Nations Cup brings break from raging FIFA corruption storm
Harare- AFTER the turbulence of the last two weeks, when South Africa has been at the centre of a raging FIFA corruption scandal, focus will this weekend shift to events on the field when the race for the 2017 Nations Cup gets underway.
It’s unlikely to push the corruption scandal into the shade but, at least, fans, players and officials across the region will, this weekend, focus on the real football, which is played on the pitch.
A number of Southern African countries will be in action as the marathon, which will end in September next year, roars into life.
The drama of the FIFA corruption scandal has been the talking point in Southern Africa after United States officials claimed that South Africa paid US$10 million in bribes for an historic triumph to get the rights to stage the 2010 World Cup, the first time that FIFA’s showcase tournament has been held on this continent.
There were damaging claims in European newspapers last weekend that former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, was part of the web of corruption that saw US$10 million, which the US authorities claim was a bribe, being paid to the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, the hotbed of the FIFA corruption scandal.
British newspapers and the BBC published more incriminating material last weekend which appeared to suggest that the US$10 million that South Africa paid to CONCACAF, and ended up in the pockets of disgraced former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, was in fact a bribe that was wired through a variety of channels, including a large Trinidad and Tobago supermarket chain.
Chuck Blazer, the whistle blower in the scandal and a former secretary-general of CONCACAF, also told a US judge that he, indeed, working in conjunction with other FIFA officials, possibly including Warner who was the CONCACAF president, accepted bribes to ensure that South Africa won the vote to host the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“Beginning in or around 2004 and continuing through 2011, I and others on the FIFA executive committee agreed to accept bribes in conjunction with the selection of South Africa as the host nation of the 2010 World Cup,” Blazer chillingly admits in court documents released by US officials last week.
Blazer also told a US federal judge, in a guilty plea, that he and his co-conspirators also received a bribe from Morocco in its failed bid to host the 1998 World Cup, which was won by France.
Egyptian authorities, who were part of the countries who battled for the right to host the 2010 World Cup, claim their country was asked to pay US$7 million in bribes if they wanted to make history by bringing the tournament to Africa for the first time.
The South African government has repeatedly rubbished the claims that they paid US$10 million in bribes to win the right to host the 2010 World Cup, after narrowly losing the battle to host the 2006 World Cup, insisting that the money that was paid to CONCACAF was to help develop football in that part of the world.
Australia also paid about US$400 000, towards the same cause, as they battled to bring the World Cup to their shores but US authorities claim that the money ended in the pockets of Warner, and his friends, and were bribes to buy their votes .
But, as the scandal rages on, this weekend, football fans in Southern Africa, a region that has been in the eye of a storm, can turn their focus to events on the pitch with a number of countries from the region taking the first steps to try and reach the 2017 Nations Cup finals.
Swaziland start the ball rolling with a Friday night date against Guinea in a match that is being played on the neutral fields of Morocco because visiting teams are still not allowed to go to the West African country, which is still battling the Ebola virus.
The Swazis are in the same group as fellow Southern African nations – Malawi and Zimbabwe – who get their campaign underway with a date in Blantyre on Saturday, one of the matches to be broadcast live on SuperSport.
The match is a replay of the start of the 2008 Nations Cup finals, where the Flames also hosted the Warriors in Blantyre, and eked out a 1-0 win although both teams eventually failed to make an impact, in a group that was dominated and won by Morocco.
Both countries, though, will be hoping for better tidings this time around although the Warriors’ lack of preparations has infuriated their fans who last watched their team playing at the Nations Cup showcase nine years ago.
A number of Southern African teams are also in action this weekend with Zambia hosting Guinea Bissau in Lusaka, South Africa taking on Gambia in Durban, Angola dating the Central African Republic, Mozambique facing Rwanda, the Seychelles battling Algeria, the number one-ranked team in Africa, Botswana facing Uganda, Comoros having a date against Burkina Faso and Namibia taking on Niger.