FIFA President Sepp Blatter arrives in the Caribbean this week seeking to tighten financial oversight in a region where some projects funded by grants from soccer’s governing body floundered.
A plan to develop a national team for the Turks and Caicos Islands “in the middle of nowhere” flopped, according to former squad member Chris Gannon. FIFA said in April it has had “difficulties” with projects on Antigua: an undated picture on its website of a planned $400,000 field shows a waterlogged plot of disused land.
Blatter will meet with officials from 22 Caribbean soccer associations and the U.S. and Canada at a five-day seminar in the Cayman Islands starting today. The trip is part of a global roadshow that aims to ensure Blatter’s reforms to increase accountability and transparency reach national federations, said FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke, who also is attending.
“FIFA cannot work at the top of the pyramid if at the bottom of the pyramid the member associations don’t have the same level of organization,” Valcke said in a video on the ruling body’s website.
Zurich-based FIFA is implementing reforms following the ousting or resignation since 2011 of executives including Trinidad-based Jack Warner, Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira and Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar amid ethics investigations. About a dozen Caribbean officials received suspensions, fines or warnings in 2011 for their involvement in a meeting where former FIFA presidential candidate Bin Hammam allegedly offered bribes. Bin Hammam has denied wrongdoing.
The Caribbean associations are part of the CONCACAF confederation, which also oversees soccer in North and Central America. The region has received $260 million of FIFA’s developments funds that have totaled about $2 billion since 1999. On July 1, FIFA began requiring national associations to put building contracts of more than $50,000 out to tender and file audited annual accounts.
The Turks and Caicos Islands Football Association was awarded $438,000 in 2001 to build an “international standard” field three years after it became affiliated to the global governing body, according to FIFA’s website.
By 2005, under pressure from Warner to enter World Cup qualifying, players had to hold raffles to finance travel to away matches, said Gannon, a British expatriate firefighter who was on the team.
“The idea to put out a national team was barmy,” Gannon said in a phone interview from Bolivia. “It would have been far better to invest in five-a-side pitches for kids.”
Warner was president of CONCACAF for 21 years through 2011 before he quit amid allegations of bribery during that year’s FIFA presidential election. He denies wrongdoing, saying he was ousted for challenging FIFA’s “oligarchy.” Warner said his CONCACAF legacy included “$37 million in the bank, three offices and unmeasured goodwill,” according to his notes from an April speech in Trinidad.
He was replaced last year by Fidelity Ltd. banker Jeffrey Webb, who heads the Cayman Islands Football Association which is hosting this week’s meetings.
FIFA has since 2010 agreed to finance an artificial field and academy in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Its projects there have had a positive impact, with the “international standard” field able to be used for small-sided games, FIFA said.
Not-for-profit FIFA didn’t elaborate on why the Antigua development projects had stalled.
“While a few projects have been less good, there are plenty of very positive examples in the CONCACAF region,” FIFA said in an e-mail, citing grass fields and facilities for indoor and beach soccer in the Bahamas.
Gannon said green paint was used to cover bald patches on the Turks and Caicos Islands field because it was too expensive to water. The team hasn’t prospered in the intervening years: after a spike in 2006 it’s now bottom of FIFA’s world rankings alongside Bhutan and San Marino.
“We’d hoped interest might pick up, but the majority aren’t interested,” Gannon said. “They wouldn’t recognize David Beckham if he turned up to play.”