Football: Warner's "football tsunami" warning finally comes true for FIFA

ZURICH (Reuters) - Almost exactly four years to the day since former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner stood in the lobby of the Baur au Lac hotel and warned FIFA a "football tsunami" was about to hit it, his words have finally came true.

But not in the way he could ever have imagined.

As dawn broke on Wednesday, the doors of the luxury five-star hotel overlooking Lake Zurich burst open and plainclothes officers from the Swiss federal police force swept through the very lobby where Warner had uttered those words in 2011.

They obtained the keys to the rooms of seven FIFA delegates, including Warner's successor as the president of the CONCACAF confederation Jeffrey Webb, and led them away on various charges of bribery, racketeering, fraud and money laundering.

This, though, was not the tsunami Warner had in mind when he himself was suspended by FIFA for his alleged part in the bribery scandal that led to his downfall in the build-up to the 2011 FIFA presidential election.

At the time he said he said he had evidence of bribery going back years that would "hit FIFA and the world and shock you." Warner never did unleash his threatened tsunami but now the United States Department of Justice and the Swiss Attorney General have.

Instead Warner walked away after 29 years' involvement with world soccer's governing body rather than face FIFA's own Ethics Committee's probe into his part in the bribery scandal, and became a politician in his native Trinidad.

But on Wednesday he again found himself involved in the murky waters of FIFA when he was named as one of 14 defendants charged by the US authorities.

They said Warner had solicited bribes worth $10 million from the South African government to host the 2010 World Cup and he had diverted bribes for personal use.

Again, perhaps not the tsunami that Warner had predicted.

Warner, once one of the most powerful men in FIFA, issued a statement protesting his innocence on Wednesday as FIFA reeled not only from the raid on the Baur au Lac carried out on behalf of the US but a second investigation opened by the Swiss authorities into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The timing of the two raids, involving 18 people in all, was clearly no coincidence.

The twin investigations involve alleged corruption going back at least 24 years surrounding high profile events like the World Cups but other deals done away from the glare of publicity.

As British Member of Parliament Damian Collins, the founder of the anti-FIFA pressure group New FIFA Now, told Reuters on Wednesday: "Finally the chickens have come home to roost. This has been going on for far too long and now perhaps, change may come."

The timing has come at the worst possible moment for FIFA, just two days before incumbent Sepp Blatter, who will be 80 next year, faces a challenge to his presidency from 39-year-old Prince Ali Al Hussein of Jordan.

Blatter though is virtually certain to win a fifth term of office from the overwhelming majority of FIFA's 209 member nations who have gathered in Zurich for Friday's Congress when the election will take place.

But in an almost Orwellian press conference held at FIFA House hours after the raid at the Baur au Lac, FIFA's Director of Communications Walter de Gregorio claimed the development "was good for FIFA" because the authorities were acting on information FIFA provided to them last November.

However, in reality, with the world's media gathering in Zurich for the election, FIFA's reputation appears to be at an all-time low.

Prince Ali, advocating reform and change at FIFA if he wins the election, said: "We cannot continue with the crisis in FIFA, a crisis that has been ongoing and is not just relevant to the events of today.

"FIFA needs leadership that governs, guides and protects our national associations. Leadership that accepts responsibility for its actions and does not pass blame.

"Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world."

And it probably needs a complete change in the way the organisation runs itself before that ever happens.

Since 1999 at least four books have been published in English detailing allegations of corruption against FIFA, with the latest, The Ugly Game, detailing what it claims is conclusive proof of widespread corruption regarding the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

De Gregorio was quick to rule out that the awarding of that World Cup would be reviewed, but with the United States authorities clearly determined to bring the guilty men to justice, the future remains uncertain not only for the individuals involved, but FIFA itself.

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