Sports Minister Osbourne Bodden led new calls for an independent inquiry into Cayman football’s governing body, following allegations that Jeffrey Webb embezzled funds intended for youth soccer programs.
Mr. Bodden said he feared more local figures would find themselves implicated before the FBI’s far-reaching inquiry into bribes and kickbacks at FIFA is over.
He insisted that government, which pulled its $130,000 annual grant to the organization in August, would not provide any further support to the Cayman Islands Football Association until it demonstrated it had cleaned up its act and elected new leadership. He wants to see a full audit of the association’s books to determine exactly how its money, including FIFA grants, has been spent.
Mr. Webb was suspended from football-related activity by FIFA after his arrest in Switzerland in May. He remains officially president of the Cayman Islands Football Association, though that is expected to change now that he has pleaded guilty to numerous charges, including racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy.
Bruce Blake, first vice president and acting head of CIFA, has called an executive committee meeting early this week to discuss the future of the organization. He declined to comment until that meeting takes place.
Renard Moxam, whose efforts to challenge Mr. Blake for the leadership of CIFA were blocked earlier this year, said it is time for the clubs to demand change and called on Mr. Blake and others to step aside for the good of the game.
“For the sport of football in our country to regain its popularity, transparency, integrity and raise its on-field standards, there must be wholesale changes. Anyone who served under the previous leadership must be removed or resign immediately,” he said.
“Elections must be held as soon as possible and a new administration of capable people who have a genuine interest in the development of the game should take charge.”
Mr. Moxam said national youth programs and club development programs had suffered through years of under-funding, while some of the game’s administrators had become rich.
“A generation of local footballers, male and female, have been robbed [of] the opportunity to enjoy and perhaps excel in the sport. These are the real victims of this system of corruption,” he said. In a new indictment made public Thursday, Webb and Trinidadian Jack Warner, his predecessor at CONCACAF, are accused of misappropriating cash intended for youth footballers and for disaster relief, to enrich themselves.
The indictment states, “The conspirators’ corruption of the enterprise extended beyond the payment and receipt of bribes and kickbacks.
“FIFA’s provision of money – which totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars – to its member associations in connection with the Goal Program, Financial Assistance Program (FAP), and other programs created opportunities for officials to embezzle or otherwise fraudulently appropriate funding intended to benefit FIFA’s member associations and their constituent organizations, including youth leagues. Certain of the defendants and their co-conspirators, including the defendants Jack Warner and Jeffrey Webb, took advantage of these opportunities and embezzled or otherwise personally appropriated funds provided by FIFA, including for disaster relief.”
The reference to disaster relief is understood to relate to allegations that Warner diverted emergency funds intended for victims of the Haiti earthquake.
The indictment does not go into detail on this or on exactly which funds Webb is alleged to have embezzled from FIFA development programs, and it does not form part of the charges that he pleaded guilty to in November.
FIFA has allocated US$2.2 million in GOAL program funding for a center of excellence in Prospect, which currently comprises an office building and a field. It has also allocated just over US$2 million in grants to CIFA through its Financial Assistance Program since 2011, according to publicly available accounts.
Virgil Seymour, head coach of the Academy Sports Club, said if any funds intended for football development in Cayman were taken, it was a “slap in the face” to the hard-working coaches who volunteered their time for free to run youth programs, with no financial support from CIFA.
“An independent inquiry into CIFA should take place at this point to see where the money went or to reassure people that nothing was done wrong on CIFA’s part. That would be the next step,” he said.
Academy Sports Club was one of two clubs to support Mr. Moxam’s nomination for first vice president in August. Mr. Seymour believes the clubs missed an opportunity at that time to bring change to the organization.
“I think we now need to call for an extraordinary general meeting and give the clubs an opportunity to vote again for a new president. Before, some people were loyal because they believed Jeff [Webb] was innocent – they were hoping it was not true. Now that he has admitted it, maybe people have a different perspective.”
Both Mr. Bodden and Mr. Moxam backed that stance.
Sports Minister Bodden said the only way for the organization to regain credibility is through completely new leadership.
“Now that Mr. Webb has pleaded guilty, there should be a new annual general meeting and an election for president. We want to see an open election for that role. We need to see proper administration and proper use of the funds. We can’t contribute to an organization that is mired in all this suspicion,” he said.
Mr. Seymour added that Academy Sports Club had never received any funding from CIFA for any of its youth programs.
“Me and all the coaches give up our daily time, our vacation and our funds. We do everything to run our programs as professionally as possible. To think people may have utilized it for their own personal gain is a slap in the face.”
Ernie Gillie Seymour, technical director of Cayman Athletic, said his program had once received a $5,000 grant from CIFA but it was immediately taken back to pay for player registration and other fees. He said. “If someone is doing work and giving up their time, I don’t mind them getting a little stipend as compensation. I don’t mind that, but not for people to be living la vida and the jet-set lifestyle.”
He believes change has to start with new leadership and organization at the club level. He said many club presidents had been in position for too long and were in it for the wrong reasons.
Though Cayman’s reputation is suffering now, Mr. Seymour believes, the U.S.-led inquiry may be a blessing if it brings change to the game.
“I don’t see this as a bad thing, you know. When Ivan came in and destroyed Cayman, it didn’t destroy Cayman forever. We rebuilt a new Cayman.
“Hopefully, we can rebuild a new way in football. If that’s what happens, then this is a good thing,” he said.