Sun | Sep 24, 2017

CONCACAF untangles from Webb

Published:Friday | May 29, 2015 | 5:00 AMShayne Fairman
In this March 12, 2015 file photo, Jeffrey Webb, president of Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), speaks during a CONCACAF news conference. Webb has been 'provisionally dismissed' from CONCACAF following his arrest Wednesday in the latest FIFA corruption scandal.

A 'deathly silence' has been prevailing over the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) - the country's top-ranking local body charged with the administration of football.

Failing to answer telephone calls from The Gleaner for a second straight day, the federation's officials appeared to be avoiding public dialogue after the region's governing football federation, CONCACAF, figured prominently in the corruption scandal engulfing world football's governing body, FIFA.

The scandal could prove game-changing internationally, as FIFA heads to the polls today to elect a new president, or return the much criticised incumbent, Joseph 'Sepp' Blatter.

Regionally, things now look just as gloomy as in Zurich, where CONCACAF president and FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb and six other officials were arrested Wednesday.

The US Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) said the arrested officials had been involved in an elaborate US$150-million corruption scheme which involved racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies, among other offences.

Five corporate executives were also named in the 47-count indictment announced by the United States Department of Justice.

Their investigations turned to competitions like CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the CONCACAF Champions League, and the CONMEBOL/CONCACAF Copa America Centenario, set for next year.

JFF President Horace Burrell, general secretary Raymond Grant, first vice-president Bruce Gaynor and second vice-president Raymond Anderson are reportedly in Zurich while their phones ring without an answer or go straight to voicemail.

Other officials in Jamaica, including third vice president Michael Ricketts, executive officer Paul Reid, among others could not be reached by telephone.

Across the region, Barbados Football Association's (BFA) president, Randy Harris, who is also in Zurich for today's FIFA presidential elections, said Webb's arrest has left an "air of despondency" over the regional confederation.

His comments came in a CMC media report Wednesday, hours after Swiss law-enforcement authorities swooped down on a hotel in Zurich and arrested the FIFA officials.

"Basically, it came out of the blue. When we awoke (Wednesday) morning we heard the news, and obviously, we were shocked, because just the night before we had a cocktail reception with some of the persons who were nabbed," said Harris.

"There is an air of despondency here (Zurich). Obviously we are very, very concerned that some of those nabbed are members of CONCACAF," he continued.

Harris credited Webb for building strong relationships with regional associations during his relatively short time in charge.

Webb was elected CONCACAF president in 2012, and would have assumed his first full term in charge. The Caymanian would have been installed during this week's FIFA Congress which began on Thursday.

His spell in charge comes against the backdrop of a similar corruption scandal, which claimed long-serving football strongman, Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, who has been named as a defendant in the indictment.

 

Nothing to fear

 

Harris explained that Webb "had a very good relationship with all the members of CONCACAF".

"It was unbelievable he would have been in any company such as that, but you're innocent until proven guilty, so we'll wait and see the outcome," Harris said, noting that the BFA had nothing to fear amid the latest scandal.

"This (scandal) is not anywhere near the level of the member associations. This is alleged to have happened at the very top, with the people who make the decisions, the movers and shakers. We have nothing to worry about," stressed the Barbadian football president.

In the meantime, CONCACAF "provisionally dismissed" Webb, in order to stem fall-out from the scandal.

Other CONCACAF officials to be dismissed include Eduardo Li, president of the Costa Rica federation, while CONCACAF General Secretary Enrique Sanz was placed on immediate leave of absence.

Sanz was not among those arrested or named in the alleged corruption scandal, however.

Senior vice-president Alfredo Hawit was installed as interim head of CONCACAF yesterday.

"While we are profoundly disappointed by the allegations made by authorities that again, CONCACAF has been the victim of fraud, we remain committed to CONCACAF's goal to develop, promote and manage the game of soccer," said Hawit.

"We have now taken the appropriate steps to maintain our operations and continue to deliver on our commitments to all of our constituents, including our fans, members, as well as commercial and broadcast partners," he continued.

Hawit said: "We also continue to cooperate with the ongoing investigation by governmental authorities, which have not placed any restrictions on our ongoing activities."

shayne.fairman@gleanerjm.com