Hours ahead of today's controversial FIFA election, suspended vice-president Jack Warner has changed tack, supporting incumbent FIFA jefe Sepp Blatter to head the football body-the same day FIFA's Caribbean division fired Chuck Blazer who had levelled bribery allegations against Warner.This, as Prime Minister Kamla Persad- Bissessar yesterday reiterated support for the embattled Warner.A trail of 11th-hour developments arose yesterday ahead of FIFA's election, taking place this morning in Zurich where the international football body has been fending off corruption allegations in the last week. Warner has been at the centre of the firestorm of bribery allegations which arose after CONCACAF general secretary Blazer pointed the finger at him. Warner and FIFA executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam were suspended, pending investigation by FIFA's Ethics Committee that they arranged for US$1 million in bribes to be offered to 25 Caribbean associations at a special meeting in Trinidad early last month.Bin Hammam, of Qatar, had been contesting the post of FIFA president against Blatter. He dropped out on Sunday, leaving Blatter as the only candidate.European and African member states have urged postponement of the elections because of the controversy.
On Monday, Warner had said that "at the end of the day, Blatter has to be stopped." He threatened to unleash a "tsunami" on the football world.That day also, new CONCACAF head Lisle Austin-who replaced the suspended Warner-called on Blazer to say within 48 hours what authority he had to probe allegations of misconduct by CONCACAF members. Yesterday, Austin wrote Blazer informing him of his termination.He said Blazer has "grossly insulted and defamed" every Caribbean member of CONCACAF by stating that each member association was under probe for bribery.Austin said Blazer hired the law firm of Collins & Collins to conduct an "unauthorised investigation" of CONCACAF, personnel and members.Austin said Blazer did not inform him and had also "usurped" the president's authority to chair CONCACAF meetings. He said Blazer improperly appointed non-elected members to act as delegates for today's election.Labelling Blazer's conduct "inexcusable" and "gross misconduct," Austin said Blazer was no longer "fit to act" as CONCACAF secretary general. Blazer has to turn over all CONCACAF materials, including records next Monday.
On Monday, Blazer said his relationship with Warner was "broken." However, an e-mailed statement issued by CONCACAF's executive committee last night, with a New York dateline, claimed Austin made an unauthorised declaration in attempting to remove Blazer.The statement read: "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."A majority of the executive committee members have advised Mr Austin that he does not have the authority to take such action. Blazer continues as CONCACAF general secretary, with the full authority of his office."As Blazer was being fired, Warner yesterday wrote members of the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) asking them to desist from protest action at today's FIFA election and urging support for Blatter.This, after Warner's statements on Monday saying Blatter had to be stopped.Warner told CFU members yesterday: "At our last meeting, we agreed as a union to support the incumbent Joseph Sepp Blatter in his quest to regain the presidency. I wish to assure you nothing has changed-our mandate was set then and despite it all we must fulfill it."Warning CFU members against division, Warner acknowledged that many of them were hurting over his suspension.He said: "It is only human nature you would want to demonstrate your anger but despite all we must not fuel a fire set by others to incinerate all that we strive for."He did not respond to calls on the reason for his about-face.Warner returns home tomorrow.
Meanwhile, a UK Guardian report noted that bin Hammam defended himself on the bribery allegations, saying the money involved in the alleged issue was for expenses related to the CFU's May 10-11 meeting in Port-of-Spain. The report states:"Since this was an extraordinary meeting of the CFU, Mr bin Hammam found it correct and insisted to pay the travelling and accommodation expenses of the delegates, as well as the overall costs of the conference."For this purpose, Mr bin Hammam transferred the estimated costs of US$360,000 to the CFU, prior to the meeting in Trinidad."The Warner issue figured in (and out) of Parliament yesterday from the Opposition's direction with PNM senator Fitzgerald Hinds calling for the Police Commissioner to probe bribery allegations against Warner.Hinds noted that it was a crime in T&T to offer a bribe.Hinds also called for the Comptroller of Customs to probe allegations how (US) currency was imported into T&T on the issue.Hinds said the situation also warranted investigation by the Anti-Corruption Bureau and Fraud Squad.PNM's new "rebirth" group which has supported former Prime Minister Patrick Manning's democracy walk, also said Warner's behaviour continued to damage T&T's reputation.Group PRO Joel Primus said: "FIFA's Ethics Committee has determined that a prima facie case has been made against Warner and a detailed investigation, commissioned. Under these circumstances, the Prime Minister cannot adopt a wait-and-see attitude." Condemning Government for "double standards," the group stated:"If Mary King could be fired pending the results of an investigation, so must Jack Warner. This must be referred to the Integrity Commission as the alleged corrupt acts appear to have occurred in T&T."The Prime Minister's failure to act in this would be an admission of naked hypocrisy, given her sanctimonious stance against public officials during the previous administration who have yet to be charged for anything."If the Prime Minister does not take immediate, decisive action in this matter, we call on her to dissolve Parliament forthwith."