Think the unthinkable
By Raffique Shah
LAST December, after the FIFA voted on hosts for the 2018 and 2022 football World Cup, I wrote a column in which I suggested that Jack Warner might have exposed Trinidad and Tobago to negative fallouts in international relations because of the perception that he had reneged on promises made to the US and Great Britain.
Several persons commented that what I suggested amounted to "tatah". Why would the US, our biggest trading partner, and Britain, with whom we have had historic ties, even consider their failed World Cup bids as cause for retaliatory action? In any event, why the hell should these two countries think they had some inherent right to host the biggest sporting event? Didn't the other countries that bid—Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Russia, Australia, Japan, Qatar and Korea—have equal rights in the eyes of the sporting world?
I agreed with some of the points my critics raised. Indeed, I agreed with Warner when he pointed out that Britain, which hosted and won the Cup in 1966, should ask why no European country voted for it. And the US, which has hosted four of 24 Summer Olympics since 1896, as well as the 1994 World Cup, should also not believe that "might is right" in sports, as it appears to be in politics and war.
My argument then was not whether these two powerful countries deserved to be hosts of the Cup, although, from the standpoints of crowd attendance and television coverage, both would be ahead of most other countries. My main point was that Warner had wined and dined and met with some of the most powerful people from these countries prior to the controversial vote on December 2. Among them were David Beckham, who visited Trinidad, and HRH Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron, in Zurich on the eve of the vote.
Earlier, in November 2009, Warner and Sepp Blatter had met with President Obama at the White House. In Zurich, Warner said that "the CONCACAF fraternity would vote together". And he alluded to the US being a member of that fraternity.
So when the FIFA 22-man executive voted for Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 finals, there was a perception that he had jilted two powerful and very influential suitors who had wooed him prior to the vote. The USA did not openly express its disappointment, but Britain did. I warned then that there could be repercussions for Warner if he had actually made commitments, and, by extension, for our country, if there was the feeling that someone who often acts as Prime Minister, did not honour his word.
Much of what ensued—the allegations of bribery at the Hyatt, claims of attempted bribery made before a British Parliamentary Committee, summons to appear before the FIFA Ethics Committee, suspension and resignation—can be linked, directly or indirectly, to that controversial vote in Zurich. Then, Warner thought he was omnipotent. He savaged the British. And more recently, he made some very uncomplimentary remarks about America when he refused to appear before an investigative team headed by an ex-FBI officer.
Now, he is learning the hard way that while the FIFA is a very powerful body, there are forces out there infinitely more powerful than the football overlords. This matter is far from finished. In fact, it has only just begun. Influential British politicians are pushing the now-cornered Blatter to pursue allegations of corruption against Warner even though he has resigned from the many positions he held. By snubbing the FBI investigator, he is adding to his perceived sins, at least in the eyes of the power brokers in Washington.
As recently as last May, Jamaica's Energy and Mining Minister, James Robertson, had his US visa revoked by the State Department, based on allegations that he was involved in a murder-for-hire plot. Robertson stoutly denied the allegations, made by an asylum-seeker from St Thomas. He nevertheless resigned from Bruce Golding's Cabinet—to allow investigations into the charges to proceed unhindered.
Here, calls for Warner to step down from his ministerial post while the scandal rages, even intensifies, have met with resistance from him. He has vowed to stay on as Minister of Works. Most of his Cabinet colleagues are backing him. In the UNC, of which he is chairman, support for him staying on as "the hardest working minister" is almost unanimous. Against this groundswell, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is hardly likely to take decisive action. She would maintain the status quo and hope that the many controversies that now dog Warner would blow away.
They will not. Warner was not exonerated from allegations of corruption as both he and his attorney, Om Lalla, claim. FIFA dropped the charges after he resigned, which, not coincidentally, came after he received the damning report of FIFA's Ethics Committee. In other words, as Trinis would say, "Take in front before in front take you."
What all those who are rallying behind Warner fail to heed is that the long arms of London and Washington are also vengeful tentacles. I shall not be surprised if the State Department revokes Warner's visa. Many might ask: so what? After all, Warner has seen too much of America, and most of the rest of the world anyway, as he frequently boasts.
That point is valid only to those who seek "frequent flyer miles". This man has acted as Prime Minister, and may well do so again. Imagine, people, headlines screaming: Trinidad PM arrested in US! Unthinkable? Think again.