WATCH ABOVE: FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges. Wendy Gillete reports.
TORONTO – Jack Warner, charged in a U.S. Department of Justice indictment that led to a wave of FIFA-related corruption arrests Wednesday, has played a key hand in Canadian soccer over the years.
The native of Trinidad and Tobago was president of CONCACAF – which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean – from 1990 to 2011 and was a key power broker as FIFA vice-president.
He resigned under a cloud from FIFA, CONCACAF and his national association in 2011, which according to FIFA rules at the time ended all ethics committee cases against him.
Warner was a good friend to have in world soccer.
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Kevan Pipe, former chief operating officer of the Canadian Soccer Association, credited Warner for helping land the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, which was tied to the building of BMO Field.
“None of this would have happened without the complete, committed support of Jack Warner, who really went – in my estimation – above and beyond in his support for Canada to get this thing done,” Pipe said in a 2007 interview. “It all boiled down to if we didn’t build this stadium, this championship wouldn’t have come. And none of this would have occurred without the political support that we had from Day 1 from Jack Warner.”
The success of FIFA’s inaugural women’s under-19 tournament in 2002 in Canada prompted the CSA to look for other targets.
On Aug. 31, 2002, the night before the U-19 women’s final in Edmonton, the CSA hosted a dinner with Warner, FIFA president Sepp Blatter, then deputy prime minister Anne McLellan and secretary of state Paul Devillers among others.
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The CSA used the occasion of McLellan’s birthday to float the idea of a FIFA U-20 World Cup bid, linked with the construction of a national soccer stadium in Toronto and an MLS franchise as the “anchor tenant” to help pay the bills.
In 2004, it was Warner who gave Pipe the news that Canada had won the right to host the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, in a 3:30 a.m. phone call from FIFA headquarters in Zurich.
Four years earlier, Warner was not so kind towards Canada. In a remarkable September 2000 interview in his Port-of-Spain office, Warner showed his he couldn’t wait to see Canada lose to his native Trinidad and Tobago in an upcoming World Cup qualifying match.
“I’ll take extreme pleasure,” he said. “Not special (pleasure), special is too mild. I wear the CONCACAF hat, but (Sunday) I won’t.”
Warner said Canada hadn’t deserved to win the CONCACAF championship. Canada had beaten T&T 1-0 en route to the Gold Cup win.
“Nothing Canada has done since the Gold Cup has given me any cause for worry. … I expect them to come with all their guns firing, but they only have blanks,” he said.
“I don’t know any other way,” Warner said when asked about his unflattering comments. “My strength – or weakness as you wish to look at it – is in my candour.”
Holger Osieck, the Canadian coach at the time, put Warner’s comments down to a sore loser.
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Warner also delivered a tirade against Sportsnet for a suggestion during a broadcast of a T&T win over Canada in Edmonton that his country’s position in the FIFA world rankings was due to his high position in FIFA. The Canadian telecast was shown in Trinidad and Tobago.
The FIFA monthly rankings, determined by a complicated mathematical formula, then had T&T at No. 29 while Canada was No. 56.
“The entire country was upset and they called me and said so,” Warner said of the comments.
In Warner’s 1988 biography “Upwards Through the Night,” by Valentino Singh, then FIFA president Joao Havelange wrote in the foreword: “His knowledge of world football is unsurpassed and his uncanny ability to quickly solve potentially uncomfortable situations paints a picture of a witty and highly intelligent man. His charisma and love for life are all part of the package that makes him one of the best men to have on any team.”