Bhamjee falls from hero to zero

The disgraced administrator ‘ until now one of the most powerful football figures around the world ‘ was expelled from the World Cup finals last week after admitting to selling tickets for a game at an inflated price.

Bhamjee, who was in Germany on Fifa duty, confirmed that he sold 12 tickets for the game between England and Trinidad and Tobago at three times their face value.

The revelations and the subsequent admission were a bitter blow to the image of Fifa and forced its president Sepp Blatter to convene an emergency meeting that decided Bhamjee should be stripped of his World Cup duties and sent home.

Bhamjee’s actions were also a severe blow not only to the image of African football but to this region – where he is chairman of the Council of Southern African Football Associations.

With South Africa hosting the World Cup finals in four years, Bhamjee’s scandal could not have come at a worse time and at a worse stage for this part of the continent. Bhamjee is expected to be asked to quit the Fifa executive committee ‘ the first man to be forced to do that ‘ in a fall from grace that is likely to haunt him until his dying day.

He is also expected to quit his post as Cosafa president and cut all ties with football administration ‘ a bitter pill to swallow for a man who almost fought for the right to lead the Confederation of African Football.

But while the world waits for the drama to unveil, Bhamjee’s family is reliving a nightmare that haunted it at the turn of the ’90s.

In 1992, Ismail’s brother Abdul was convicted by a South African court in a high-profile fraud cause and sent to prison in disgrace.

At the time of his conviction Abdul was the public relations officer of the then National Soccer League of South Africa.

He served his time and is now out of jail and just when the family was adjusting to his freedom, Ismail shamed them in the worst manner possible.

For a man who was getting US$500 in daily allowances as a Fifa executive committee member and US$100 000 a year, his greed was shocking.

Now he is about to face the music.

Bhamjee is facing formal investigations by Fifa’s ethics committee, disciplinary committee and executive committee.

“It is deeply embarrassing when a high ranking official is involved in something like this. It puts Fifa in a very bad light,” said Markus Siegler, the Fifa director of communications.

“As an immediate reaction to this behaviour, Fifa’s emergency committee under the chairmanship of president Blatter decided that Bhamjee had to immediately resign from all Fifa World Cup-related duties and leave Germany at the earliest possible moment,” the statement said.

Bhamjee’s problems, according to British newspaper The Mail on Sunday which broke the story, began when he met a group of England fans in an Indian restaurant in Frankfurt.

After telling them he was with Fifa, one of the fans asked him if he could get them tickets for the match with Trinidad and Tobago and he replied that he could.

The fans then allegedly contacted a Mail on Sunday reporter who purchased the tickets from Bhamjee at his hotel suite.

When told that his actions would be reported in the newspaper, Bhamjee was quoted as saying:

“I was actually trying to help someone else and I got in this mess and I regret it very much. I will donate double the amount of money to charity.

“I could lose my pension because of this. I’ve been a fool. Spare me.”

He then issued a statement saying:

“I deeply regret this incorrect act and apologise to Fifa for violating the relevant terms and conditions governing the sale of tickets for the 2006 Fifa World Cup.”

Bhamjee was due to leave the Fifa executive committee next January after failing to be re-elected at the congress of the Caf in Cairo, Egypt, in January just before the Nations Cup finals.

Blatter said in a statement:

“I am very disappointed about the conduct of a member of the Fifa executive committee. In such a situation, Fifa acts immediately and firmly.”

Caf said they were aware of the developments surrounding the Bhamjee saga.

“The President of the Confederation of African Football Issa Hayatou said that Caf have acknowledged the decision taken by the world governing football body Fifa and Caf Executive Committee will meet in the next days to take immediate action.

“Mr. Ismail Bhamjee was elected by national associations from the Confederation of African Football to represent Africa on the Fifa Executive Committee until 2007.

“Africa is represented with four members out of the twenty-four members,” said Caf in a statement.

Bhamjee faces expulsion from all football-related activities.

Blatter has been pushing for Caf to take sterm action against Bhamjee.

“The question came up if he will lose or not lose his seat in the Fifa executive committee,” said Blatter.

“This is not a matter of the Fifa directly – it is a matter of the football confederation of Africa.

“In the meantime I’m sure that the African confederation will make a move toward him and replace him immediately.”

Bhamjee has been on the committee since 1998.

No member of the executive committee had been fired directly in the 102 years of Fifa’s history.

Blatter said it was morally wrong for Bhamjee to use his position to sell the tickets at inflated prices.

“It is the mentality which is wrong and not, I would say, the dimension of the fact,” he said.

“The wrong mentality, we cannot use it in Fifa. We have to clean our house now.

“I’m shocked because it is not understandable when one of the long-standing members of our executive committee is in such behavior.”

Blatter said auditors Ernst & Young would be investigating several issues related to the World Cup finals.

Bhamjee ironically attended the Fifa Congress in Munich on June 8, when members voted 188-6 in favour of establishing an independent ethics committee.

His case could not have come at a worse time for a game that has been reeling from the scandal engulfing Italian football.

The entire Juventus board resigned after revelations that referees might have been influenced by the same team to be biased towards the Italian giants.

Bhamjee, though, will not be the first African football official to be banned for improper behaviour.

Former Caf vice-president Farrah Addo was banned by the world soccer governing body two years ago.

He was slapped with a 10-year ban by the Fifa Disciplinary Committee after being found guilty of depriving the Somali Football Federation of grants forwarded by Fifa.

The Disciplinary Committee banned Addo from taking part in any football-related activity ‘ be that within an association, confederation or Fifa itself ‘ for 10 years. At the time of his ban Addo was chairman of the Caf Referees Committee, which was responsible for designating referees to officiate competitive matches organised by the African football body.

The committee was also in charge of selecting referees to handle World Cup matches.

June 2006
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