Mel Brennan, the CONCACAF Head of Special Projects from February 2001 to September 2003, discusses the legacy of ex-FIFA vice president, Jack Warner:
Austin “Jack” Warner, in an archived TWI television production:
“In all modesty, let me say that that is one of the failures of staying in office too long. When one stays in office too long, one tends to lose sight, lose vision of what is important, of the horizon, of the people…”
“Who is (Lasana Liburd)?” Jack Warner once demanded of a winter crowd, a sneer that would make Captain Hook proud decorating his face. “What’s his claim to fame?”
Regular folks know and understand that who Liburd is, how famous he is, has nothing at all to do with the central question, which is this: “Have Liburd’s public analyses of Warner in general and in particular of the football issue then being discussed been right?”
What regular folks often fail to recognize is that, when cornered, Warner almost always attempts to move the focus of the debate and discussion away from the veracity of the facts of the matter and onto questioning the “IQ” rating of someone, more often than not, the person posing the awkward question.
And so, regular folks often miss the point that, were Liburd – or whoever the reporter of the moment happened to be – well off the mark, which has not generally been the case, Warner would have been able to easily deal frontally with their questions. Clearly, that would have been the easiest route, the most direct route, the most open and transparent route.
But when the questions cut close to the bone, frontal attacks – or defences – are no less clearly contra-indicated.
Once, for instance, seeking to discredit Liburd by linking him to a thorn-in-the-side, white journalist, Andrew Jennings, a seething Warner employed the TTFF website as a personal PR outlet. To say what?
To spout “Massa day done, Massa day come back!” rhetoric, brand Jennings as “Massa,” and accuse Jennings and Liburd of manuscript collusion.
The use of this technique of shifting the focus from the message – demanding a response to damning facts with a view to insisting on accountability and transparency – to the “messenger,” Liburd, Jennings or anyone else who dares ask hard questions about the status quo or the action taken or the stance adopted by Warner, not infrequently involves a vicious – and ironic – racial component with the invoking of virulent slave imagery by a man who is ostensibly representing the interests of the for the most part black population of the CFU.
To be fair, Warner has not always played the race card or, more accurately, has not always played the race card against CFU interests. But critical analysis of recent use of the CONCACAF website to shape opinion and silence voices by Warner’s two-decade-long partner in crime, Charles Gordon “Chuck” Blazer, or scrutiny of use of the FIFA website by another partner of similar length at the global level, FIFA President Sepp Blatter, shows that the erstwhile TTFF Special Adviser is not alone.
Like so many of those who remain at FIFA pathetically clinging to a power base already shifting from under their feet, he merely in the end played any card he could find.
Still, that he would use race in this way at all opens up an entire set of questions that black writers are likely to ask.
How, for instance, if there is any substance at all to the myriad allegations made against the ex-FIFA Vice-president, in what possible way does his obfuscatory, rapacious leadership serve football stakeholders overall, people of colour in general and diasporan Africans in particular?
A second perhaps equally important question has haunted me all during my time at CONCACAF. It is an adaptation of the question Warner himself claims is important to answer about Liburd and not to answer about Jennings: “Who is he? Who is Jack Warner?”
Perhaps it would be useful at this point to anticipate Warner’s dismissive question “Mel Brennan? Who is he?”
Brennan is, I’d respond, “a man who, before becoming Head of Special Projects at CONCACAF, worked at fairly high levels for many kinds of corporate business.” A man who, not once in that hardly fledgling corporate career, had the opportunity to work for a black man, never experienced leadership springing from a Black cultural place.
Being a black man, this clear absence of people of colour in worlds corporate, in positions to which I was supposed to aspire, positions of leadership and decision-making, was less than encouraging, less than inspiring. Then in the interview process for the CONCACAF position, Blazer, in his role as Sportvertising General Secretary consultant/appointee, told me something I’d never heard before: “Jack’s been on us in New York about the lack of blacks here; being the colour you are doesn’t hurt.”
Idealistic and naïve, I thought I had finally stumbled into an undeniably democratic environment, one led by a black man from whom I could learn how to do things the right way.
I was excited to leave behind a corporate career path lacking both in general morality and in people of colour in decision-making roles. I was looking forward to learning about how the people’s game could be run for, well, all the people.
“Massa day” should have been done. But black men publicly claiming the mantle of “black leader” while simultaneously defecating on the very possibility of providing authentic leadership by offering nothing but malfeasance, non-feasance, misappropriation and obfuscation, black men like Jack Warner have ensured that “Massa day” is with us still.
But, where does this “Massa” reference in Warner’s mouth come from?
Well, in a 1961 public lecture in Woodford Square, the then Premier of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr Eric Eustace Williams, offered this insight:
Who is Massa? Massa was more often than not (…) exploiting West Indian resources, both human and economic (…) Massa lived (…) off the profits of West Indian labour. He became a big shot and ostentatiously flaunted his wealth before the eyes of the people (…) He was a big noise (…) a very wealthy man….
Who is the Father of the Nation describing here? Lasana Liburd? Andrew Jennings? Mel Brennan? Reporters hunting facts and offering up actionable truth?
Or Austin Jack Warner?
I had a good view of Massa Warner during my 2001-2003 stint at CONCACAF. I watched as his greed inexorably destroyed the possibility of his salvaging any legacy to be proud of, continuously cutting the ground from under his own feet. I’m still watching it now. And listening.
Hell, have you heard calypsonian Karen Asche lampooning “Uncle Jack,” (Click for video), highlighting the difference between what, given the enormous power he wielded, he could have done and the little he ended up in fact doing?
He did do a lot, mind you, but not for his people, not for me and you or for football or for CFU or for CONCACAF but for Jack Warner.
Looking back, we see clearly that the leadership we have had from Warner was limp, truly pathetic.
A survey of the state of footballing affairs in the Caribbean and in CONCACAF reveals a microcosm of world football, a mafia of interlocking elites of all colours, characterized by efforts at control, exploitation and misdirection. We should have demanded something different; we did not.
As a result, we got Blatter, Blazer, Harold Taylor, Sunil Gulati and Warner. Looking ahead, the picture is no cheerier, the new appointees, Jeff Webb and Enrique Sanz appearing to be more of the same, only younger.
We have consigned Warner and Blazer and company to the dung heap but their bathwater has, it seems, been used to anoint their successors.
Imagine what an Austin Warner wholly focused on establishing authentic democratic institutions and a lasting legacy might have gotten done. In particular, I lament the lost opportunities, the failure to take the time, to quote the Bard again “at the flood.”
Football wasn’t always a money-producing oasis and it won’t always be. It just happens to be what it is right now: an economic force.
The period in which Caribbean sport was led by the most grasping, the most selfish, uninspired leaders is precisely the period when we needed the wisest, the most forward-looking, inclusive-thinking people in charge.
The era of the Warner/Blazer administration is when we needed the best planners because it called for democratic management and distribution of massive resources. It was when we needed men and women able to look beyond their own selfish desires and careers to establish a legacy for the Caribbean, to secure the region’s tomorrows.
What we got was Jack Warner. In spades.
What is beyond dispute, even if you stop short of Valentino’s Singh 2006 affirmation that he went from zero to “hero,” is that the man has come a long, long way. At first glance, there appears to be much to be admired.
From living in a small apartment above a strip mall, Warner pulled himself upwards, to quote Singh’s earlier 1996 biography, through the night, seemingly, by his own bootstraps, to earn enviable wealth and a particular, narrow kind of fame by giving a new lease on life to the sleeping vote-giant that was the Caribbean.
From living pay cheque to pay cheque, he reached the position of having $25,000 and $40,000 cheques cut to his CONCACAF office in Port-of-Spain from the New York Secretariat. On his say-so. That is indeed a long, long way to travel, there’s no denying that.
But, the question also has to be asked, what has that journey achieved? What durable gains has Caribbean football, the base degrees, to quote the poet, by which he did ascend, made?
It is in the answer to that question that we see how hugely self-serving has been Warner’s sojourn in international football administration.
It was Warner, let us not forget, who approved of (maybe even stage-managed) fellow Trinidadian Neville Ferguson’s bold appropriation of Haiti’s vote and thereby of election for his boy Blatter in 1998, ensuring a fulfillment of the commitment he had given to the new FIFA President that he would receive all of his region’s votes.
Warner knew – or thought he knew – how the football thing worked. You scratch my back and so forth…
So, the victory secured, he declared that “…we shall be benefiting in both financial and technical areas very shortly.”
One imagines that, at the time of the statement, “we” referred to the CONCACAF leadership. Until Warner made himself personally indispensable and the meaning changed to the royal “we.”
And the FIFA Vice-president and CONCACAF President’s rhetoric changed too… until he made one power play too many and made himself personally dispensable…
The betrayal engineered in several key sectors of the football powergrid must have infuriated Jack Warner.
Listening to him last year, for example, full of sound and fury and signifying very little, tell the mediascape about a “tsunami” that predictably has never come gives us some insight into the desperate striving to spin back unto himself a reality and a way of life that had thoroughly spun away from him.
His current machinations on the political front speak to an insatiable desire not to be left behind, bereft if not of money then of the incessant influence-peddling that orbits around leadership positions whether in FIFA or in the PP.
Listening to him proclaim his firm intent to take legal action against truth-tellers like Jennings and Liburd while, ultimately, never ever making good on any threat of legal action against any investigative journalist alerts us – or should alert us – to Warner’s ultimate unwillingness to put his protestations of innocence to any legal test and thus open himself to legal exposure with all the risks of subsequent indictment to which he, cruelly, may become subject.
So Warner’s ongoing lament (matched by that of fellow FIFA failures Blatter, Blazer and Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira) against the very existence of critics, of even critical thinking by everyday people and especially investigative reporters like Liburd should help us all understand the degree to which he represents a failed opportunity in terms of sport leadership in general and minority leadership in sport in particular.
Warner’s legacy is the continuing exploitation of 40 (and in the case of FIFA, over 200) nations by people who become, have become a big noise, who live off the filthy lucre accruing to them from this exploitation and are, in a word, today’s “Massas.”
It is his continuing invocation of his blackness; the illusion he as a black man offered to young people of colour that he is about democracy in football, about infusing institutional transparency into the governance of football while utilising the resources of the sport for the benefit of the people who play and support it and seeking to protect the most vulnerable.
Warner, in fact, is a black man who has always been about the diametric opposite. And no amount of invoking his blackness – or others’ whiteness – should encourage us to forget that.
Ultimately, then, Warner’s legacy is his effort to keep us from zeroing in on what matters about a leader, any leader, in our community; so as to keep us from bringing to book those responsible for such unresponsible leadership, whether it be outright malfeasance such as the travel agency scandal and the bribery scandal or nonfeasance such as the refusal to pay the monies he collected due to the 2006 Soca Warriors. Or the Haitian Football Federation.
His legacy is the detritus left behind in the wake of his lies and his greed; his unceasing efforts to keep everyday men and women from looking right at him and simply calling him what he very much evidences to be:
A liar and a thief, a failure and a disappointment.
And yet, latterly, incredibly, horror of horrors, his damning curriculum vitae notwithstanding, he has become a Minister of National Security.
Editor’s Note: This piece was written by former CONCACAF employee Mel Brennan on 9 August 2012.