COSAFA’s cleanliness under the spotlight

Harare – FIFA’S global investigations into match-fixing and illegal gambling in world football is likely to give Southern Africa a clearer picture of the rot that has taken root in the region, with virtually no country in the COSAFA family seemingly untouched by the threat. Zimbabwe and Botswana have already fired their Football Association chief executive officers after controversy erupted in both countries related to trips undertaken by their national teams to Asia, which might have been compromised by match-fixing agents. Six Zambian players, including the Yobe brothers – Dominic and Donnewell – and Christopher Musonda, were arrested by Finnish police in March on accusations of throwing games in the Finnish top-flight. They were accused of working with Singaporean Wilson Raj Perumal, who has done jail time for match-fixing. Perumal is fingered by the Zimbabwe FA authorities in the Asia match-fixing probe that local media have dubbed Asiagate. Malawian football consultant Felix Sapao – who works for French firm SportFive which manages the CAF Champions League TV rights – told Zimbabwe investigators that Perumal approached him in Blantyre with a deal to try and manipulate matches involving the country’s national teams. Perumal allegedly bought whisky for the Malawian FA leadership during a trip to Blantyre that coincided with the national team’s Nations Cup tie against Guinea. Sapao said he turned Perumal down. The football consultant also claims he saw Perumal in a Luanda hotel at the 2010 Nations Cup finals in Angola, triggering fears that the continent’s flagship football tournament might also have been at risk. The Southern Times understands that a Malawi junior national team was also approached by match-fixing agents, believed to work for the Asian cartels, during a tournament in Egypt to which Zimbabwe was also invited. Zimbabwe turned down the invitation fearing that their players might be exposed to match-fixing syndicates. The Zimbabwe Football Association has been getting questionable invitations, mostly from Asia, for them to provide referees for international friendly matches. ZIFA authorities say they now believe Asian match-fixing agents were operational during the 2007 Merdeka Cup, where a second-string Zimbabwe Warriors’ side reached the semi-finals. Lesotho took part in that tournament. Zimbabwean authorities are investigating an invitational tournament for Under-20s in Bulgaria two years ago, where the Under-20 team and their South African counterparts participated. Botswana FA fired chief executive Tosh Kgotlele last year following a controversial trip by their national team to China. Authorities believe it was sponsored by match-fixing cartels. Kgotlele was accused of obtaining sponsorship for the team’s airfares to China from an Asian company that was involved in match-fixing, something the Botswana FA claim he knew at the time of committing himself to the deal. ZIFA chief executive Henrietta Rushwaya was fired last year after a tribunal found her culpable in the organization of Monomotapa’s trip to Malaysia in 2009, where they masqueraded as the Zimbabwe national team. FIFA’s Anti-Corruption unit will question Malaysia FA officials as part of a global investigation into match-fixing and illegal gambling, with Monomotapa’s controversial tour believed to be part of the agenda. FIFA president Sepp Blatter said on Monday that football’s world governing body would give US$28 million to Interpol to fund a dedicated anti-corruption unit in Singapore to help fight match-fixing. “Joint work with the authorities and with Interpol is crucial for success, and for this reason we are very pleased to announce this contribution, which will further enhance our co-operation (with Interpol).” Interpol secretary-general Ron Noble told FIFA that Asia was “a hotbed of betting and match-fixing”. “I’m not surprised by the efforts of transnational crime,” Noble said. “It’s a high profit, with a low risk of getting caught, and with online bets, there is the opportunity to make huge amounts. “Asia is a hotbed of betting and match-fixing and Singapore is among the least corrupt countries on the planet so there may be no better place than to set up this initiative in Singapore.” Noble, however, said he believed that most corruption was at the lower levels. Malaysia FA secretary-general, Datuk Azzudin Ahmad, told Reuters recently that it was wrong to paint the country as a match-fixing den. “Your guess is as good as mine, talk of match-fixing is everywhere, all the time but there’s nothing official that anyone wants to report to the police or anti-corruption officials,” he said. Part of the problem, he said, was that teams were reluctant to report suspected match-fixing. FIFA is also investigating two international friendlies played in Turkey in February in which seven penalties were awarded, one of them taken twice. The six match officials involved have since been suspended. FIFA is investigating more than 300 matches in three continents, which they believe might have fallen prey to match-fixing. German authorities say there are more than 300 matches in their country alone under investigation.

May 2011
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