FIFA Farce, Day 4: Blazer Fired, Unfired

Oh, it's on....

CONCACAF appointed an interim president in the wake of Jack Warner’s recent suspension, and that fella—who hails from Barbados and is called Lisle Austin—took it upon himself yesterday to “fire” Chuck Blazer, the American general secretary of CONCACAF who made allegations of bribery against Warner and former FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed bin Hammam.

Austin faxed a dismissal letter to Blazer’s Zurich hotel room, citing “inexcusable” conduct and “a gross misconduct of duty and of judgment” as reasons for the action.

Within hours, though, CONCACAF called Austin’s play an “unauthorized declaration” and published the following statement on its website:

“This attempted action was taken without any authority. Under the CONCACAF Statutes, jurisdiction over the General Secretary rests solely with the CONCACAF Executive Committee, which has taken no action. Further, a majority of the Executive Committee Members have advised Mr. Austin that he does not have the authority to take such action.

“Chuck Blazer continues as CONCACAF General Secretary and with the full authority of his office. The Confederation continues its normal operations including the Gold Cup commencing on June 5th at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.”

Today, Austin sowed further confusion by firing back, through Warner’s media service in Port of Spain, Trinidad, with the following:

“The statement released by the CONCACAF Media Department last night as it relates to the status of the former General Secretary Chuck Blazer are not the official views of CONCACAF.

“This is yet another blatant disregard for process and procedure by the former staff member.”

Austin went on to imply that Blazer himself published the statement on CONCACAF’s website, since he “was [is?] one of the administrators of the servers used by the CONCACAF department and has access to it and presently still has access to all of the Confederation’s online service.”

Here’s an interesting compare-and-contrast exercise: the story as reported in Warner’s home country, in the Trinidad Express, versus The New York Times account.

CONCACAF’s premier tournament, the Gold Cup, kicks off on Saturday, and amid all the uncertainty, one thing’s for sure: The final trophy presentation is going to be very interesting.

Both Warner and Sepp Blatter were present for the 2009 edition.

Speaking of Blatter, see here for the latest on today’s presidential election.

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Foxes Investigate FIFA Henhouse; Blatter Cleared, Bin Hammam and Warner Suspended

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was cleared of wrongdoing by an ethics panel Sunday, paving the way for him to run unopposed for a fourth term in Wednesday’s election.

Executive committee members Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago and Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar were both suspended indefinitely in the wake of accusations that they offered $40,000 apiece to roughly 24 federation officials from the Caribbean in exchange for their votes for bin Hammam as FIFA president.

(Bin Hammam withdrew from the election before the panel convened, and he accused Blatter of knowing about and not opposing the alleged payments, hence Blatter’s appearance before the panel.)

Neither bin Hammam nor Warner was found guilty in the investigation, but both are suspended from any involvement with soccer until a full judicial inquiry can be staged.

Namibian judge Petrus Damaseb, who oversaw the inquiry, said that the suspensions were necessary to “ensure that the investigation [pending; likely in July] is not compromised.”

No word on whether this statement was met by snickers, but plenty of comments at Blatter’s Monday press conference in Zurich were. A quick sampler, courtesy of The New York Times:

“I am the president of FIFA; you cannot question me.”

(Actual quote. No, really.)

“I believe that the decision which we took for World Cup 2022 was done exactly clean in the same pattern and again I say what I said at beginning of press conference there is no issue for the World Cup 2022.”

(This one prompted such a reaction from the assembled media that Blatter followed it up with: “We are not in a bazaar here, we are in FIFA House.”)

“Something has changed in FIFA and we will try to change more in future. I cannot change members of my government, it is not up to me.”

Blatter pleaded for respect over the reporter grumblings that followed that one, then abruptly pulled the plug on the press conference, walking offstage as journalists tried to lob more questions his way.

Good times.

Other Juicy Bits From the Fallout

• “Why should I be hanged now, and by whom? The American Chuck Blazer? His American lawyer, John Collins? Give me a break, guys. I will hold my head high to the very end. I am not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing.”

—ExCo member and CONCACAF president Jack Warner, speaking in the Trinidad Parliament on the eve of the ethics panel.

Merriam Webster has announced they will replace their current definition of the word chutzpah with the above.

Also, apparently, the word “American” is an insult in Trinidad and Tobago.

• There were two cases before the panel on Sunday. One involved bribery surrounding Wednesday’s FIFA presidential election, the other concerned vote-selling for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids.

In the latter, two FIFA ExCo members were suspended and four were cleared, due to insufficient evidence.

Among the cleared, our favorite was Nicolás Léoz of Paraguay, who (allegedly) requested both an honorary knighthood and that the FA Cup be named after him in exchange for voting for England’s 2018 bid.

That is just fantastic, and we applaud the imagination involved.

But there are some logistical issues. How, for example, would both honors be explained? Oh, yeah, this Paraguayan bureaucrat has been integral to English football and culture since way, way back in the day. We need to get that guy knighted, or at the very least, rename our 140-year-old domestic competition in his honor—stat. The British people will instantly recognize both honors as long overdue.

Finally, there was the following sensational statement from Blatter in his column on Inside World Football:

“When a Swiss farmer’s neighbor has a cow while he has none, the less fortunate farmer will work twice as hard so that one day he can buy a cow as well. When another farmer, elsewhere, on an island, say, has no cow but his neighbor does, that farmer will kill the neighbor’s cow out of sheer malice.

“I’d rather be a Swiss farmer, like it or not.”

On an island, say, ….”  Sepp—very subtle. Jack Warner lives on an island, doesn’t he?

Well, the island farmer was talking tough after Sunday’s hearing, promising that a “tsunami” of bad news would be visited upon FIFA in the coming weeks.

In any event, it’s on to Wednesday’s “election,” over the objection of British sports minister Hugh Robertson, who, according to the Times, has called on FIFA to suspend the vote, saying, “I think the process is fast descending into farce.”

We’re Pretty Sure this Is A Record: Five Misses in 20 Seconds

We’re going outside our jurisdiction to bring you this highlight from a Greek second division game between Veria and Levadiakos.

Behold, as Veria (we think) has five clear chances in a 20-second span, clanging three of them off the woodwork and missing the other two:

Next up, Veria players let loose at the broad side of a barn in training.

(We also enjoyed how the keeper comes out and berates his backline after the deluge passes. He should have been kissing his goalposts.)

Your Juicy Post–World Cup Blind Items About England Players

Fasten your seatbelts: From our Fleet Street* moles come the following two fall-off-the-bone juicy rumors that could, if true, explain why England looked so unbelievably horrible at South Africa 2010:

Number 1:

One of the Sunday tabloids will print a story this weekend claiming that an England player got caught with a prostitute just before the World Cup (picture evidence—the lot), and the paper agreed to postpone printing until after England crashed out of the World Cup. It will go live this weekend. The player was aware of this situation throughout the World Cup.

Number 2:

Another player has got his wife’s sister pregnant. He has a gagging order on this story that expired today, but it’s been renewed for another two weeks. One of his teammates knew about the situation, and was furious that the player was not disciplined for the indiscretion. These two players cannot stand each other, and their rift divided the team.

These items exist at the level of gossip and rumor right now. But considering what’s already gone on with this team, would anybody be surprised if they turned out to be true?

Further, the libel laws in England are famously strict in favor of complainants, so if a tabloid is going to publish a story (see the John Terry contretemps), chances are it’s got its facts straight.

Stay tuned; we may have an answer on No. 1 this weekend.

*Not actually the home of the British press any longer….