Cayman was welcomed back into the global football community Friday, when FIFA President Gianni Infantino led a delegation to visit the headquarters of the Cayman Islands Football Association.
Infantino, joined by CONCACAF President Victor Montagliani, indicated Cayman will soon receive FIFA funding again, signalling the beginning of the end of a financial scandal that rocked the local community.
Former CIFA President Jeffrey Webb was one of many FIFA officials indicted on corruption charges in 2015. Two additional men – former CIFA Treasurer Canover Watson and CIFA Vice President Bruce Blake – were charged Thursday with offences including money laundering and false accounting.
Despite the announcement of those charges, which follow a lengthy Anti-Corruption Commission probe into suspicious loan payments to CIFA dating back to 2013, world football chief Infantino appeared confident Friday that the new CIFA administration has turned a page on its troubled past.
“We have been looking at the financial situation of CIFA. We don’t have to hide,” said Infantino. “We all know that CIFA was under restricted funding for the time being, but the news is very positive in that respect. We are looking to building – with new funds which are there from FIFA – the infrastructure that is needed to give even more opportunities to play football for the whole community.”
Infantino lauded current CIFA President Alfredo Whittaker for expanding opportunities for Cayman’s youth to play on an international stage. Infantino said Friday that restoring funding to CIFA will not be his decision alone; it will be made by FIFA’s compliance committee. But he said the situation appears positive and that he looks forward to working with CIFA in the future.
“We cannot change the past. The past is the past,” he said. “The entire situation in the Cayman Islands football has affected the present, and that’s why the work which was done here by Alfredo and his team has certainly been harder than in many, many other places. I know what I’m speaking about, because the situation I found FIFA in when I arrived a couple of years ago was also not really the best one. You have to roll up your sleeves and you have to work and that’s exactly what has happened here.”
Infantino had hoped to meet with representatives of government including Premier Alden McLaughlin and Minister of Sports Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, but that did not come to pass. Still, he said it was a crucial time for him to visit Cayman and an important juncture for CIFA to build upon.
“It’s sad of course that these meetings have not materialised,” said Infantino. “I understand the situation. My wish and my hope as FIFA president with my delegation was simply to come here and say ‘Hello,’ to say, ‘Look at what we are doing and how much we are investing now in football.’ Let’s not forget that FIFA has multiplied by five the investments in football development in every country. It’s US$1.5 million a year which will be invested in football development infrastructure and organisation. … It’s also auditing fully everything that happens with that money. This was not the case in the past.”
Montagliani said he was pleased that Cayman agreed to host the Caribbean Football Union’s Girls’ Under 14 Challenge and to Nations League games that will be contested in September. That involvement, he said, indicates that CIFA understands the bigger picture in growing the game.
“I don’t think we just turn the page. I think the book was thrown away. We’ve written a new book,” he said. “I was here not too long ago. We had a leadership summit here. The facts are the facts, and the facts are that this administration led by Alfredo and his team have worked their butts off. You can see the results. Not only are they doing it for Cayman, they’re doing it for CONCACAF.”
Whittaker said he was thrilled to meet with FIFA and that he was prepared to let the investigation and prosecution of Webb et al take its own trajectory. At one point, Whittaker was asked if CIFA would seek to recover funds improperly taken from it if Blake and Watson are convicted.
“I cannot make a comment on that right now until I meet with my legal department,” he said.
The bottom line, said Whittaker, is that CIFA cannot change what happened in the past. CIFA is looking to build a better future for Cayman’s youth, which means better infrastructure, better facilities and increased opportunities for them to play on an international stage.
“I really don’t talk much about the past. The past is the past,” said Whittaker. “I prefer to talk about what is being done, what will be done and what the national team players are enjoying. I think that talks for itself. Whatever is in the past, we throw the book away and we move forward.”