Acting Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister and ex-FIFA Vice President Jack Warner’s thoughts are likely to return to the football field today as his long-time colleague and former employee, Harold Taylor, lines up among four candidates to seek election to the post of Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president in Budapest, Hungary.
The CFU’s new executive will be selected today in its ordinary congress at the Boscolo Hotel in Budapest.
Taylor will be challenged for the vacant post by Gordon Derrick, the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association general secretary, Ronald Jones, the Barbados Football Association (BFA) president and Luis Hernandez, Cuba Football Association (AFC) president.
The positions of first, second and third vice-presidents and executive member will also be contested today.
The Caribbean body was scheduled to select its officials last November in Jamaica but postponed the event. The CFU claimed to be unable to find any funds after Warner’s hasty exit last June, which was made in the face of FIFA bribery allegations.
Warner served as CFU general secretary from 1979 to 1981 and president for the next three decades until his controversial departure last year. He was also CONCACAF president for 20 years after being elected in 1991.
FIFA has allowed the CFU and CONCACAF to piggyback on its own congress, which will be held on May 24 and 25 at the same venue in Budapest, so as to conserve the limited funds of the respective football bodies.
CONCACAF will hold its congress tomorrow and Cayman Islands president Jeffrey Webb, as the only presidential candidate, will officially replace Warner at the helm.
The Caribbean holds 25 of CONCACAF’s 35 full members and today’s winner—granted that he can unite the region—will automatically become the most powerful football administrator in the confederation.
Warner has staked a lot on Taylor’s campaign.
On 7 May 2012, Wired868 exclusively revealed that the Minister of Works and Infrastructure wrote to Sport Minister Anil Roberts, on a State letterhead, and advised him to starve the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation (TTFF) of funding unless it could justify its reluctance to vote in accordance with his wishes. The TTFF subsequently nominated Taylor, who could not run without support from his local body.
Wired868 relayed copies of Warner’s letter to the Integrity Commission to determine whether it constituted a breach of his ministerial authority.
Taylor, like Warner, is a former teacher and served as general secretary or assistant general secretary for several bodies during Warner’s tenure as CONCACAF and Caribbean Football Union (CFU) president, FIFA vice-president and TTFF general secretary and special advisor.
He is believed to be at least 79-years-old, which makes him roughly two decades older than his challengers. However, the veteran administrator claimed to have support from at least seven of the 30 full and associative CFU members.
“What people can expect from me is my knowledge of the game and my experience,” Taylor told the St Maarten media, “because I have been involved in football for a number of years.”
St Maarten, an island of some 38,000 inhabitants—which is roughly the population of Arima—is the only country to publicly endorse Taylor’s candidacy thus far. St Maarten is a Dutch-outpost rather than an independent nation and is not a full FIFA member but, although it cannot vote in a CONCACAF election, the island is allowed to participate at CFU level.
The disinclination of the more influential Caribbean associations, not least the TTFF, to openly support Taylor suggests that he is not a favourite today although Warner’s potential influence cannot be overlooked.
Derrick, the managing director of an events planning and marketing company and director at the Antigua Commercial Bank, would fancy his chances, though.
Nothing if not ambitious, he is riding on the success of the Antigua and Barbuda national team that has advanced to the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying semi-final stage for the first time.
“A good amount of islands called me and they said it is time for a change, not exchange,” Derrick told the Antigua Observer last September. “So when I heard that I said very well, if that’s what it is, then I am up for the task because I love a challenge.”
But Derrick is not without his own skeletons.
He swore his innocence after the Mohamed bin Hammam bribery scandal that overshadowed the 2011 FIFA presidential elections. However, FIFA discovered otherwise and Derrick was later reprimanded and fined 300 Swiss Francs (TT$2,036) while two ABFA members resigned after alleging that he used the improper US$40,000 (TT$243,200) gift on his Antigua Barracuda Football Club.
In shades of Warner’s controversial double-role as football administrator and Joe Public club boss, Derrick owns the Barracuda, which is representing Antigua at the ongoing CFU Club Championship despite having never played competitive football on the island—it competes in the third tier of United States’ soccer.
Jones’ candidacy also offers parallels to Warner.
In Barbados, Jones doubles up as Education Minister and BFA president to the chagrin of his critics.
Whereas Warner was often criticised for conflicts of interest over his various posts, Jones, who is also a Justice of the Peace, is more commonly slated for not being especially efficient at any. He took over at the helm of the BFA in 1998 and, after an early flutter, the island’s football stock has plummeted to its present ranking of an all-time low 171.
Regardless, Jones, a former trade unionist with a Masters in Educational Management and Administration from the University of London, England, believes he is the man to turn around the CFU’s slumping fortunes.
Hernandez is the final candidate and is not helped by his imperfect English in a region that has just three Spanish-speaking nations from 30 member associations.
Otherwise, the Cuban delegate has stayed off the radar. Hernandez was absent when Bin Hammam handed out cash-stuffed brown envelopes in Trinidad last May and has never been implicated in scandal despite serving on two high profile FIFA committees, the FIFA World Cup committee and Development committee.
It is uncertain whether a perceived distance from corruption would be a bonus in today’s CFU election.