EARL BEST goes back to learn from history
Give a dog a bad name, the adage tells us, and hang him. Presumably, in Trinidad and Tobago in 2012, if your surname is Warner, the first part takes care of itself. With the possible exception of the Chaguanas West constituency, everywhere you turn these days, in Port of Spain or in Port-au-Prince, in politics or in sport, at sunset or on Carnival Sunday, it seems the hunt is on; people are intent on hanging Jack. Not, it is alleged, without reason, the name Jack Austin Warner is dirt. It is not the first time; perhaps, just perhaps, it will not be the last. As Wired868 recently pointed out, the ol’ JAW boasts through his choice of an e-mail name that he is “dsurvivor.”
Let us therefore travel back in time to an era when the old survivor was seemingly fighting for his life. The date is November 1989. The Strike Squad, Trinidad and Tobago’s National Football team, is riding high; for the second time in its history after Haiti in 1974 when we were robbed of a place, the country is on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup Finals. Against all the odds, Everald “Gally” Cummings, has coached the squad to within a knnn of qualification for the 1990 Finals in Italy. One hurdle remains; if we can take a single point from our match with the United States, it is done; Italia ’90 here we come! The team is ready, the country is ready, the world is ready. T&T are going to make history.
Ask Valentino Singh, then as now Sports Editor of the Guardian. A former history teacher, Warner, the then Secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association, knows that the national umbrella body is not ready; it is in serious financial trouble. But Jack Austin Warner is ready too.
We did make history. As bridesmaid, not as bride. With the National Stadium crammed to the rafters and every available television set commandeered into service for the historic occasion, Cummings’ Strike Squad were struck down. But by overselling tickets for the game, Warner had ensured that the Road to Italy was barred to T&T, even if the result had gone the other way.
The national enquiry that followed the November 19 loss never managed to hear Warner’s evidence; the whole country heard his public confession, oops, explanation. Incensed, the Guardian Sports Editor led a national campaign for Warner to be brought to justice. He never was. Since Warner’s career in international football administration took off in the wake of the scandal, oops, setback, one supposes that, to quote FIFA, “the presumption of innocence (was) maintained.” He rose to become a FIFA jefe, vice-president if you please and “Special Adviser” to the TTFF, a new body about which we shall have something to say shortly. He enjoyed that status until last year when, FIFA-fo-fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman, he jumped off the International body’s gravy train before being pushed by President Sepp Blatter, a former colleague whom the king-maker had helped to put on the FIFA throne.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves.
So, you may ask, whatever happened to the Guardian’s determined attempt to bring Warner to book?
It fizzled. Let it be said for the record that my friend and former student Valentino Singh went on to author three books. The last, which commemorates “the first ever participation in the finals of a FIFA World Cup Football Tournament by Trinidad and Tobago in Germany 2006,” is a February 2007 publication entitled Legacy of the Soca Warriors 1965-2006. The note ‘About the Author’ in this glossy picture-filled 264-page publication tells us that Singh is also “the author of Upwards Through the Night, the biography of Jack Warner, which was published in 1996;, Athens Gold 2004; and Zero to Hero, the Man who guided T&T to the World Cup Finals, published in 2006.” Upwards and Zero are both authorbiographies (stet), a new genre in which the author has responsibility for the draft but not for the final work although it carries his name.
The former history teacher remained ready on all fronts. As early as 1993, a constitutional amendment had changed the membership of the TTFA from constituent clubs to Member Associations. But that still did not yield the autonomy that the CFU and CONCACAF boss and FIFA vice-president craved. Wielding more and more power on the international stage, (See Box One) he was determined to make the national association a more pliant creature. Let the Internet (TTFF: HISTORY 24-02-01) tell us what happened next:
After much soul searching, it was decided that significant changes had to be made to the operations of Football in T&T. 1994 marked a turning point. A new constitution was developed and approved. The new constitution prevents membership by individual clubs and recognizes Leagues. The TTFF therefore comprises the six Regional Associations, the Secondary Schools League, the Primary Schools League, the Women’s Football League, the Coaches Association and the Referees Association. The legal name change took place in September of 1998. (…)
In 1998 at the Association’s Annual General Meeting held on September 13, its name was constitutionally changed to that of the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation and it adopted a revised version of its corporate emblem.
Now, it is a matter of record that, whereas the TTFA was established by an Act of Parliament, the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) was created by an act of the current Chaguanas West parliamentary representative. He tightened his grip on the TTFF by his creation of the post of ‘Special Adviser’ (read ‘Chief Cook and Bottle-washer’ or the more accurate ‘Dictator’). But, leaving nothing to Chance, he let it be known publicly that the de jure President was his hand-picked puppet, oops, man. (See Box Two)
If the rest of the country wasn’t clear on what was happening, the TTFF President Oliver Camps was himself nothing short of pellucid. Disingenuously, he told Express sports reporter Irving Ward in an October 1999 interview that Warner spoke for him. (See Box Three)
Warner would use the name-change sleight-of-hand again in the run-up to the FIFA Youth World Cup staged in Trinidad in 2001. When it was agreed, on Warner’s recommendation, that additional stadia would have to be built to host the tournament, Warners’ Concacaf made a bid for the multi-million dollar contract. Look again at that last sentence and pay attention to capitalisation and punctuation. The apostrophe is not a mistake nor are the common letters a style rule. Warners’ Concacaf, the company that was selected to build the stadia, was not the regional footballing entity CONCACAF that was headed by the TTFF Special Adviser but a private company owned, if not fully owned, certainly fully controlled, by the Warner family.
But the media, including the Guardian where my friend and erstwhile protégé Valentino is still in charge of the Sports Desk, for the most part leaves that skeleton untroubled in Warner’s cupboard and the country in the dark.
Which is why Wired868 has recently received a pre-action protocol letter from the ex-future FIFA President’s lawyer. The online paper’s owner, Lasana Liburd, claims that this latest threat of a “questionable lawsuit” is only the latest in a series of similar attempts to silence this particular reporter. On the basis of two “questionable” supporting documents, the legal letter claims to have made out a prima facie case of libel and slander against the reporter and demands atonement in the form of “a full and unequivocal public retraction… and an apology which must be published in both the print and electronic media.”
Liburd’s response is that Warner “has long cultivated a siege mentality with repeated public suggestions that every foreign journalist, media house and organisation that questioned his integrity—and especially the British ones—were (sic) racist, condescending and/or attempting re-colonisation.”
And, he declares, implicitly, that Warner will not succeed with Wired in his attempt to “use financial muscle to bully local media houses into looking the other way.”
Liburd knows of what he speaks. It was he who first alerted us to Warner’s repeat of the 1989 ticket-selling trick, albeit in a rather less amateur fashion. Warner, he reported, had used his family-owned travel agency, Simpaul’s, to sell World Cup 2006 tickets at highly inflated prices, disguised by package deals. When FIFA found him guilty and fined him US$1m, it was Liburd who reported in the Express, in a splendid piece of investigative journalism, that Warner had so far paid only one quarter of the fine, US$250,000.
Liburd noted that US$250,000 is “the sum that FIFA annually pays to its members.” If my friend and erstwhile colleague Valentino and the rest of the rival Guardian staff understood that FIFA’s “members” are countries and not people, they certainly did nothing to enlighten the rest of the country.
But maybe when this is all over, when the survivor who is the Minister of Works has finally worked his way out of the latest imbroglio that threatens to topple him from his political pedestal, something will come out of the Guardian Sports Editor.
I am plumping for a collaboration between Liburd and Singh called From Haiti with Love. But whether or not the administrators of the Ian Flemming estate are anything like the ex-Fifa Vice-president’s attorneys where lawsuits are concerned, I know that my friend and former opposite number at the Guardian will feel better about From Haiti with Hate he.