By Paul Kennedy
Chuck Blazer won't seek re-election for a fifth term on the FIFA executive committee, and his departure means American soccer loses its most influential advocate ever in the world of international soccer.
The former Concacaf general secretary is perhaps best known as the whistle-blower who went public two years ago with bribery accusations against his boss, then-Concacaf president Jack Warner, and Asian confederation head Mohamed bin Hammam, but good timing, plus his marketing and digital savvy, made him a powerful force within FIFA.
The 67-year-old Blazer, whose travel has sometimes been limited because of health issues in recent years, made the announcement on his Web site of his intention to leave his position in May after 16 years on the job.
“It is time for new faces with new energy to take over the responsibility of FIFA’s leadership,” he said.
Blazer was the proverbial right man at the right time. He joined the FIFA executive committee in 1997 following the death of Mexican Guillermo Canedo. The digital age had just hit, and he was one of its few members with any intimate knowledge of modern technology and how it could be used.
As Concacaf general secretary, he had brought Concacaf member associations into the 20th century, equipping them with lap tops and teaching them how to use e-mail. On the FIFA executive committee, he was visible with his own blog -- "Travels with Chuck Blazer and his friends" -- and Facebook page.
When FIFA's future was thrown in turmoil following the collapse of its most important television and marketing partners, Kirch and ISL, Blazer promoted the idea of bringing the rights in-house. FIFA took Blazer's advice and enjoyed profits of $631 million for the four-year period ending in 2010, boosting its net worth to over $1 billion.
In 2010, Blazer was appointed chairman of the FIFA Marketing and Television Advisory Board responsible for negotiating the deals that bring in the bulk of FIFA's moneys. In recent years, he has also chaired the organizing committee of the FIFA Club World Cup competition.
As the lone American on the FIFA executive committee, he was the USA's public face during the hotly contested battles for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting rights.
After the USA pulled out of the 2018 race to concentrate on the 2022 bid, Blazer signaled his support for Russia by publishing on his website photos of him with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Putin's Moscow offices and photos Putin gave him of his vacation home.
Blazer decried the Qatar 2022 bid, the cornerstone of which was a plan to build air-conditioned stadiums. "I don't see how you can air condition an entire country," he famously said.
Qatar's financial muscle was too much for the USA, which lost 14-8 in the final round of bidding, but doubts about Qatar's plans persist as pressure mounts to move the tournament to the winter.
Perhaps the most important move Blazer made that impacted American soccer came in 2006 when he blocked a deal to award the TV rights to 2010 and 2014 World Cups to NBC and helped strike a deal with ESPN and Univision. The money was not as important as the credibility it meant for MLS to be on ESPN and Univision while it was beginning to expand. It was believed at the time NBC wouldn’t televise MLS.
The move prompted these words of praise from U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, “If we have to go to the mat on something, Chuck’s where we go."
CONCACAF YEARS. Blazer, who made a small fortune for himself as a young entrepreneur manufacturing smiley-face buttons, is a former U.S. Soccer executive vice president who hooked up with Warner to help engineer the Trinidadian's election as Concacaf president in 1990.
Blazer ran Concacaf's day-to-day affairs, moved its offices to the Trump Tower in New York and helped make the Gold Cup one of the most lucrative international tournaments in the world. Blazer was compensated accordingly, thanks to a contract that paid 10 percent of all Concacaf's TV and sponsorship deals to an offshore company called Sportvertising.
Blazer fell out with Warner when in 2011 he was told that Warner and bin Hammam attempted to bribe Caribbean delegates $40,000 each to vote for Bin Hammam in the FIFA presidential election against incumbent Sepp Blatter.
Warner resigned his position soon thereafter. Bin Hammam fought his FIFA's suspension -- and won -- but later quit international soccer after revelations about his financial dealings as Asian confederation president.
But Blazer's days as Concacaf general secretary were numbered. Interim Concacaf president Lisle Austin -- a Warner ally -- attempted to fire Blazer, but the Concacaf executive committee said Austin lacked the authority and the Barbados official was himself suspended.
Blazer resigned his Concacaf post at the end of 2011, and Jeffrey Webb of the Cayman Island and Colombian-born Enrique Sanz took over as Concacaf president and general secretary, respectively. Concacaf has been conducting an audit of the finances of the Warner-Blazer regime ever since.
As soon as Webb took office, Concacaf members took aim at Blazer.
"There are robbers with guns and there are robbers with white collars," said Cuba soccer federation president Luis Hernandez, "and I don't want us to be represented by a thief with a white collar in FIFA."
Mexican soccer federation Justino Compean said Blazer was "manipulating information" and responsible for "obscene irregularities."
"We feel let down, disappointed, dismayed," Webb said. "Too often, improper decisions were made by individuals with their own agenda."
There were calls for Blazer to step down his FIFA position, but he remained on the executive committee.
BLAZER'S SUCCESSOR. Blazer's successor will be elected at the next Concacaf Congress, which will be held April 19 in Panama City, and installed on the FIFA executive committee on May 31 in Mauritius.
Two men should battle for Blazer's job: Compean and Gulati, who came up through the American youth soccer ranks at Blazer's side as an administrator in the Region I ODP program in the early 1980s.
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