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FIFA investigation: For former Umbro executive, criminal charges were no surprise

By Jason Lesleh
Coastal Observer

Ian McLaren of Litchfield, who headed the sporting goods company Umbro and traveled the world selling soccer gear and promoting the sport, doesn’t think FIFA’s Sepp Blatter will present the new women’s World Cup champions their trophy in Canada on Sunday night.

“He’s been advised by his attorneys not to visit countries which have extradition agreements with the U.S.,” McLaren said. “I would be astonished if Blatter turns up to award the women’s World Cup.”

Following the arrests of 14 high ranking FIFA officials on tax-evasion and corruption charges, Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term as president of the world body governing soccer in June. He announced he would resign days later and called for new elections.

The arrests by the FBI began to peel back the layers of corruption and influence pedaling that has shaped World Cup soccer for decades. “A nest of snakes,” McLaren called FIFA.

He said he began hearing rumors in the 1980s when he was in South Africa for the Cup of Nations competition that votes to award the World Cup were available for a million dollars.

Umbro was one of the first companies to sponsor tournaments in Africa and provided equipment and financial backing. “I can honestly say it was clean,” McLaren said. “There was no money under the table. We were helping to grow the sport on the continent of Africa.”

McLaren began to see the ugly underbelly of the soccer world when he got involved with Jack Warner of Trinidad and Tobago, president of the Caribbean Football Union.

“Under the rules of FIFA,” McLaren said, “it’s one country, one vote regardless of size. Jack Warner was shrewd enough to realize that in the Caribbean, for example, a small island soccer association with a population of 30,000 to 40,000 had the same vote as England, France and Germany. When you add up all the island nations of the Caribbean, Jack Warner found he controlled close to 30 votes. That was probably the start of influence pedaling.”

Federal prosecutors accused Warner of selling his vote to the 2010 World Cup to South Africa for $10 million.

McLaren said Swiss banking laws helped shield FIFA’s financial dealings — it claims to be a charity and doesn’t have to publish financial statements. “They kept a very tight lid on that for a long time,” he said.

Chuck Blazer, a cohort of Warner, had offices in Trump Tower in New York City as head of the governing body and the longtime general secretary of the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football. He had an apartment in the luxurious building, and it’s rumored, McLaren said, there was a separate apartment for his cats.

Awarding television and ticket rights to games allowed soccer officials to get rich. McLaren said ticketing rights were awarded to a marketing company owned by Warner’s two sons. Television broadcast rights were awarded to a Swiss marketing company owned by Blatter’s son. “They would pay some nominal fee and in turn sell them for hundreds of millions of dollars,” McLaren said.

When Blazer told the Caribbean nations he had been authorized to offer $300,000 for World Cup television rights, they revolted. “That was one of the few times the member nations of the Caribbean actually rebelled,” McLaren said. “That was the way the game was played.”

McLaren said Blazer came under IRS scrutiny. “They had been tracking bank transfers,” he said. “That’s where the microscope came out.” News reports said Blazer was accused of tax evasion by the Internal Revenue Service and agreed to rat out his bosses. “It’s been rampantly corrupt but obscured from public view for a long time,” McLaren said. “I am personally delighted it’s finally come out in public view.”

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