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26 Oct 2007 10:42
Hardly a month after Finance Minister Trevor Manuel cast aspersions on the integrity of local football administrators, the Premier Soccer League (PSL) has suffered another setback with the finding that Mamelodi Sundowns were guilty of forging the signature of Jose Torrealba to extend the striker’s contract.
Sundowns have appealed the decision and insist—contradicting Torrealba’s version—that they were within their rights to exercise the option of extending the Venezuelan player’s contract.
Torrealba says the signature on the extended contract is not his. The PSL’s dispute-resolution committee, with the help of handwriting experts, found his version to be more probable and declared him a free agent.
Talk this week was that he was joining Kaizer Chiefs, who have been victims of a protracted dispute over the validity of a contract signed between club and player.
Last season Chiefs announced they had signed Papi Zothwane of Golden Arrows, but Arrows blocked the move, saying Zothwane had a valid contract with them.
Now Sundowns, owned by one of South Africa’s best-known businesspeople, Patrice Motsepe, have been found guilty of presenting a falsified contract.
When Torrealba first made allegations, Motsepe said: “Not even for the price of 10 Ronaldinhos would I tolerate improper conduct. There are fundamental issues here. The integrity of my name and the profile of Sundowns are more important than anything else.”
It might be inferred from this that the billionaire Sundowns boss will deal harshly with anyone at the club found to have been complicit in the act if the appeal does not change the outcome.
The PSL dispute-resolution committee implicitly accuses Sundowns of fraud. If the player did not sign the contract that is in Sundowns’ possession then someone else did. The club’s version at the hearing was that Torrealba had signed in the presence of the club’s general manager, Afzal Khan.
But beyond who is telling the truth and who is not, or what Sundowns’ own internal processes will find, lies a bigger threat to the hard work that the PSL has put in over the past decade to make theirs the best-funded league on the continent.
Sports attorney Themba Langa says the matter threatens the commercial integrity of the club as much as it does the integrity of the league and “demonstrates why football should start to embrace the concept of reputational equity to fit with its billion-rand status.
“It also goes with the PSL recognising that its reputation hinges on the conduct of spectators, players and how clubs conduct their affairs.
“The PSL should be able to hold such clubs liable on account of having put it [the PSL] into disrepute. Second, the league needs to change its approach. They have gone into the next step [of developing the commercial attractiveness of the league], now they need to protect and reinforce their integrity to justify their billion-rand status,” said Langa.
Just as the JSE required member companies to adopt minimum-governance standards, the PSL should do the same for clubs to avoid its image being tarnished, he said.
The PSL disciplinary committee’s prosecutor, Zola Majavu, declined to comment on whether the club would be prosecuted for bringing the league into disrepute, saying he could talk only once the Sundowns appeal processes had been finalised.
Langa dismissed Manuel’s comments suggesting PSL executives were enriching themselves at the expense of the sport as “a clear case of duress”, saying that football was suffering from “residual attitude that always undermines the hard work of Africans”.
He said the Sports Amendment Bill lost an opportunity by not including the need for governance in sports bodies. “In the absence of a universal code of corporate governance for sport, there will continue being a selective morality where football is treated differently because of the personalities involved with it.”
Michael Murphy, Torrealba’s attorney at the tribunal, said the case was, in fact, good for the South African league’s reputation and integrity.
“I can tell you that this kind of thing is common in international sport, but in South Africa we have an excellent tribunal—and I have lost a lot of cases there so I am not saying this because we won—that does excellent work.
“This can only impact negatively on the integrity of the PSL if there is no follow-through. The message must be that you can try, but if you are caught you will be prosecuted. I know people will ask who am I to talk, but Khan must be prosecuted and, [if found guilty], banned for life,” said Murphy.
He said Sundowns had to account for having given Fifa misleading information when they sent a letter to the world body stating that Torrealba had signed the contract on a particular day, which later proved to have been impossible because he had been out of the country on that day.
“I have said before that the question is the power the clubs have of restricting people from earning a living. You should hope that the person who has that power is like Nelson Mandela, not Afzal Khan,” said Murphy.
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