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The Jack of two trades
There was considerable concern when Jack Warner, the Minister of Works and Transport in the People’s Partnership Government, was appointed to office.
How would it be possible for this man to hold on to executive office in two major sporting organisations and serve the country at Cabinet level?
Legal advice was sought from several high-level sources and in the end, the Prime Minister appointed Warner to the job, arguing that he had to be wooed to accept the position.
Jack Warner, in addition to being a Minister of Government, is the President of Concacaf, the regional body governing football and Vice President of Fifa, football’s parent body, which has specific responsibility for the World Cup competition.
It is also widely alleged that his deep pockets played a decisive role in funding the successful election of the new coalition government.
At the time of his appointment, the concern was about potential conflicts of interest and divisions of time. Today, in the wake of Warner’s key role in the voting that decided Russia’s hosting of the World Cup in 2018, the questions around Warner’s role in government became one of international diplomacy.
It would not be a stretch to describe the Fifa Vice President’s name as being mud in England today, as the humiliated nation which gave the world the game seeks to reconcile its failed bid to host the 2018 World Cup with the many gestures it made to Warner.
It is a matter of public record that nations pursuing the role of World Cup host will engage in a number of courtship dances with officials holding voting power in Fifa and that these engagements have sometimes proven to be at best unsavoury and on occasion, simply corrupt.
The English overtures to Jack Warner included a football clinic hosted by David Beckham on local soil for young football hopefuls, an English football team friendly match in Trinidad and Tobago and as the time grew closer for voting, much more intimate efforts at persuasion.
British Prime Minister David Cameron himself flew to Zurich for a one-on-one meeting with Jack Warner the Tuesday before the FIFA voting as part of a final campaign of meetings with Fifa officials.
In Zurich, Jack Warner was widely reported in the UK media to have put his arm around Prince William and assured him that his vote would be for England.
The fallout since England’s snub in the voting has been fierce and unequivocal. The general tone of UK reporting on Jack Warner, an elected official of T&T’s ruling party who has twice acted as Prime Minister, is best summed by Daily Mail columnist Martin Samuel who described him as “the duplicitous, odious FIFA vice-president who has been allowed to rule the world from Trinidad and Tobago.”
The impact of this situation is not to be underestimated, nor is the anger and embarrassment of the English.
While there’s nothing that England can do to him in FIFA beyond the thousands of words written chronicling his perceived betrayal, this country remains vulnerable to potential diplomatic retribution from the British, however subtle.
Specifically, there is the matter of air passenger duty being imposed by the British Government on travellers to the Caribbean region.
Prime Minister Cameron had called Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar from Zurich after his round of meetings with Fifa officials in a situation which clearly mixed both of Warner’s roles.
In the wake of the fallout since the vote announcements, that may turn out to be a critical misjudgment in that negotiation—and may prove especially telling for the parts of the Caribbean heavily dependent on tourism from the UK.
In Warner’s defence, there is clearly a sustainable point that, despite the inducements lavished on him by the British, he voted for the country he believed provided the best possibilities for World Cup 2018.
He could also argue that it was naive for the British to believe that a friendly international, a visit by a fading football icon and the chance to meet with a junior member of the English Royal family would have been enough to persuade him and the two other Concacaf votes. In fact, some may see it as an ethical feather in Mr Warner’s cap that he resisted the English blandishments, despite the potential diplomatic consequences of his decision.
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