The rise and fall of Chuck Blazer, a larger than life character, whose greed got the better of him.
Chuck Blazer, whose whistleblowing brought about his own downfall, has been banned for life from all football activities by Fifa’s ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert.
The American creamed off millions of dollars in commissions during 14 years as general secretary of the central and north American confederation, for much of which time he was also a member of the world federation’s executive committee and head of its crucial marketing and television commission.
Blazer, who has been seriously ill for the past two years, was described in the judgment as having “committed many and various acts of misconduct continuously and repeatedly during his time as an official in different high-ranking and influential positions at Fifa and Concacaf.”
The judgment was based partly on Blazer’s plea-bargain evidence to the United States Justice Department in the ongoing Fifagate corruption investigation but also on the report by former Barbados Chief Justice Sir David Simmons into the financial mismanagement of Concacaf during its decade in the charge of Blazer and Jack Warner, the then president.
Warner is currently facing extradition application from the USDoJ over corruption and fraud allegations which he denies.
Though Blazer has been a larger than life figure on the United States soccer scene for more than 30 years, he hit international headlines in May 2011 when he ‘blew the whistle’ on an infamous conference of the Caribbean Football Union in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
The conference had been called to hear Qatari Mohamed Bin Hammam canvas votes for his bid to become Fifa president. After the meeting, organised by Warner, delegates were offered envelopes containing $40,000 in cash as “expenses.”
Several delegates reported this to Blazer, then in New York. He duly told Fifa and thus exploded the biggest scandal in the organisation’s history.
Subsequently questions were raised about the complexities of Blazer’s own financial arrangements with Concacaf and these featured in the 2013 report produced by Simmons which excoriated both Warner and Blazer.
Simmons said Blazer received more than $20m in compensation from Concacaf, including $17m in commission. He added that Blazer worked without a contract from July 18, 1998 and his compensation was discussed only three times in Concacaf forums during 21 years.
The report also found “no business reason” for the renting of apartments used by Blazer in Manhattan and said the American had tried to buy property in the Bahamas, in 2007, for about $4m using football funds.
Blazer was described by Simmons as “entirely negligent” for failing to file income tax returns for Concacaf in the United States which led to the body losing its tax-exempt status as a non-profit organisation.
These revelations led to Fifa launching a disciplinary inquiry into Blazer’s activities which were then stalled on health grounds after he voluntarily relinquished all his posts.
Eckert’s latest judgment states that the investigation was revived after Swiss lawyer Cornel Borbely succeeded American Michael Garcia as independent chairman of the investigatory chamber of the Ethics Committee last December.
Evidence obtained by the FBI from Blazer, who was ‘turned’ in return for a guilty plea to various charges including tax evasion, is central to the indictments handed down against 14 senior football officials and marketing executives including Fifa vice-presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo.
Key figure in rise of US football
Originally Blazer was one of the most influential powers in the rise of professional soccer in the United States which culminated in the hosting of the World Cup finals in 1994 and launch of Major League Soccer.
He developed the USSF’s national team programme in the 1980s, was USSF executive vice-president and then commissioner of the American Soccer League before gaining access to the levers of world football power through the general secretaryship of Concacaf which he assumed in 1990.
Blazer and controversial Trinidadian Warner turned a hitherto sleepy confederation into a political force within world football.
Soon Blazer was a fixture within various Fifa committees and joined the exco in 1997 as Concacaf delegate for North America after the death of long-serving Mexican Guillermo Canedo. Blazer’s resignation led to his exco place being taken over by fellow American Sunil Gulati, president of USSF.
A high point of Blazer’s Fifa tenure was as chairman of the crucial marketing and TV committee which negotiated the deals on which the financial success of both the World Cup and the world federation itself are founded. He always maintained that the controversial dual-bid system for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups had proved proved commercially justified.
Ironically the initial and formal Concacaf complaint against Blazer was lodged by Enrique Sanz, then the body’s general secretary.
Sanz himself is now under a provisional Fifa suspension. Before succeeding Blazer as Concacaf general secretary he was vice-president of Traffic Sports USA which has pleaded guilty to various offences in the Fifagate scandal.