A minor adjustment on the website of Simpaul's Travel has raised eyebrows internationally as FIFA acknowledged the issue regarding Trinidad and Tobago's distribution of 2006 World Cup tickets earlier this week.
Simpaul's website now states that "match tickets are not included" in its $30,000 2006 World Cup package and must be sourced "directly from the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation or via the FIFA website". The price of the travel company's package was also reduced to $27,000.
The change came after FIFA announced the appointment of Ernst & Young as "independent external auditors to monitor and evaluate the overall ticketing project for the 2006 World Cup". The decision from the world governing body, on January 13, came ten days after Warner's public response to the three part series published in the Express on December 25, 26 and 27, which highlighted an apparent lack of transparency within the T&TFF concerning its sale of tickets and its relationship with special adviser and FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, the owner of Simpaul's Travel.
The auditing firm's remit includes a whole range of technical and ethical issues, which, while not illegal, contravenes the spirit of FIFA's anti-profiteering message on tickets.
However, the Express contacted Simpaul's Travel on Tuesday and was told that the $30,000 package remained and they still possessed World Cup tickets. When asked to explain the change on their website, a sales representative suggested that Simpaul's had sold out its "internet quota".
It is uncertain whether FIFA, who were initially pleasedÂ with Simpaul's updated website, would be satisfied with this explanation.
England's Independent newspaper enquired from FIFA press officer John Schumacher as to whether Simpaul's Travel might be a case study for Ernst & Young and was told to take another look at the company's website.
The Independent was one of dozens of international media houses which include Fox Sports World, the Los Angeles Times, the Berliner Zeitung, England's Daily Mail, CNN, Sports Illustrated and India's Statesman to seize upon the Trinidad Express' three part series highlighting an apparent lack of transparency within the T&TFF concerning its sale of tickets and its relationship with Warner.
Independent writer Nick Harris confirmed, as did the Express, that Simpaul's website was misleading since it was still in the business of selling World Cup tickets as part of a package deal.
Company sales executive Natasha Simmons was quoted in the Independent as confirming that the company's package remained unaltered. When contacted by the Express, though, Simmons said she was not authorised to speak on the matter. Project coordinator Gerald Baptiste could not be reached for comment.
The mystery surrounding the supplier of Simpaul's tickets can potentially lead to a further scandal.
Warner initially told a local press gathering on December 14, 2005, that Simpaul's was the only guaranteed seller of World Cup tickets and had paid $500,000 for this right. The Express calculated, conservatively, that Simpaul could rake in upwards of $50 million on ticket sales. The Independent insisted that Warner's family company would make at least double that amount.
On January 3, Warner changed his tune and claimed that Simpaul's tickets were acquired through an unnamed European tour operator and the T&TFF were still to receive their ticket allocation.
FIFA's website did not suggest how this was possible from a legal and ethical standpoint.
According to FIFA, the "only potential source for general public tickets" was the 2006 FIFA World Cup Ticketing Centre (FWCTC) and the various member associations like the T&TFF. Member associations who are unable to distribute their quota of tickets are instructed to return them to FIFA rather than sell them on to private companies. Corporate sponsors are also bound by FIFA guidelines as regards tickets received for promotional competitions.
Warner further claimed, on January 3, that Simpaul's Travel "has been the official tour operator for the T&TFF since the 1994 World Cup Final". It is uncertain whether Ernst & Young might also be asked to look into those claims.
T&TFF president Oliver Camps, who claimed to be gagged from talking to the press and pleaded ignorance of Warner's involvement with Simpaul's last month, has again refused comment.
"I have nothing to say about the World Cup tickets," said Camps, on Tuesday. "You can use whatever statement was issued in the past. I have nothing to say at this point."
However, a T&TFF clerk explained that the local body stopped taking requests for tickets from the public last week. The clerk, who claimed to be unaware of how many tickets were available, suggested that the Express call back next week for a possible update.
The FIFA website stated that "each Member Association is entitled to commence ticket sales immediately upon confirmation of its qualification for the finals of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany".
Trinidad and Tobago booked a place in the 2006 World Cup finals on November 16, 2005.