Keystone, Patrick B. Kraemer) GERMANY OUT - AUSTRIA OUT, Associated Press
Chuck Blazer is a dead ringer for Santa Claus, has a pet parrot that squawks in the background during phone calls, and blogs about his travels and those of his friends — including Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Accompanied by Putin's own photos, no less.
He is gregarious, witty and, with a list of confidantes and contacts spanning the globe, seems an unlikely choice to spark the worst crisis in FIFA's 107-year history, accusing two officials of offering Caribbean soccer leaders $40,000 each in exchange for votes in the presidential election. But the only American on FIFA's powerful executive committee has spent 30 years promoting soccer and has shown before that he will step in when he feels the game is being shortchanged.
"He's been a tireless advocate for soccer, not only in America but in this hemisphere," said John Skipper, the executive vice president of content for ESPN, which has broadcast the last five World Cups and has the rights to the 2014 event in Brazil.
Blazer accused FIFA vice president Jack Warner and fellow executive committee member Mohamed bin Hammam of bribery in connection with last Wednesday's election. Bin Hammam had been the lone challenger to Sepp Blatter, who was elected unopposed to a fourth term after Warner and bin Hammam were suspended pending a full investigation.
Accusations of shadiness are nothing new for FIFA. Blazer himself was described by a federal judge as giving testimony that was "generally without credibility based on his attitude and demeanor and on his evasive answers on cross-examination" when MasterCard sued FIFA, alleging its sponsorship rights were illegally terminated. Executive committee members travel the world in high style, staying in five-star hotels and eating in the finest restaurants.
(The photo on the front page of Blazer's blog shows him in a private jet with Nelson Mandela, and he mentions eating at New York's tony Eleven Madison Park after a meeting last year.)
"There are resources and there are folks who could benefit from them who are not getting them," said Mel Brennan, who worked at CONCACAF, which represents North and Central America and the Caribbean, from February 2001 to September 2003. "The use of money for political ends is the mode and modus of world football governing bodies. There's nobody in a position of power, influence, authority and leverage to say, 'Hey, all these assets, they don't belong to you,' and can we come up with another set of metrics to disperse them."
But this latest scandal carried a different weight because the allegations came from Blazer, one of FIFA's own. Making them all the more stunning was that the 66-year-old New Yorker had turned on Warner, with whom he was so closely allied after 20 years together atop CONCACAF they were referred to as one person — "ChuckandJack" or "JackandChuck" — in soccer circles.
"I was surprised in the sense that, obviously, he and Jack Warner had been so closely attached from 1990 until that happened," said Alan Rothenberg, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation from 1990-98.
On Saturday, CONCACAF suspended acting president Lisle Austin, who tried to remove Blazer as secretary general in retaliation for his whistleblowing.
Blazer has refused to discuss the allegations against Warner and bin Hammam, which were compiled by former federal prosecutor John P. Collins and are being investigated by former FBI Director Louis Freeh's firm. Blazer did tell The Associated Press this week that "much more evidence" would emerge from Caribbean officials, who were advised in Zurich to hand over the money to FIFA and assist in the inquiry, or face their own investigation.
"Soccer is going to do just fine," Rothenberg said. "Does (FIFA) have to look inside in terms of governance and how it operates? The answer is yes. And I'm sure they will. I don't want to say it's much ado about nothing, it's serious. But as far as the sport is concerned, the sport is going to be just fine."
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