Better the devils they know
FIFA policies mean corrupt officials in African football often go unpunished, writes Brian Oliver
'Our society is full of devils, and you find these devils in football."So said Sepp Blatter, head of football's world governing body, after two of his fellow members of the FIFA executive board were provisionally suspended for allegedly offering their votes for sale in the bidding process for the World Cup finals.
There are devils in sport everywhere. World Cup bids from Europe and Asia are under scrutiny by FIFA after claims of vote-swapping. The latest issue of Sports Illustrated shows that another kind of football -- the American college game -- is troubled by illegal payments to players. There is corruption in sport all over the globe. The evidence of the past two weeks, however, strengthens the widely held view that African football is home to more of these devils than any other sport in any other part of the world.
There are many exasperated players, coaches and officials throughout the continent who feel FIFA, far from doing all in their power to exorcise the devils, actually encourage them.
While the votes-for-sale scandal has attracted headlines globally, other tales of corruption are arguably just as mind-boggling. A sensational case of match-fixing was revealed to a judge in a hearing in Zimbabwe last week, and multiple tales of bribes, bungs and bottomless pockets in eight countries are featured in a special report just published by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR).
"Nobody dares touch these looters [corrupt football executives] because of the FIFA policy of non-interference," one of Zimbabwe's top coaches tells FAIR. "The football community will never get to the bottom of the rot."
He is referring to the strictly regulated policy of suspending national federations who are subject to "government interference". In essence this may sound sensible, as corruption is rife in political life, too, but it gives the executives on national federations limitless power. No government wants to alienate its public by being held responsible for a country's banishment from world football. If they suspect corruption or mismanagement within football, they investigate under threat of expulsion from the world game. Thus the corruption festers.
The match-fixing story emerged at a tribunal hearing in Harare. A club side, Monomatapa, made a brief tour of Asia in the guise of the Warriors, Zimbabwe's national XI, last December. Blatter's men are investigating, as two games are listed as full internationals. Criminal proceedings are likely to follow.
A judge heard that two officials from the Zimbabwe Football Association [ZIFA] -- the chief executive, Henrietta Rushwaya, and the programmes officer, Jonathan Musavengana -- acted without the sanction of the ZIFA board and sent the club players out as Zimbabwe. On arrival in Bangkok the team were instructed to lose 1-0 to Thailand by "an Asian gentleman" according to evidence from a coach. This 'gentleman', named as Raja Raj, a Malaysian gambler, sat on the team bench during the game, talking to a fellow member of his gambling syndicate. He became increasingly agitated as the tourists, having travelled at short notice and being short of match practice, lost 3-0.
After that match the Asians are said to have confronted players, claiming they were in the books of another betting syndicate. "Raja Raj threatened our players for having cost him more than $1m by not losing according to instructions," the official report says.
"In order for him to recover his money he [Raj] arranged two games," the coach, Joey Antipas, claims. They were both in Malaysia: the first against a club side, the second against Syria, who are ranked a few places higher than Zimbabwe.
"The condition was to lose 6-0 [to Syria]. We disagreed but we were afraid because the guy wanted to recover his money. Jonathan Musavengana was directing operations from the bench while receiving calls from the Asian syndicate. Whenever he received a call, he would stand up from the bench and dish out instructions to concede goals, and that game was duly lost 6-0. At the airport the players were paid $1,000 each after they had met one member of the syndicate. A bunch of US dollars was also given to Musavengana as ZIFA's share. To conclude, I would say my hands received dirty money due to being forced into these games of illegal betting by Jonathan Musavengana."
One player was so disgusted by the fixing that he asked to be substituted. Another feared for his life, he said. The paper trail recording what happened, who picked the team, who sanctioned the trip and so on has been lost or destroyed, and the dates of emails have been doctored, according to investigators.
ZIFA are also investigating club matches that have come under suspicion, as well as Zimbabwe's results in the Merdeka Cup, a tournament in Malaysia, in 2007. In their first 34 minutes in that competition, the Warriors conceded four goals.
Rushwaya, who did not attend the tribunal, faces dismissal after being found guilty of a number of charges, among them securing a $103,000 loan without authorisation. The money cannot be traced. A further hearing is to be held into the match-fixing scam, and inquiries are ongoing into the missing $640,000 gate money from a pre-World Cup match between Zimbabwe and Brazil. A former ZIFA president is also implicated.
Zimbabwe is far from an isolated case. Missing money, flawed or non-existent accounts, forged transfer and registration documents, and rigged elections feature throughout the FAIR report.
When the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, suspended the national team after their flop at the World Cup and ordered an audit into allegations of fraud, FIFA moved against him. They called for advice on the state of football governance in Nigeria from none other than Amos Adamu, the man at the centre of the World Cup votes scandal who has been provisionally suspended. Adamu had already been sacked as director general of Nigeria's National Sports Commission. He denies any wrongdoing in the "votes for sale" investigation.
After taking advice from their own man, FIFA gave the government three days to withdraw their decision or face a ban. FIFA would also withhold $8m due to Nigeria for participating in the World Cup. The politicians backed down.
"Our first interlocutors are naturally our members, that is the national association," a FIFA spokesman explains. "However we receive information from different sources amongst football's stakeholders."
In Zambia four FA executive members resigned in disgust at the reign of Kalusha Bwalya, a former African footballer of the year, then coach of the national team and now president of the FA. Bwalya is also an agent and is married to a marketing executive who worked for the 2010 World Cup organising committee.
Allegations of corruption focus on the transfer of a young player to Israel, and nearly 100 clubs -- including those backed by the police, army and air force -- have signed a petition against what they now see as an unconstitutional ZFA. But FIFA are supporting Bwalya and say any objections will have to wait until the next ZFA elections in 2012.
FIFA's "stick to your statutes" attitude has not been evident in the case of Kenya, where the last elections were in 2004. There should have been a new vote in 2008. It was action by disgruntled clubs that led to a breakaway league being formed in Kenya. It is now thriving, competitive and well-run, and brings in more than $1m a year in TV money. But the Kenyan Football Federation are still headed by people who have been accused of, and in two cases charged with, corruption.
"In many cases, 'government interference' is because of gross mismanagement and/or corruption in the national football association," explains Bob Munro, vice-chairman of the Kenyan Professional League. "But who suffers most when FIFA impose a ban? Sadly, it is the innocent clubs, coaches, players and referees. What judicial or other regulatory process in the world punishes the innocent victims?"
More than a dozen countries have been suspended in the past five years under FIFA's 'no interference' rules. African federations who have been suspended include Nigeria, Kenya, Chad, Madagascar and Ethiopia, with Togo (who were also involved in 'fake' international matches) and Botswana under threat of suspension. Botswana could apparently be banned because the government has set up a youth football league which is not run by the national FA.
In 2004, FIFA banned Kenya for "government interference". In a case that is fully documented, it was shown that: officials repeatedly ignored or broke 12 of the 21 articles in the KFF constitution; they repeatedly failed to produce annual audited accounts for four years; they refused to allow member clubs to inspect the accounts; officials allegedly stole more than $700,000 from their own body's and FIFA's funds; Kenyan clubs sent detailed evidence, and wrote 30 letters and appeals to FIFA between 2002 and 2004 asking them to intervene, which FIFA ignored; the high court of Kenya confirmed in April 2004 that the KFF officials were no longer legally in office because they failed to hold elections; FIFA still insisted that the government must ignore the high court ruling and reinstate the KFF officials.
"How can FIFA demand that a sovereign government break its own constitution by ignoring a ruling of its highest court or be banned?" asks an incredulous Munro. "Would the British or American governments consider that a reasonable demand by FIFA?"
Munro explains how corruption works from the bottom level up. Elections for office in the national FA start at sub-branch level. In the last KFF elections, six years ago, the Thika sub-branch had nine registered clubs eligible to vote. An additional 70 ineligible clubs were allowed to vote. In Zimbabwe it appears to be simpler. Three ZIFAcouncillors admitted to FAIR that they were paid $2,000 for their votes in the last election for ZIFA president. "It was no big deal, because we were voting for the better of the two candidates," one of them said.
FIFA have a very difficult job governing more than 200 member federations. They deserve credit, says Munro, for implementing important reforms such as setting up the ethics code, launching new youth programmes and grassroots development projects in Africa.
"But further reforms are needed," he says, "especially on ensuring good governance in FIFA's regional and national associations, on improving FIFA's relations and co-operation with governments, and on applying more effective sanctions and targeted bans which punish corrupt officials instead of innocent clubs, coaches, players and referees."
The International Olympic Committee are way ahead in this respect, and this week officials from more than 200 nations will gather at a conference in Mexico to work out how to improve relations between sport and government.
FIFA stand by their policy. A spokesman says: "FIFA shares the goal of ridding football of corruption, and is willing to act, as demonstrated earlier this week. However allegations of false corruption are also often used by governments as an excuse to try to remove football officials from an association. They cannot remove football officials and put their friends at the top."
Blatter ended that statement about "devils in football" by saying: "We have to fight for fair play. Trust us and you will see confidence will be restored." Any questions, though, and you're suspended.