FIFA soccer scandal exposes Caribbean’s corrupt underbelly

Tue Jun 16, 2015 3:46pm EDT
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By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - At a Caribbean anti-corruption conference in the Cayman Islands in March last year, politicians and activists called on regional leaders to create a culture of integrity and transparency with zero tolerance for offenders. It didn’t seem to matter to the organizer that one of the main sponsors was the regional soccer body CONCACAF that was mired in a big bribery scandal.

That organizer, the University College of the Cayman Islands, trumpeted CONCACAF’s involvement and said the aim of the gathering was “to raise awareness of the potential for corruption and decline in ethical standards across all the various sectors of society, including sports, and the consequent damaging effect on economies and social harmony.”

Little more than a year later, CONCACAF is at the center of the turmoil engulfing FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, following U.S. prosecutors’ indictment last month of nine current and former officials and five business executives in a $150 million corruption case.

Of the nine, four were members of CONCACAF, which also represents countries in North and Central America. The two most prominent from the Caribbean were former CONCACAF president Jack Warner, from Trinidad and Tobago, and the man who replaced him in that job - Jeffrey Webb from the Caymans, who was a speaker at the conference. Both had also served as FIFA vice presidents and members of its powerful 24-member executive committee.

From the tiny Caymans, a British dependent territory, to the larger independent nations of Jamaica and Trinidad, the scandal has left the region facing questions about whether a culture of corruption is embedded in small island politics and society. The abuse of soccer, which has overtaken cricket and athletics in popularity in the region, has become a symbol of that problem.

"There is a Jack Warner or two in every Caribbean parliament today," said  political scientist Tennyson Joseph at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, noting that poor public services in some islands had opened the door to populist would-be Robin Hoods.

The global anti-corruption organization, Transparency International, on Monday launched a ‘Corruption in Sport’ initiative which highlighted missing FIFA development funds in the Caribbean among other issues.

The scandal also risks damaging the island economies by deterring U.S. and other foreign banks from dealing with banks in the region.   Continued...

Former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner attends a meeting of his Independent Liberal Party in Lopinot, East Trinidad, June 11, 2015. REUTERS/Andrea De Silva