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FIFA’s lack of transparency all too evident in latest scandal

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What now?

That’s the question being asked by soccer fans around the world at this moment.

On Sunday, FIFA suspended former presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam — who withdrew from the race earlier in the day — along with CONCACAF president Jack Warner and Caribbean Football Union members Debbie Minguell and Jason Sylvester. Bin Hammam is accused of offering bribes of up to US$40,000 to CFU members — a May 10-11 meeting in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago that was arranged by Warner — in exchange for votes.

Petrus Damaseb, the Namibian delegate in charge of the preliminary investigation, stressed that the four suspended members are innocent until proven guilty, and that a full inquiry should be completed in July.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter will not face any further investigation. The FIFA presidential election will still take place Wednesday, where Blatter will be coronated now that Bin Hamman is out of the race.

During Sunday’s press conference, FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke bristled when asked if he thought it was best for the organization to postpone the Wednesday vote.

“Why, because the media are saying that we should postpone the elections?” said Valcke, who noted all of the media members in the auditorium who were snickering at him. “For what reason? I mean, legally speaking, and what has happened, is perfectly defined and it is perfectly clear… there is no reason to postpone.”

Valcke’s staunch rebuke of a legitimate question about the optics of allowing Blatter to be re-elected is a microcosm of the whole FIFA problem. He knew that his statement was going to make him a laughingstock, but he did it anyway. Why? Because, in the end, neither he or FIFA answers to the media. Actually, FIFA doesn’t answer to anybody.

That’s the rub. The crackdown on corruption in FIFA can’t be taken seriously until FIFA allows someone else to do it. Damaseb spoke of bringing in some top legal minds from around the world as the investigation continues; he praised the fact that Robert Torres, who sat on the disciplinary committee, is the Chief Supreme Court Justice of Guam in his day job.

But, Damaseb stressed that, no matter what legal opinions it gets, FIFA will always control the investigation. Just as FIFA forbids political and/or judicial interference in the matters of national associations, it doesn’t want to be judged by, well, a judge.

But, it’s clear that the public no longer trusts FIFA members. To us, innocent or guilty, Bin Hammam and Warner will be subjected to show trials. We need FIFA to halt its assertion that it exists outside of governments and legal systems; that it can write its own rulebook. We have an international court; we should use it.

Better yet, just as professional leagues will do to sort out labour disputes, FIFA could find a real solid independent arbitrator. Getting an American adjudicator would be the best option. Why? A U.S. arbitrator — think of a Kennesaw Mountain Landis type, a tough-as-nails judge who, because he comes from a country where soccer has yet to become mainstream — wouldn’t be intimidated or even moved by the FIFA razzle dazzle.

Former International Olympic Committee vice-president Dick Pound told the BBC Sunday that he thinks member associations need to start talking about breaking away and forming a new international association. If the right ones jumped, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a stampede for the door. It might not take much to move a lot of CONCACAF members, considering how they feel their region has been marginalized in the World Cup qualifying process.

England didn’t treat the World Cup as a serious concern until after the Second World War.

Heck, organizers of the first World Cup had to literally beg countries to come to Uruguay and compete for a title no one at the time thought was all that important. FIFA has divorced itself from those humble beginnings.

The back-and-forth allegations require some bending of logic. Bin Hammam admits that he helped arrange for the Caribbean delegates to travel to Port-au-Prince, but denies offering the payments for votes. Yet, Blatter was implicated by Bin Hammam camp because they alleged the FIFA president knew about the payment scheme (the ones Bin Hammam claims he didn’t make) and had no issue with it.

Warner’s personal Brutus was none other than his No. 2, CONCACAF general secretart Chuck Blazer. He was the one who alerted FIFA to the alleged bribes at the Caribbean meeting. What is interesting is that Blazer, who couldn’t hold back his anger over FIFA’s recent decision not to give CONCACAF more World Cup spots, wasn’t seen as a friend of Blatter’s.

But Bin Hammam led the successful Qatar bid for the 2022 World Cup, which has faced allegations of bribery and vote-trading; the United States, Blazer’s home country, was the big loser in that battle.

The allegations of bribery were strengthened when the Disciplinary Committee received a letter from the Puerto Rican federation backing Blazer’s whistle-blowing.

Bin Hamman withdrew from the presidential race Saturday (in North American time zones), claiming that the good of the game was more important than a battle between two bitter factions. But the appearance is that he saw the writing of the wall.

Bin Hammam has acknowledged paying travel and accommodation expenses, and conference costs, but denies vote-buying.

Warner, though, has come out with guns blazing. He promised earlier this weekend that he would bring a “football tsunami” on FIFA. On Sunday night, on the official Facebook page of Trinidad and Tobago’s Soca Warriors, an open letter from a source that claimed to be Jack Warner appeared. In it, there was the allegation that Blatter improperly used FIFA money when he visited regional delegates in Miami.

“I denied the allegations that I made statements at the CFU meeting about gifts being given by Mr Bin Hammam.  I also indicated that at the Miami CONCACAF Congress on May 3rd Mr. Blatter made a gift of one million USD to CONCACAF to spend as it deems fit. This annoyed (UEFA) President Michel Platini who was present and he approached Secretary General Jerome Valcke complaining that Mr. Blatter had no permission from the Finance Committee to make this gift to which Jerome replied that he will find the money for Mr Blatter.”

So, the allegations keep flying. And they will no doubt keep coming. That’s why FIFA has to release the investigation from its own hands and give the public a reason to trust this organization again.

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