Turmoil on paradise island
Harare ‑ Two weeks ago, Mauritius Football Association (MFA) president Dinnanathall Persunnoo was basking in the global limelight brought by his country’s hosting of the FIFA Congress with all the world’s football leaders in town.
He attended official functions, including the day when FIFA president Sepp Blatter opened the Mauritius Football Association’s fourth Goal Project and posed for photo shoots with the people who run world football.
Persunnoo was also in attendance at the ceremony when the MFA headquarters was renamed the Sepp Blatter House in recognition of the contribution that the FIFA president has made to football development on the Indian Ocean Island.
But, just a fortnight after his bath in the spotlight, Persunnoo is slowly turning into an outcast and stands alone, isolated from the global football family he hosted just two weeks ago and facing an uncertain future in the game.
Persunnoo last week took voluntary leave, from his position as MFA president, amid growing criticism over his alleged role in a match-fixing scandal that has erupted in Mauritius’ lower division leagues.
Initial reports of the scandal first emerged in the countdown to the FIFA Congress but then the was a lull that might have been prompted by the need for the island nation not to embarrass itself on the big occasion.
However, with the FIFA bandwagon having left Mauritius, the boardroom battles have erupted again and Persunnoo was last week forced to take voluntary leave until this case has been resolved. Bhai Mustapha Chitbahal, the second vice-president of the MFA, will be the acting president of the association until the resolution of Persunnoo’s match-fixing case.
The MFA boss is accused of influencing results in a complex Division Two relegation and promotion puzzle that also featured his team, a charge that he denies.
Division Two club Stanley United president, Anzal Hossenbaccus, has a recorded a telephone conversation he had with Persunnoo, which appears to suggest that the MFA president played a hand in influencing the outcome of the championship.
Hossenbaccus was hurt that his team, Stanley United, ended up being relegated from a championship, which, according to his telephone conversation with Persunnoo, was clearly stage-managed for a particular outcome.
Interestingly, Persunnoo’s team, Mahebourg Quartier, survived relegation.
Hossenbaccus took the recorded conversation to Mauritius independent radio station, Radio Plus, who played it out, taking its contents to the homes of Indian Ocean islanders and turning this case into one for public debate.
“Persunnoo explained how everything was calculated for the promotion and also for the relegation,” the Stanley United owner told BBC Sport.
“Now our team has been relegated to the Inter Regional Leagues whereas his team, Mahebourg Quartier, remain in the second division.
“We have now no alternative than to initiate a lawsuit against him and the MFA.”
Persunnoo claims that while he indeed talked to Hossenbaccus, he did not mean what he said and it was all light-hearted stuff that was now being given a different meaning.
“I have not been involved in any case of match-fixing and was just joking during that conversation,” he said.
“I did not use pressure and threats to wheel and deal matches. I am being harassed by the president of Stanley United.
“You can check my telephone bill if you need any proof.
“I am taking leave to give the fact-finding committee all the liberty for its inquiry. I maintain that I have done nothing wrong. The truth will come out.” The latest developments will be an embarrassment for Mauritius after the island nation did well to host a successful FIFA Congress just two weeks ago, with Persunnoo playing a very big role in the organisation of the indaba.
Match-fixing, and the threats that it poses to the integrity of football, was one of the key issues discussed by the FIFA Congress in Mauritius after a number of high-profile cases around the world in the past few years.
On May 26, Blatter opened Mauritius’ fourth Goal Project, which involved the installation of a football pitch in the Trianon Technical Centre – with the Zurich organisation injecting a cool US$2 million.
The technical centre is now a focal point of football development on the Indian Ocean Island, and a key facility for the estimated 80 000 football players in that country.
Mauritius was also praised by FIFA for being one of the first countries to implement the 11 for Health Programme initiated by the world football governing body in a projected that has benefited more than 20 000 children in the last three years.
“Throughout the past years, Africa has been the largest recipient of FIFA Goal projects,” FIFA director of Member Associations and Development, Thierry Regenass, said.
“Mauritius is a good example of how, in spite of difficult structural and geographical conditions, effective development initiatives can be implemented in a variety of areas, thus making a concrete contribution to local population.”