yet at CONCACAF


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Jeff Webb

Football officials from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, otherwise known as CONCACAF, rose to give their new president, Jeffrey Webb, a standing ovation after his acceptance speech on 23 May 2012 at the five-star Boscolo Hotel in Budapest, Hungary.

There was probably as much goodwill in the room as when late Roman Emperor Julius Caesar met his senators and his tragic fate on the Ides of March in 44 BC.

“The credibility of CONCACAF is back,” said the beaming FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

It was a double-edged compliment from the 76-year-old Blatter, whose 14-year reign has been punctuated with financial scandal, corruption, mismanagement and bizarre statements—he once suggested that racism on the pitch could be solved with a handshake at the final whistle.

No one, not even the FIFA vice presidents, has any idea as to the salary that accompanies Blatter’s post.

Secrecy is a prized asset in football’s hallways. And CONCACAF has been an open sore of late.

Former FIFA VP and CONCACAF chief Jack Warner

Corruption and shady governance practices
Webb, an articulate 47-year-old banker from the Cayman Islands, is meant to provide a facelift to a region still hurting from the chaotic spell of its previous boss, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago.

“You are sitting on a timebomb,” Cuba football president Luis Hernandez told Webb. “In all our countries corruption and shady use of resources has a clear name: robbery and theft… There are robbers with guns and there are robbers with white collars—and I don’t want us to be represented by a thief with a white collar in FIFA.”

Hernandez was a rare absentee when ex-Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Mohamed Bin Hammam landed in Trinidad, on 10 May 2011, and Caribbean Football Union (CFU) officials lined up to collect brown envelopes stuffed with US$40,000 from the ambitious Qatari, who had an eye on Blatter’s throne.

The fall-out from the FIFA presidential bribery scandal led to Bin Hammam’s expulsion and a hasty resignation from his facilitator, Warner. But the bloodletting is far from over.

There might have been a shiver when United States attorney John Collins, the CONCACAF’s legal counsel, congratulated Webb. In the past 12 months, Collins, who serves on two FIFA boards, has knifed two CONCACAF Presidents and a General Secretary.

And that is just how he treats his friends.

During Warner’s reign, a Caribbean football official who stepped out of line would invariably hear that Collins had landed at the airport. Collins was known simply as Warner’s hatchet man and no one kept his portfolio once he visited.

But last May, Collins, instructed by General Secretary and compatriot Chuck Blazer, turned his icy talents on Warner after Blazer, surprisingly, decided to act on Bin Hammam’s Caribbean mission.

Barbadian Lisle Austin replaced Warner at CONCACAF’s helm and immediately ordered a forensic audit into Blazer. Collins, bizarrely, took the General Secretary’s side against the President and Austin was finished within five days—Austin subsequently filed for wrongful dismissal and his case is before the Bahamas High Court.

And, just as Blazer appeared in the clear, Collins helped blindside him too via the same audit that Austin was denied.

CONCACAF officials expressed dismay that Blazer paid himself a hefty “secret” commission on marketing and television deals. But a leaked report from investigative journalist Andrew Jennings showed that Blazer’s fee appeared on the Federation’s annual reports from as far back as 1994.

Similarly, news that Warner owned the João Havelange Centre of Excellence in Trinidad ought not to have surprised anyone at FIFA. The governing body placed two GOAL projects there and paid rent for a development office at the same venue, after all.

Little is as it appears in CONCACAF.

The future for CONCACAF

Football fans scarred by the mismanagement of resources that epitomised Warner’s reign might have smiled as Webb declared: “What has our focus been? Politics and economics; let us focus on our game… We must move the clouds and allow the sunshine in.”

But, in Budapest, the smiles masked sniggers.

“We should take the focus away from politics and economics?” one CONCACAF insider asked this reporter rhetorically. “What nonsense; football is politics and economics.”

The unassuming Webb is largely an unknown commodity within the Caribbean, despite 21 years at the helm of the Cayman Islands Football Association. But he made important friends during a nine-year stint as Deputy Chairman of FIFA’s Audit Committee.

Twenty-five of CONCACAF’s 35 member associations come from the Caribbean; so Blatter couldn’t expect to recruit a long-term leader from the continent. And, as the Confederation tried to recover from last year’s events, word spread around the islands that they were meant to support Webb.

At the time, CFU officials were making regular appearances before FIFA investigators and survival was all that mattered.

But the Bin Hammam bribery affair is now history and, on May 22, Antigua and Barbuda FA General Secretary Gordon Derrick was voted in as the new CFU president with support from 16 islands.

Should Derrick, who was reprimanded and fined for his role in last year’s scandal, increase his support to 18 full associations, he can claim the CONCACAF’s top post.

Derrick, a brash 43-year-old bank director, has nothing resembling Warner’s iron grip over the region, though.

The smaller islands have wiped their more illustrious neighbours from the CFU executive posts and Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Suriname, Guyana, Barbados, Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago are unrepresented. If it was a response to the perceived oppression of Warner’s term, it could prove a poor strategic move and there is already word of the bigger Caribbean nations joining to create interest groups.

On the continent, the likes of Mexico, Costa Rica and the United States—who boast of the region’s best international and domestic teams—are known to be displeased by the prospect of another spell under the thumb of a Caribbean boss. And there is a chance, however remote, that CONCACAF might be split into two or three pieces.

Webb, who lacks credentials as a football administrator and is not perceived as a natural leader, is already being measured up by his troops. And he is unlikely to find dependable allies in Blatter and Collins.

Caesar’s famous last words: “Et tu, Brute” or “And you, Brutus” were initially felt to be a yelp of surprise at betrayal from an old friend.

But some scholars suggested that it was a threat: “Your turn next, Brutus.”
More emperors are likely to fall soon in CONCACAF.

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