FIFA vice-president Jack Warner yesterday pleaded not guilty to allegations of bribery on the eve of today's hearing of the matter before the Ethics Committee of football's world governing body in Zurich, Switzerland. Warner leaves Port-of-Spain today for the meeting and will return home on Thursday. On Wednesday, FIFA will vote to elect a new President. Warner told reporters in an interview at the Red House yesterday that he would release his full statement today. "I have nothing to answer to," he added.
He said all the allegations were being made because of the elections. He said the last time there was such controversy in FIFA was in the run-up to the 2002 elections when there was a contest for the top post.
He said because there was again a contest for the same post, these developments were taking place.
"I am not surprised...I would have thought that you guys would have seen through this," Warner said.
"FIFA politics is far, far bigger than the politics you are seeing here, it makes our politics look like child's play. "At the end of the day, if even the worst happens, I am still president of Concacaf...At the end of the day, you believe the general secretary of Concacaf can't work with me? Warner said he was almost 70 years old "and my Jack hasn't been hung as yet, why it should be hung now and by whom? The American Chuck Blazer (Concacaf General Secretary and FIFA executive member), his American lawyer John Collins? Give me a break. Give me a break.
"I am not the faint-hearted, you know...Let them go ahead I have no problem with that," he said.
"I will hold my head high to the very end because I repeat here again totally I am not guilty of a single iota of wrongdoing." "Responding to an e-mail , which was being claimed to be another act of wrongdoing on Warner's part, the Works and Transport Minister questioned the seriousness of that allegation.
He said the e-mail simply requested assistance for Haiti to get two big screens at a cost of more than $1 million to see the World Cup. "What is wrong with that?" Warner asked. "A simple e-mail about Haiti to get some big screens, that make news, boy I am amazed." Asked about his relations with FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Warner said: "Just bear in mind that I am (we are) the only confederation that has not said how we voting. He came to Miami. I told him that I have to hear Mr bin Hammam (president of the Asian Football Federation) and I was leaving for Trinidad, since he couldn't come to the US, we shall hear him in the Caribbean.
I did that. I knew they weren't pleased with it but I did it for fairplay." Warner insisted that he did not "believe I should rubber-stamp Mr Blatter. "We have had our differences in the past, very serious ones too, that didn't influence me in any way, but I wanted to hear Mr bin Hammam...I thought that was the correct thing to do." Warner reminded that bin Hammam was the Qatari who led the campaign for the fight for the World Cup 2022. "It was Mr bin Hammam's Qatar who beat the US (bid) for the World Cup finals in 2022, and there has been some resentment still, and the feeling is that I should not be talking to him or his friend," Warner said.
"I voted for the US , and I, like Mr Blazer, was devastated over the fact that the US (had) lost. "But I would not allow that to impugn Mr bin Hammam's character or destroy our friendship...I am not that kind of person and if Mr Blazer and them want to do that let them go ahead, I will not." Warner then said a football bombshell was about to hit the world. "In the next couple days, you will see a football tsunami that will hit FIFA and the world and will shock you," he said. "The time has come when I must stop playing dead. So you'll see it, it's coming, trust me it is coming by now and Monday." In response to other questions, Warner said he had been in FIFA for the past 29 years "and if the worst happens, the worst happens. He said: "If it comes so, so be it. You must never get too attached to anything, it colours your judgment and therefore what ever happens, happens, que sera sera. I am not even remotely bothered. They can do what they want, it does not bother me."
He noted that he was again on the world stage. He said his media blackout was not directed at the media in T&T, but those in Britain and other foreign nations. He said he was not about to retire.
"You don't retire when you are perceived to be under pressure," he insisted. Warner told reporters yesterday that he was "the first black man that was ever in FIFA at this level." He said he was from the smallest nation ever to be on FIFA's executive committee. "I am wielding more power in FIFA now than sometimes the president and therefore I must be the envy of others," he said. "In terms of football history, my colleagues don't even have one and therefore there are people out there who will ask themselves why should I be there and what is my role?"
He said he had become the target of all kinds of attacks, which he accepted without any anger. "FIFA has 24 persons on the executive committee, Europe has nine, if the other 15 people are crooks and thieves and no good and so on, how come England only got one vote?" Warner said. "Why is it the other people in Europe didn't vote for England? And nobody wants to answer that question. "Why is it Jack Warner is being held as the person who bring them down? So I am Mandrake then. "The US is accusing me of not working hard enough for them. What more do you want me to do? "I did for the US all I could have done. "I know when I propose to leave FIFA, but it won't be on a walking stick or when I reach 75."