Sad end for Bhamjee

Ismail Bhamjee will bid farewell to Cosafa on Wednesday after an 18-year tenure as the organisation’s leader.

Although he ceased to have any role to play in Cosafa after advising the organisation of his intention to quit on Wednesday, he will officially cut all ties on August 30.

It will complete a terrible month for Bhamjee after he was kicked out of his honorary post at the Botswana Football Association over his role in a ticket scandal that shook world football during the World Cup finals in Germany.

Bhamjee was kicked out at the annual congress of the BFA when delegates voted 42-40 against him ‘ the culmination of a heated debate that spilled past midnight.

Rejected by his own people, though by a narrow margin, Bhamjee subsequently retired from all football activities, quitting his posts at all levels including Fifa, the Confederation of African Football and Cosafa.

It was a sad ending to a lengthy spell spent serving the interests of football in which he grew to become the game’s most powerful figure in this part of the world.

It all began when Bhamjee was sent home by Fifa in June after admitting that he sold 12 tickets, at three times the face value, to fans for the game between England and Trinidad and Tobago.

The 62-year-old administrator insisted that his actions were merely centred on helping some desperate fans he met at a German restaurant, acknowledged the error of his way, apologised profusely and donated a lot of money to charity.

“I must confirm at the outset that I have made an error of judgment in relation to the sale of 12 tickets for the match between England and Trinidad and Tobago,” he said in a statement then.

“I take full responsibility for the sale, the circumstances of which I do not wish at this stage to go into great detail.

“I have always been a man who takes responsibility for his actions and have acted accordingly. I would, however, like to state the following:

l I was at all times during the sale process under the impression that I was assisting and helping some unfortunate fans who were desperate to see their country play at the World Cup

l I did not go out to sell the 12 tickets or any other tickets in general. The 12 tickets were sourced upon request by England fans whom I met at a restaurant in Frankfurt and who were complaining about poor allocation of tickets.

l I am not, and have never been, involved in any ticket-touting business. I was asked to sign the declaration prepared for me by Fifa in which, by my signature, I confirmed that I sold the 12 tickets.

l After signing the declaration, I was instructed by Fifa to leave Germany as I had been relieved of my World Cup duties.

"I have complied with the instruction. I have apologised for my actions and have acknowledged that these were wrong under the circumstances.”

But Bhamjee’s passionate statement did not stop the backlash and Cosafa leaders, who met in Windhoek earlier this month, were united in asking their leader to leave honourably.

On Wednesday, the organisation’s secretary-general Ashford Mamelodi finally gave the majority of the Cosafa leaders their wish when he announced Bhamjee’s decision to quit his post.

But Mamelodi carefully tried to avoid the contagion of the World Cup tickets scandal and, instead, said Bhamjee had resigned on medical grounds.

Admittedly, Bhamjee has been under severe pressure since his problems surfaced in Germany and, for a man his age, there could be medical repercussions from such pressures.

Mamelodi’s statement was largely complimentary over the role that Bhamjee played in shaping Cosafa into the most vibrant regional football organisation on the continent.

“The Cosafa president, Ismail Bhamjee, has announced his retirement from all football activities at the levels of Fifa, Caf and Cosafa following medical consultations and other family considerations.

“Whilst his retirement from Fifa and Caf has already been effected through letters to both organisations, his planned retirement from Cosafa will take effect by 30 October 2006 in which time he expects to have signed, as President, the audited financial statements of Cosafa for the year ending September 2006 and also to allow the Council enough time to prepare for the election of a new President at the next annual general meeting scheduled for December 2006,” read the statement.

Bhamjee had three years left on his term of office as Cosafa president.

“Ismail Bhamjee was re-elected to the Cosafa presidency for a four-year term at the last annual general meeting which took place on 27 November 2005.

“The outgoing Cosafa president has served the zonal confederation since 1988. In the last 18 years he has led the growth of Cosafa to being the best organised African zonal confederation.”

Mamelodi, a trusted lieutenant of Bhamjee for years, said he believed the outgoing president had reason to go with his head held high despite the problems that blighted the few months of his lengthy stay in football.

Although he did not specifically say it, Mamelodi appeared to suggest that the region should remember the good things that Bhamjee did rather than forgetting them all because of the ticket scandal.

“Cosafa will always be indebted to Ismail Bhamjee for the dedicated and selfless service to football in the sub-region.

“Ismail Bhamjee and his family are wished well in all their future endeavours and Cosafa will continue to call on him for advice as (and when it is) necessary and to tap on his extensive football leadership experience.

“Cosafa prides itself with the successful annual Cosafa Castle Cup which has been sponsored by Castle for the last 11 years.

“Cosafa has consistently organised the annual U-20 competition hosted by the South African Football Association for the last seven years.

“Efforts are at an advanced stage to revive the regional Cosafa U-17 competition. It is expected that the Zambia Football Association will host the Cosafa women’s competition in Lusaka from 21-27 August 2006 in which nine of the 13 member associations of Cosafa will take part.”

Mamelodi also looked into the future.

“It is expected that when the president leaves the vice-president, Petrus Damaseb from Namibia, will act as president of Cosafa until the elections for the new president are held in December 2006.

“Upon being informed officially by Mr Bhamjee of his retirement, the Cosafa vice-president, in a letter to Mr Bhamjee, stated as followed on behalf of Cosafa:

“It is with profound sadness that I have learned of your decision to retire as Cosafa president at the end of October 2006 on doctor’s advice.

“I do, nevertheless, understand fully the reason that actuated your decision. World football, particularly African football, will be the poorer for your departure.

“I take solace in the fact that you will play the role of elder statesman in our region and continue to provide advice and counsel as we, no doubt, will need it.”

Bhamjee is not an average football administrator.

He was a member of the Fifa executive committee since 1988 and had a few months left on his term at the time that he decided to quit all football-related activities.

He was president of the Botswana Football Association, president of the Botswana National Olympic Committee from 1988-2001 and secretary-general of the same Olympic Committee from 1979-1988.

He was an executive committee member of Caf from 1988, treasurer of the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa from 1989 to 2001 and the driving force behind Cosafa since 1988.

Bhamjee had a crack at the Caf presidency, but was humiliated by Issa Hayatou in an election in which his Southern African comrades terribly let his down.

The veteran administrator dug his own grave when, in a moment of severe weakness, he ruined a profile that he had taken almost 20 years to build on the international football scene.

It’s a new era for Cosafa and, hopefully, the region will prove that there is life after Bhamjee.

August 2006
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