Blazer – cor­rupt and cor­pu­lent

CityPress - - Sport - KEIR RADNEDGE sports@city­

Charles Blazer, the US soc­cer ad­min­is­tra­tor whose en­forced and self­in­crim­i­nat­ing ad­mis­sions lifted the lid on the scan­dal-wracked ex­cesses within in­ter­na­tional foot­ball fed­er­a­tion Fifa’s lead­er­ship, died this week aged 72 af­ter a long bat­tle with can­cer.

In 2011, Blazer was hailed as a whistle­blower af­ter re­port­ing to the world fed­er­a­tion how Caribbean of­fi­cials were handed cash-stuffed en­velopes in Port of Spain, the cap­i­tal city of the Repub­lic of Trinidad and Tobago, at a con­fer­ence to raise sup­port for the Fifa pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Qatar’s Mo­hamed bin Ham­mam.

At the time, Blazer was the gen­eral sec­re­tary of Con­ca­caf, the con­fed­er­a­tion govern­ing foot­ball in North and Cen­tral Amer­ica and the Caribbean. Jack Warner, a Trinida­dian, was Con­ca­caf pres­i­dent. The pair had worked closely for 20 years.

But ad­mi­ra­tion for Blazer did not last long. Fol­low­ing a damn­ing in­ter­nal probe into cor­rup­tion in foot­ball, Warner re­signed from all po­si­tions in in­ter­na­tional foot­ball in 2011, and, in 2015, was banned from the sport for life.

In­ves­ti­ga­tions un­cov­ered how he and Blazer had cashed in on their work to the tune of mil­lions of dol­lars. In De­cem­ber 2012, Blazer re­signed as gen­eral sec­re­tary of Con­ca­caf, although he re­mained a mem­ber of the Fifa ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee un­til July 2013, when he was banned pro­vi­sion­ally for 90 days from all foot­ball ac­tiv­i­ties.

In 2015, Fifa banned him for life. It was a sad end­ing to his ear­lier record, when Blazer had worked hard to pro­mote and de­velop the sport in the US. He was in­stru­men­tal in bring­ing the World Cup there for the first time in 1994.

In the fall­out af­ter the Con­ca­caf scan­dal, it emerged that Blazer had not made any per­sonal or cor­po­rate tax dec­la­ra­tions for years. Un­der pres­sure from the FBI and the US In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice, he lifted the lid on the crooked web op­er­ated by many Fifa ex­ec­u­tives, and on some of his col­leagues within Con­ca­caf and the South Amer­i­can con­fed­er­a­tion, Con­mebol.

These rev­e­la­tions led to the dra­matic ar­rests of seven se­nior foot­ball ex­ec­u­tives on the eve of the Fifa congress in Zurich in May 2015, and to the Fifa­gate probe into col­lu­sion be­tween Con­ca­caf and Con­mebol of­fi­cials and sports mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tives.

Fifa­gate has seen more than 40 peo­ple – in­clud­ing Warner and his two sons – and com­pa­nies charged with cor­rup­tion of­fences amount­ing to more than $200 mil­lion (R2.6 bil­lion) hav­ing been skimmed off foot­ball spon­sor­ship and broad­cast­ing con­tracts in the Amer­i­cas.

Blazer made the most of his power, celebrity and wealth. He es­tab­lished Con­ca­caf in Trump Tower on New York’s af­flu­ent Fifth Av­enue, where he also had two apart­ments of his own. One he shared with his pet par­rot, Max, and one was, for years, re­served for his girl­friend’s cats.

He kept a vin­tage Mercedes-Benz parked in Fifa’s garage in Zurich, but, in later years, he grew so cor­pu­lent that he could move around only with the use of a mo­bile scooter. It was while head­ing to one of his favourite New York restau­rants that his ex­cur­sion and ca­reer were brought to a halt by FBI and rev­enue ser­vice agents.

The high point of Blazer’s Fifa ten­ure was his rise to chair­man­ship of the cru­cial mar­ket­ing and TV com­mit­tee, which ne­go­ti­ated the deals on which the fi­nances of the soc­cer World Cup and Fifa de­pended. In that role, he cham­pi­oned the con­tro­ver­sial ex­ec­u­tive vote to run bid­ding si­mul­ta­ne­ously for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The de­ci­sion may have paid off in the short term, but the po­lit­i­cal dam­age proved fi­nan­cially cat­a­strophic as po­ten­tial spon­sors van­ished.

Iron­i­cally, Blazer once named his foot­ball idol as João Have­lange, the for­mer long-serv­ing Fifa pres­i­dent, call­ing him “a ma­jes­tic sym­bol of el­e­gance in our sport”.

This ar­ti­cle ap­peared on the AIPS web­site

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