Chuck Blazer, the former Concacaf general secretary and Fifa vice president, has died aged 72 after suffering from cancer.
The American, who was also the executive vice president of US Soccer, was banned from all soccer activities for life in 2015 and was also the man whose testimony is credited with sparking the 2015 investigation into Fifa that brought corruption charges against 14 soccer officials and effectively ended the tenure of former president Sepp Blatter. In 2013, Blazer admitted to charges brought by the FBI of bribery, money laundering and tax evasion. He had already agreed in turn to assist the authorities with their inquiries into global soccer governance.
Blazer had failed to file tax returns between 2005 and 2010 and was arrested in 2011 by operatives from the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service while riding a mobility scooter in New York. He had been trying to conceal a substantial income pocketed from a range of undeclared sources, with a 2013 report by the Concacaf executive committee revealing that he had accepted over US$20.6 million in commissions, fees and rental payments between 1996 and 2011. At the London 2012 Olympic Games, Blazer carried a recording device in a key fob into meetings with other soccer officials.
Regarded as a colourful figure even before his arrest due to his distinctive appearance and his blog, which documented his encounters with dignitaries around the world, Blazer emerged through the FBI's investigations as a man with a taste for excess. He was notoriously reported to have rented two units in New York's Trump Tower, with one apartment for himself and another for his cats.
A former salesman, the New Jersey-born Blazer worked as a youth administrator at the Eastern New York State Soccer Association, having coached his son's team, before being elected to the US Soccer Federation as executive vice president in charge of international competition with the endorsement of the Brazilian legend Pelé. In that role, he dramatically increased the number of games played by the men's national team, while he also helped establish the women's national team and is credited with playing a role in securing the 1994 Fifa World Cup for the US.
It was also in that time, while a member of the Concacaf board, that he met Trinidad and Tobago's Jack Warner. The relationship would play a defining role in the administrative careers of the two men. Blazer encouraged Warner to seek the leadership of Concacaf in 1989, with Warner then naming his ally as general secretary. The pair were also central to furthering Concacaf's influence and commercial growth, moving the confederations headquarters from Nicaragua to the US and substantially improving its revenues. But, it would emerge, they were also illicitly enriching themselves in the process. When Warner was forced out of Fifa in 2011, after it emerged he had been circulating bribes to Caribbean officials in exchange for their support of Qatar's Mohammed Bin Hammam in a Fifa presidential election, Blazer's intervention was believed to have been significant.
Blazer, who became knowin in some circles as 'Mr Ten Per Cent' as his own company would receive a cut of Concacaf rights deals, was soon to face his own investigation for income tax evasion while the extent of his transgressions in soccer would also become apparent. In a court appearance in 2013, he would admit to receiving bribes during the course of bidding for the 1998 and 2010 World Cups.
Nevertheless, his contribution to the game in his region and to the exposure of international soccer corruption brought a tribute from his lawyers, Eric Corngold and Mary Mulligan.
'We are truly saddened by the passing of our client and friend, Chuck Blazer,' the statement read.
'His misconduct, for which he accepted full responsibility, should not obscure Chuck's positive impact on international soccer.
'Chuck felt profound sorrow and regret for his action. He expressed sincere remorse towards his former constituents and colleagues, and to all of the soccer players disappointed by his conduct.
'With Chuck’s guidance and leadership, Concacaf transformed itself from impoverished to profitable, with substantial benefits and improvements to all member associations, players and fans.
'Throughout his adult life, Chuck felt great pride in his service to soccer. In fact, he devoted 30 years of his life to soccer at all levels of the game, with his involvement ranging from coaching his children’s youth teams to serving on Fifa’s executive committee.'
Bruce Arena, the US national team coach, also paid his respects.
“I've known Chuck for a lot of years," he said, speaking to the Associated Press. "He did a lot for the sport. Sorry about all the issues regarding Fifa, but he was a good man. He helped the sport in the United States."