nvestigations in Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa are under way as Southern African football associations attempt to unravel an alleged web of match-fixing incidents, said to be linked to Asian betting syndicates and implicating referees, officials, high-profile players and coaches.
The Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) has already been forced to suspend three top officials — chief executive Henrietta Rushwaya, programmes officer Jonathan Musavengana (whose suspension was subsequently overturned by the courts) and marketing and media information officer Harry Taruva. They are suspected of being involved in match fixing during national team tours in the past three years.
What alerted Zifa officials to the suspected scam was an unsanctioned trip to Malaysia in December last year by a second-string national team, which went on to lose to a club, Selangor.
Zifa said the suspension of the officials was meant to facilitate investigations into the national team’s tours to Malaysia, Thailand (where they lost 3-0) and Syria (where they were thumped 6-0).
On another occasion the premiership team, Monomotapa, went to Asia masquerading as the national team and recorded a heavy loss.
This led to the fall of the national team, the Warriors, in the Fifa and Caf rankings. The Warriors are ranked 110th in the world by Fifa.
Asked why they donned the national team colours in Asia, Monomotapa claimed it was to “show national pride”.
Last month the Zifa board set up a subcommittee headed by its first vice-president, Ndumiso Gumede, to investigate how a national team was sent to Malaysia last December.
The subcommittee apparently discovered the trip involved bookmakers from Asian countries, which had also roped in the Botswana national team. This resulted in the Botswana Football Association (BFA) firing its chief executive, Tosh Kgotlele, in March.
The BFA launched an investigation into reports that, after China had thrashed the national team 4-1, an amount of 600 000 pula (about R640 000) had changed hands.
Musavengana was the first to be suspended over the Warriors’ December trip, which was not sanctioned by the government sports arm, the Sports and Recreation Commission. In fact, Zifa had told him to cancel the trip, but he headed the tour.
But he says he forgot that the trip had been cancelled. “The trip was not cancelled because I forgot to do that and, as for the other allegations, I don’t know. And like everyone else I am waiting for the board to finish investigations. I did not do anything wrong,” he said.
His suspension was overturned two weeks ago, after he had approached the courts.
There were reports that the players and coaches who took part in the matches were paid $1 000 each as appearance fees.
The subcommittee, which includes the board member for competitions, Benedict Moyo, and the board member for finance, Elliot Kasu, has already spoken to a number of players, the national team assistant coach, Joey Antipas, and Rushwaya.
The investigations will move to South Africa, where the bulk of the players who took part in the games are based. Gumede said he was also eager to interview the former Zimbabwe national team coach, Sunday Chidzambwa, now with the Free State Stars and who also led the team on some of the trips to Asia. Players who have moved to South Africa are being sought for questioning.
Gumede said the allegations were the first of their kind in Zimbabwean football. “I have been in football for more than 30 years and I have never come across something like this, where a national team just travels across the world to throw away matches and no one raises a finger.
“We will not rest until we get to the bottom of this to clean our football and the image of the country,” he said.
Gumede said the probe would include earlier trips to Vietnam, Yemen, Jordan, Malaysia and Oman.
It has also emerged that a Malawian football agent, who reportedly had close links with top Zimbabwean football officials, has written to Fifa and Caf claiming that the suspended Zimbabwe chief executive was involved in match fixing.
The agent, Felix Sapao, claims Rushwaya and a Zimbabwean Fifa-registered football agent, Kudzi Shaba, tried to get his country involved in match fixing.
The email, sent to the Fifa development officer for Southern Africa, Ashford Mamelodi, who is based in Botswana, and Caf secretary general Mustapha Famy, claimed that Rushwaya tried to link up Sapao with an Asian businessman when Malawi hosted Guinea in a World Cup qualifier last year, according to an email published by the Independent newspaper in Harare.
Sapao said that Shaba wanted him to organise matches in Asia involving junior national teams from Malawi, which would be expected to lose and would be paid by sponsors in Asia.
But Shaba dismissed Sapao’s allegations. “Sapao is bitter about some player transfer deal that happened in the past,” said Shaba.
Rushwaya said she could not comment, as investigations were continuing. “I welcome the decision by the board [to suspend me] and I believe it will help investigations and bring the matter to a rest,” she said.
Zifa could not be drawn on the allegations of Sapao, whom Rushwaya described as not credible, for “fear of interfering with investigations”.
Rushwaya has not been on any trips to Asia.
Zifa president Cuthbert Dube wrote to Rushwaya on July 27, saying, in part: “This serves to advise you that you are hereby suspended from your position as chief executive with immediate effect [ie 27 July, 2010]. The suspension is with benefits. The suspension follows serious allegations of misconduct bordering on mismanagement, match-fixing, betting and bribery.”
Although there was no time frame outlined in the letter, Rushwaya will serve an initial 14-day suspension in terms of a statutory instrument of the Labour Act.
The Zifa president also immediately notified Fifa’s general secretary, Jerome Valcke.
“Following the Zifa board meeting of 24 July 2010, we resolved to suspend with immediate effect the Zifa chief executive officer, Ms Henrietta Rushwaya, to pave the way for a full-scale inquiry into our senior national soccer team’s unsanctioned trip to Asia in December 2009 amongst other trips there too.
“The suspension is meant to allow the investigation team to get down to the bottom of the probe without undue interference and influence from the secretariat amid serious allegations of match-fixing and betting trips.”