An unfinished, problem-plagued football field next to the Cayman Islands Football Association’s headquarters has become the symbol of FIFA’s lopsided power structure in international media.
In the wake of the organization’s corruption scandal, The New York Times and Germany’s Bild-Zeitung featured Cayman’s “football center of excellence,” funded by FIFA, to illustrate the dependency that leading officials at the world’s football governing body create through financial assistance and development initiatives.
The New York Times on Sunday explained how the Cayman Islands, whose population could not fill a large football stadium, “became a FIFA power” by pointing to the payments made by FIFA under its Goal program to develop the sport, and particularly youth football, in its members associations.
“The Cayman Islands represents how that financial assistance program keeps the lights on. That means these small soccer associations are beholden to the leaders of FIFA,” The Times quoted David Larkin, a Washington-based lawyer and director of an organization called ChangeFIFA.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter visited the Cayman Islands in 2009 to announce the planned state-of-the-art facility. Five years and nearly $1.8 million later, the center remains unfinished, largely because much of the 18-acre plot is wetlands where grass cannot grow.
The Cayman Compass reported in January that, according to the Cayman Islands Football Association, much of the money had been spent on fill to develop the low-lying land. The association secured another $500,000 from FIFA to install artificial turf.
Since 2002, Cayman has received $2.2 million from the program, compared to $900,000 given to Germany, even though its football association has nearly 7 million members, Bild-Zeitung, Europe’s second-largest newspaper, reported on Monday.
In a story with an image of the dilapidated pitch in Prospect, the tabloid targeted FIFA’s voting system, which gives member associations equal voting rights regardless of their size.
Under the headline “This [recreational ground] explains FIFA’s power structure – Cayman football association as influential as Germany’s FA” the newspaper criticized the payouts made to Cayman and other Caribbean countries as a mechanism to cement president Blatter’s hold on FIFA.
“It is clear that the association votes for Blatter [so it] does not saw off the branch it is sitting on. Divide and conquer,” the newspaper concluded.
In addition, Bild featured a photo of Bruce Blake (the same one as on the front page of today’s Cayman Compass), the first vice president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, with the caption: “The delegate of the Cayman Islands Football Association casts his ballot in the FIFA [presidency] election. For whom, should be obvious.”
Mr. Blake voted on behalf of the association’s president Jeffrey Webb in Friday’s FIFA election in Zurich.
Webb, the highest-ranking FIFA official implicated in the corruption probe, became head of the regional football body CONCACAF in 2012 and as such “the ruler of 34 FIFA associations – or 35 votes,” Bild-Zeitung said.
The man who, according to Sky TV news, “put the Caymans on the world football map,” rising to FIFA vice president, was also Blatter’s personal favorite to become his successor, the European press reported in unison. Swiss business paper Handelszeitung called him “Sepp Blatter’s sugar baker” in reference Webb’s co-ownership of The Captain’s Bakery in Cayman.
Meanwhile, British Sunday paper The Observer tied the allegations in the 161-page indictment that companies and bank accounts in the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands were used to obscure kickbacks and bribe payments to a call for a clampdown on offshore banking.
The lack of transparency and oversight allowed bribery and corruption to thrive, The Observer claimed.
Citing John Mann, a Labour MP and Treasury select committee member, the paper said the use of British Overseas Territories made investigating the scandal more difficult. “The problem is that the Serious Fraud Office here can’t investigate these tax havens, and that anomaly needs rectifying. They are centers for money laundering in a very big way,” Mr. Mann said. “We are negotiating to change relations with the European Union, but we should spend just as much time renegotiating the deals with the overseas territories. They are becoming a serious problem for the world.”
Amid these attacks, a Sky TV news team that visited the Cayman Islands noted the unwillingness of Cayman officials to make a public statement. Neither the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, nor banking and business associations had responded to a request for interview, leading the Sky News reporter to conclude that officials are “closing ranks.”