The Two Sides Of Jack Warner

Ian Burnett
Date Published: 
Jamaica Observer

Bridgetown, Barbados - Based on what I've observed over the past two FIFA presidential elections, world football is big politics, and apparently that has been adopted at the regional level.

The name Austin "Jack" Warner resonates throughout the Caribbean. Indeed, Warner is president of Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) and the Caribbean Football Union (CFU), and a vice-president of FIFA.

The power he wields in regional football is unbelievable. He speaks with a level of authority and finality that is second to none, and one can't help but sense fear among regional heads when he is around.

Having heard rumblings that Jamaica could lose the benefit of the FIFA Goal Project because of tardiness, and that the thorny issue of TV rights was to be raised by the Jamaican delegation of president Crenston Boxhill, second deputy president Linnel McLean and general secretary Burchell Gibson at the CFU ordinary congress on Sunday, a colleague and I requested and received permission to attend the congress at the Lodge Hill Hotel.

During the congress, which was attended by 28 of the 30 countries, the issue of TV rights was raised by the president, who stated that forms had been sent to the various countries to be signed and returned, but not all countries had complied with the request.

He declared in no uncertain manner that there was "nothing to hide", and that the current structure of the TV rights deal was best for the Caribbean countries as a group.

He said that the proposal for the 2010 World Cup was that the rights be sold to Traffic Sports for US$2 million, up from US$900,000 for the 2006 World Cup.

The FIFA vice-president recommended that the marketing departments of CONCACAF and the CFU meet and work out the best possible deal for the region, before he opened the floor to any dissenting voice. No one voiced any objection.
After the congress, my colleague and I managed to pin down the regional boss for an interview, relating to all matters concerning Jamaica and its football.

It was at this time that Warner reported that there were some problems, created by the long delay in having the Goal project started. He said he was travelling to Zurich for a meeting with the Goal Project committee in an effort to "salvage" the project on Jamaica's behalf.

He explained that under the Goal Bureau rules, FIFA could take back the project and give it to another country.
On the subject of TV rights, he declared that he "had no problem with any of the other countries." and that "no countries shall be allowed to breach any decision taken by the congress as far as TV rights are concerned".

He spoke about hearing "some rumblings in Jamaica" and that he was "disappointed and annoyed" with what he read and heard, but after speaking to JFF president Crenston Boxhill and his colleagues, who had "denied what I heard", he put the issue to rest and hoped never to raise it again.
On the proposed sale of the JFF building, the president was very clear. He said he would not allow that to happen to any country in the Caribbean, or even CONCACAF.

"No country in CONCACAF will be allowed to sell its heritage, the legacy that it has, not even to lease and rent back. it would be a failure on my part if I were to let this happen," he said.

The FIFA vice president further revealed that something must be wrong when every country in the region, which is eligible for the FIFA hurricane relief funds, was paid, except Jamaica.

He said he couldn't understand why Jamaica was taking so long to access the money that is there. According to the president, he was told that some documentation was needed to complete the process, and as such he committed himself to meeting with Boxhill to see what the problems were and how he could help because if the money was not accepted now, it would go back to FIFA. "The sea is full of water, you never carry water back to the sea," he said, referring to FIFA's wealth. "FIFA doesn't need the money. Jamaica needs it and if the money goes back to FIFA, that can't make sense."
And while refusing to point an accusatory finger, Warner said: "All I would say is that I expected better."

The interview with the CONCACAF and CFU head seemed fairly straightforward.That was until president Boxhill painted a very different picture after meeting with Warner less than 24 hours after the interview with the Jamaican media.

"Talking to the president today (Monday) we definitely didn't get any such impression," Boxhill claimed. "He (Warner) told us that there was no way that Jamaica could lose that project, and that there was nothing for us to worry about. we are to just go ahead and do what we are doing and if we have any problems, feel free to call him at any time. And the same thing applies to the Hurricane relief fund," said a somewhat perplexed Boxhill.

Sources close to the JFF have hinted that all the fuss about the threat of losing the Goal Project and hurricane relief fund was all a bluff, since members of the JFF had openly questioned the whole concept of the sale of the region's TV rights to Traffic Sports.

One view espoused by the JFF is that it could benefit much more from handling its own TV rights, as opposed to the collective deal being struck by the CFU.

"I am quite satisfied," Boxhill said about the meeting with Warner. "We spoke about the financial problem that we are having and he (Warner) even gave us some advice and suggestions. We spoke about the TV rights, we made some suggestions and he said he figured they were good suggestions and that they would be looked into, so all in all I am satisfied that the discussions we had with president Warner were quite fruitful," reiterated the local football boss, who added that it came as a shock to him when he heard about the possible threat of losing the Goal Project and hurricane relief grant.

And even regarding the JFF headquarters, the source claimed that the regional boss had suggested that it could be used to generate money for the federation through rental, lease etc, a far cry from his emphatic tone the previous day.

Thankfully, the adherence to basic journalistic tenets led me to the JFF, and then to Harold Taylor, the FIFA Development Officer for the region. By then the story was obvious - contradictory, to say the least. Taylor stated in no uncertain manner that the projects were never in danger of being lost.