Anger lingers

Sir David Simmons’ panel to hand in report next month to CONCACAF.
Sir David Simmons’ panel to hand in report next month to CONCACAF.

ZURICH – With a seat on FIFA’s rule-making panel up for grabs, the fallout from a regional financial scandal could hurt the United States in its quest to maintain a place at the table.

A final review of the North American football body’s finances under former leaders Jack Warner and Chuck Blazer will be revealed on April 19 in Panama City.

The meeting will bring together officials from the 40 members of CONCACAF, the body which represents football federations from North and Central America and the Caribbean.

A specially-appointed integrity panel is also weighing sanctions against Warner, a disgraced former FIFA vice-president, and Blazer, the most senior American official at FIFA for 16 years.

“Members are obviously very disappointed, some of them deeply disappointed, and they have a right to be,” CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb said yesterday at FIFA headquarters.

Lingering anger is expected towards Blazer, whose whistleblower role alleging a FIFA election bribery plot in 2011 cost Warner the CONCACAF presidency and led FIFA to investigate more than 20 Caribbean football leaders.

With Blazer not seeking re-election to his FIFA executive committee seat, CONCACAF members will choose between Justino Compean of Mexico and Sunil Gulati of the United States to serve them in Zurich for the next four years.

Webb said that it was a “possibility” that feelings toward Blazer could affect the chances of Gulati, the president of the US Soccer Federation.

“I think that would be unfair to Sunil,” Webb said. “It’s possible but I would hope, and I would think, that our membership is much more mature and beyond that.”

Voting is scheduled on the day CONCACAF officials get a full audit from consultants BDO, who previously described “material weaknesses and significant deficiencies”.

Webb said he hopes the Panama gathering will end two years of turmoil within CONCACAF.

“It’s a necessary process for us,” Webb said. “Obviously we cannot continue to live in the past and continue to revisit. It’s a healing process.”

At a heated meeting in Budapest last year, members learned that Warner – not CONCACAF – legally owned and had an unauthorised mortgage on a FIFA-funded $22.5 million training centre in his native Trinidad. Blazer’s million-dollar payments from his 10 per cent commissions, approved by Warner, on commercial deals he helped negotiate also provoked outrage.

Also, Warner and Qatari candidate Mohamed bin Hammam were implicated in offering US$40,000 cash payments to Caribbean voters in Trinidad during bin Hammam’s failed run for the FIFA presidency. Blazer helped gather evidence for FIFA and bin Hammam was suspended before Sepp Blatter was re-elected unopposed.

Blazer stepped down as CONCACAF general secretary in late 2011, before the forensic audit was ordered.

On the sidelines of last year’s FIFA Congress, CONCACAF countries elected Webb to succeed Warner and then listened to BDO’s interim findings.

CONCACAF, which had been run by Blazer in New York, reported itself to the Internal Revenue Service for failure to report tax returns since at least 2007. It had “potential tax liabilities” in excess of its $2 million reserves.

Webb said the audit and a report by the integrity panel, chaired by former Barbados chief justice David Simmons, will be presented to CONCACAF’s executive committee on April 18, then to members the next day.

“They wanted transparency, they wanted clarity, they wanted to know what has existed in the past,” Webb said.

Also in Panama, five of the 40 countries should be upgraded to full CONCACAF member status and move closer to FIFA recognition. They are Netherlands territory of St. Maarten, French Guyana and French overseas departments Guadeloupe, Martinique and St. Martin.

Webb said they could join FIFA by 2015 and “definitely” be eligible to enter qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. (AP)†††

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