His name in itself – Chuck Blazer – reads like something out of a satirist’s notebook. But the incredible story of the man who raised CONCACAF from poor, rickety organisation to flourishing cash cow has the potential to be one of the most important in modern sport. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Quite amazing, isn’t it, that between corruption allegations and stories of the Ghana team having their participation cash flown in during the World Cup, the crazy inner workings of soccer can still inspire awe.
Earlier this month, the New York Daily News ran a big scoop on how Chuck Blazer worked with the FBI to secretly record conversations with some of FIFA’s bigwigs during the London 2012 Olympics.
The extent of the recordings and what exactly they contain is not yet clear, but a recorder allegedly disguised as a key ring, and other intercepted communications, could all still lead to the rattling of FIFA’s upper echelons, with Sepp Blatter and a number of others all apparently under scrutiny.
The FBI have set their sights high and the investigations, with the help of Blazer, stretch from the Caribbean to Zurich, from Australia to Moscow to Qatar. Everything is fair game.
Blazer resigned from FIFA’s Exco in 2013 and is currently gravely ill with colon cancer, but his undercover work already began in 2011 after he grew disillusioned with FIFA. When he was first apprehended by the Feds in 2011, he was given the option to be taken away or work with them. Their leverage was more than a decade of unpaid taxes on his multimillion-dollar income and the choice, although not met without protestation, was simple.
Now, there is a trail of documents that could put a fair few people in serious trouble. In a perfect world, investigations around the world could lead to criminal charges and it would all be possible thanks to the unlikeliest of sources.
He of the perfect blockbuster name, Chuck Blazer, was once one of the most powerful men in football. As a member of the FIFA Executive Committee, the same committee who votes on hosting rights for big tournaments, he helped raise the profile and profit of the sport in America. He also blew the whistle on bribery and always insisted that he had procured his footballing fortune through legitimate sources. His story is one that reads like something straight out of Hollywood and some of the references to his lifestyle almost sound unbelievable.
For example, his cats had their own apartment – a Trump Tower apartment, no less. The 49th floor digs set him back $18,000 per month for himself with an adjoining $6,000 retreat largely for his unruly cats, a report in the Daily News says. He also had a fleet of mobility scooters – yes, a whole fleet. He also had a Hummer. Yes, a Hummer to drive around in New York. Of course, the $48,554 car did little driving and a lot of standing in a parking garage for $21,600. Swindling sports administrators might not be news, but the extent of lavish living is mindboggling, even for FIFA.
Blazer has been rummaging his way through American soccer since the mid-1980s. Back then, while America was still struggling to figure out how to sell the sport not only to the people but to TV networks, Blazer was always hatching a plan. Having been in and out of different soccer ventures over the last few years, towards the turn of the 90s, things really took off for the eccentric businessman.
It began in earnest in 1989, when Blazer, not employed at the time, visited Port of Spain to meet with Jack Warner, a Caribbean administrator, and start concocting a plan on how they would take over CONCACAF. The organisation had been run by Mexico and Central American countries for decades because they were the only ones with enough interest in soccer to care about influence. Blazer, though, didn’t see it this way. He’d met Warner in 1984, when they both served at CONCACAF. In 1986, they became friends during the World Cup in Mexico and by 1990, Blazer had run an election campaign for Warner that saw him win three times as many votes as the incumbent, an elderly Mexican with diabetes. Warner made Blazer his general secretary and, as they say, Bob’s your uncle.
Knowing just how much commercial power the States held for soccer, Blazer moved quickly. CONCACAF’s HQ was moved from Guatemala City to the Big Apple and this is where things really changed for Blazer.
A deal struck with the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF, entitled him to ten percent of almost every single cent the organisation earned. That offered up a personal incentive to make sure he helped bring in as much money as he possibly could.
The contract did not technically feature Blazer’s name, but was instead signed with a a seven-month-old New York company that he founded and controlled by the name of Sportvertising. The eight-page retainer agreement said that Sportvesting would give CONCACAF an employee to take care of general secretary duties and in return, CONCACAF would provide office space and administrative support and pay Sportvertising a series of fees plus a 10% cut of certain types of revenue, including “sponsorships and TV rights fees”. Back then, TV deals rarely brought in more than $140,000 a year.
This gave Blazer the personal incentive to make money for CONCACAF. Crafty business, if there ever was any. And it paid off. Blazer was instrumental in the negotiations of many rights.
The most notable example of this was in the lead-up to the 2010 World Cup. At a FIFA executive committee meeting, Blazer asked his FIFA colleagues not to approve a $350 million bid from NBC for the 2010 and 2014 World Cup rights. He said that giving the rights to NBC would hamper the exposure of soccer in the States because NBC would not televise MSL or other international competitions. He asked for a few weeks to find an alternative and not too long after, Univision and ESPN bought the rights for $325 million and $100 million, respectively.
He sounds like a good guy, right? For the most part, Blazer had the right idea, but he always looked after himself. It’s a trend that continued through his entire career and it became evident last year when FIFA eventually woke up and investigated both him and Warner. Warner and Blazer, who served as head of CONCACAF, for 21 years, were investigated for fraud and were found to be without a written contract from 1998 until their respective departures.
While the pair did live a life of utmost luxury and while Blazer might have avoided paying tax, he also blew the whistle on bribery. In 2011, he told of bribes of around $1 million in 2011 and it was he who in 2011 reported to FIFA allegations that Warner facilitated the payment of 40,000 US dollars to the heads of the Caribbean associations by FIFA presidential candidate Mohamed Bin Hammam.
The report in the Daily News says that Blazer had little choice but to turn Warner in to FIFA, lest he be seen as a co-conspirator. He reported Warner’s possible violations of FIFA’s ethics code to the soccer body’s secretary general, Jerome Valcke. Although Blazer knew Warner would find out about the snitch, he needed some time to get his story straight about other shady deals before going to Valcke.
It’s a story that is so baffling that, no matter what the outcome, it seems destined for the silver screen. But it’s also a story that could end up being one of the most important in modern sport. Whatever was gathered from those recordings and intercepted communications possibly has the power to turn soccer on its head. DM
A file picture dated 29 May 2011 showing FIFA official Chuck Blazer leaving the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, after an ethics hearing over alleged corruption during the campaign for the FIFA presidency. EPA/STEFFEN SCHMIDT.