The battle for political control of the Caribbean is entering a crucial phase, and it has nothing to do with football and everything to do with controlling the votes, the agenda and the money. At the centre of the power play is the CONCACAF-driven attempts to remove Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president Gordon Derrick from office and split the CFU membership.
The war has moved into a phase uglier than even the politics of the disgraced Jack Warner era with allegations that FIFA money has been repeatedly threatened to be withheld from the CFU until member associations remove Derrick. It is political blackmail of the worst kind from a faction that clearly believes it can do and get away with whatever it wants.
The political support of the Caribbean as a block has long been a route to achieving high office in world football, not just within CONCACAF but also at FIFA. It is this block vote that CONCACAF is looking to break up as the dominatingly North American-centric organisation reinvents itself as a credible confederation on the world stage.
While the North Americans need to break the Caribbean solidarity to bring the numbers to cement their political power base, Derrick has been a strong and reasonably well-supported voice for Caribbean unity, arguing that it is only with a unity of purpose that the Caribbean’s 31 members can achieve a football equality both within CONCACAF and the world game. In reality the two positions might not be that far apart but the (One)CONCACAF mandarins, puppeteers and opportunists want a bloody and example-making execution that will resonate – Derrick’s.
It is the North American block and its influence that has stood slavishly behind FIFA president Gianni Infantino as it deals its way to the centre of world football’s governing body and the hosting of the 48-team 2026 World Cup with automatic qualifying places for the three host nations of Canada, Mexico and the US. Infantino’s next election is in 2019 – it would be naïve to think that the global manipulation of confederation politics is purely for the good of the global game rather than predominantly for the purpose of his 2019 re-election.
The politics of the process have been impressive, if a little uncomfortable in the new ‘football first’ and transparently reformed FIFA – well, judge for yourself on that. A hard look at the politics and coercion in Africa will tell you whether global football is really travelling to a better place. After all, there sits a new African president who solicited a payment from a man who is banned from life from football for making illegal payments. He was working for a man who is banned for life from football for making illegal payments. This is your new FIFA – a Russian doll of Trumpian values.
From the current football top table viewpoint, looking down (in all ways) on the Caribbean, divide and rule is the strategy. Previous attempts to unseat Derrick in CFU elections at the end of last year failed with a CONCACAF-backed opponent from Trinidad. That election win seems almost forgotten with a number of his opponents calling for his resignation at the CFU meeting held in Aruba at the same time as the CONCACAF Annual Congress almost two weeks ago.
They co-ordinated an attempt from the floor of the CFU congress calling on Derrick to resign, based on the loss of a recent appeal he had before CAS.
It is important to look closer at what this appeal loss was about as it points towards a big brother agenda that does neither football’s newly installed Gods or those in the CFU using it as a blunt tool any credit – intellectually or politically.
Derrick had appealed against FIFA’s ban on him standing for election to the CONCACAF presidency – a presidential battle won by Canada’s Victor Montagliani. The position comes with a seat on the FIFA Council which FIFA said Derrick could not have taken up because of a reprimand he had previously received from FIFA Ethics – hence his ban from the election. Note – CONCACAF did not ban him, they were happy with his conduct and passed him for the election, it is only recently they have ‘strategically’ and suddenly decided to become concerned.
The reprimand that led to Derrick’s election was over the investigation into the 2011 cash-for-votes scandal in the Caribbean – CONCACAF’s first major corruption scandal.
And this is where some of the CFU members need to look very closely at themselves as many of those presidents took the $40,000 of Mohammad Bin Hammam cash, but are still in position, some of them on CONCACAF’s own top committee.
Derrick didn’t take the cash – one of the few. But he was nevertheless reprimanded by FIFA who said he hadn’t complied fully with the investigation into those that did. It was a reprimand and a fine lower than the threshold you can appeal against at FIFA. Remember, in most countries you can appeal against a parking ticket. Derrick’s reprimand was barely at that level, but it became a convenient reprimand for those needing leverage (just ask Qatar’s Saud Al-Mohannadi what being on the wrong end of that kind of politics is like) and useful for excluding him from the election he would have likely won.
Derrick took his appeal to CAS … and lost. The wording of the CAS ruling is the important part here. After a remarkably long wait, CAS ruled that FIFA were procedurally correct in their decision – they, conveniently for FIFA, did not go so far as to rule that the initial reprimand was incorrect or even reason its correctness. In fact, there was no ruling on the ‘whole’ of the case before them. Instead they chose to rule on the authority FIFA had to make their ruling. Their spineless lack of commonsense justice has for Derrick compounded the situation – convenient for CAS, face-saving for FIFA and great for CONCACAF and its political objectives in the Caribbean.
A quick look at other cases shows the inequity/duplicity/political expedience (delete as appropriate) of the process as it concerned Derrick. Liberia’s Musa Bility was banned from standing for the FIFA presidency but welcomed with open arms on to CAF’s executive committee. UEFA’s Angel Maria Villar was disciplined and fined CHF 25,000 by FIFA Ethics but was still allowed to stand for the UEFA presidency and sits on FIFA’s Council. The common factor here is that Bility and Villar are both significant supporters of Infantino.
Derrick was reprimanded the price of a dinner for two with a cheap wine in a Zurich restaurant and is subsequently being pilloried from Aruba to Trindad via Canada, the Dominican Republic, Barbados, the Cayman Islands and Grenada. Is this FIFA’s ethics and value system in action?
With CFU members being pushed to make a stand and CONCACAF president Montagliani even separately briefing local journalists that Derrick must go because of the CAS ruling, plus the threats of “no money unless he goes”, fast forward the plot to Aruba, Trinidad and a trip on which the plot’s Caribbean ring leaders are visited by jet-loving Gianni on one of his ‘papal’ visits (this time his wife and mother weren’t accompanying him on the jet).
The full context for the visit is unclear – he shook hands of loyal supporters, met island leaders, was shielded from press questions by failing microphones and over-zealous guardians, came up with a curiously old-world definition of racism and how to combat it, opened a national training centre, probably kissed a few babies and of course played a football match (he scored the opening goal, one of the best seen by a FIFA president in the Caribbean).
What he didn’t do was contact or visit the CFU president, discuss the plans for a Caribbean Professional League or even enquire how the $1 million he had promised the CFU at the FIFA Congress in Mexico last May was going to be spent. What money? It hasn’t arrived yet but as Infantino theatrically remonstrated with pointy fingers and waving arms in Mexico City, “It is YOUR money.” But it appears only when he and his elite band of electioneers decide YOU can have it, and that comes with conditions.
The CFU Congress itself was an emotional affair. With Derrick withstanding a challenge to resign in the preceding executive committee meeting, Puerto Rico Football Association president Eric Labrador, (that really is his name and one presumes he was following his master’s orders) resigned from the executive committee on the floor of the congress. Since then First Vice-President Cheney Joseph, the Grenada Football Association boss, has also resigned. If the principal of their resignation is the principle of the CAS appeal then they probably haven’t taken the trouble to read the ruling or understand the case. Even the smartest attack canines generally look before they leap.
This tale is of course what politics is about. And this is all about politics and has little to do with football. Derrick has become the proverbial political football and has taken a bit of a kicking as a result of the personal ambitions of football’s new political elite and their use of their power and influence.
For the moment Derrick stays and the battle for Caribbean football’s self determination through its own elected union representatives continues, just. But it is a frontier under attack and being deliberately starved of cash by bullies with a non-football agenda.
Paul Nicholson is the editor of Insideworldfootball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org