What a week… For Southern African football

By Robson Sharuko

HARARE – FIFA president Gianni Infantino is turning himself into a rock star after mesmerising Harare, while the CAF boss joined a 60,000 capacity crowd at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka for the opening of the 2017 Under-20 AFCON finals and scores of leading African football bosses converging in Johannesburg for a high-profile three-day summit organised by the game’s global leadership, were some of the key football events happening in the region last week.

South African giants, Mamelodi Sundowns, also consolidated their position as Africa’s number one football club when they edged five-time continental champions TP Mazembe 1-0 in Pretoria in the first CAF Super Cup showdown to feature two SADC clubs.

What a week for Southern African football.

The southern tip of the continent transformed itself into the centre of world football, for just a few days, as the game’s royalty thronged to its shores for an unprecedented three-day FIFA seminar where the FIFA leadership met all the heads of Africa’s 54 member associations.

Infantino, who has now been at the helm of FIFA for a year, met leaders of Africa’s football governing bodies in Johannesburg to clarify several proposals he has made in the past 12 months to change the face of the game and also take it forward.

The Swiss lawyer has already charmed a lot of African countries by unveiling an expanded 48-team World Cup from 2026, which will see more nations from the continent getting a better chance of playing at the biggest football festival in the world.

Infantino’s visit coincided with an open letter, which he penned to the global football family last week, which was published on FIFA’s official website in which he said he came with a game plan to transform the image of a game whose soul had been battered by a series of scandals, which eventually forced its former leader Sepp Blatter out of his position in disgrace.

“This is not a celebratory letter. After all, nearly two years ago, FIFA seemed to have reached rock bottom. I am under no illusions: by the time I took over, the institution was unlikely to go anywhere but uphill from there,” Infantino said in his letter.

“This is a reflection on the first 12 months of the path that we chose for the long and climbing journey and how these months have prepared the ground for the long-term future of the organization.

“Following such a severe crisis, FIFA had no option but to change. I am not only referring to the election of a new president, but, much more importantly, to the adoption of a structure that could work and literally force good governance upon the organisation.

“As FIFA president, it was my duty to have a game plan so that we could start implementing changes right away, both as part of the reforms and in the everyday operations of the organization.

“As I look back, I do see mistakes – where there are people, there will always be mistakes – but the important thing is that we learn from them. What I can say, without question, is that every step that FIFA has taken during this year had been guided by an honest purpose.

“The next time we look back and see football development thriving worldwide and the trust in FIFA fully restored, only then will we celebrate. And we will be ready to keep on working hard to drive things even further.”

But, for all the remarkable progress that world football has made in the past year, Infantino was also provided with a reminder of the serious challenges that continue to stalk the game during his Southern African visit with the FIFA boss being ambushed on two fronts by disgruntled parties.

Lawyers representing former South African Football Association chief executive, Leslie Sedibe, made full use of Infantino’s visit to hand him summons where he is demanding US$5 million for what he claims was defamation of character by FIFA who banned him from all football-related activities accusing him of allegedly being part of a cartel involved in a match-fixing scam in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup finals.

FIFA said in their report that Bafana Bafana played a number of fixed matches, in the countdown to the first World Cup on African soil, disguised as friendly internationals meant to help the South African football team for the tournament.

Sedibe, who was banned for five years, has also filed a defamation lawsuit against his former employers SAFA.

His lawyer, David Swartz, sent a Messenger of Court to deliver Sedibe’s letter to Infantino demanding FIFA “to publicly and officially withdraw the report on Bafana Bafana match-fixing; withdraw the sanctions imposed on Sedibe and release a media statement on the retraction of the report – at FIFA’S expense – in the New York Times, the Guardian and two national South African newspapers”.

FIFA has 14 days to respond.

Sedibe’s camp has also roped in Swiss-based lawyer, Gregor Buhler, to help his quest to clear his name, which had been damaged by the FIFA sanctions it claims were based on allegations that could not be proved and which not true.

“It is impossible for our client to pursue various business ventures as now any entity or person, in light of the vast negative coverage in respect to the sanctions imposed on him (wrongfully) by FIFA, refuse to deal with him,” Sedibe’s lawyers said.

“It is common cause that our client was not afforded an opportunity to present his case to FIFA prior to the release of the report, and that the veracity of the allegations put forward by the representatives of SAFA were never properly investigated and tested by FIFA.”

But, away from the boardroom politics, including claims from CAF boss Hayatou that COSAFA president Philip Chiyangwa’s glitzy birthday bash in Harare, where Infantino was the guest of honour, was part of a covert operation aimed at dislodging the Cameroonian strongman from a post he has held since 1988, the sight of 60,000 fans packed at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka, for an African Under-20 championship match, provided sights and sounds which make football the world’s most beautiful game.

And, on the first two days of the tournament where four African countries will emerge to represent the continent at the 2017 FIFA Under-20 World Cup finals, COSAFA representatives Zambia and South Africa started their campaign in style with victories over West African heavyweights Guinea and Cameroon.

March 2017
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