/ 8 February 2012

Spotlight on SA’s World Cup with match-fixing claims

Fifa will move quickly to investigate allegations that international friendlies in South Africa were fixed in the build-up to the 2010 World Cup, the country’s football association said on Tuesday.

One of the suspicious games is believed to be the official opening of Soccer City, South Africa’s landmark new stadium and the venue for the World Cup final.

After media reports cast doubt over the validity of some of the host nation’s results ahead of the first World Cup in Africa, a Fifa team will travel to the country to look at the claims, the South African Football Association (Safa) said.

It said the agreement for Fifa to probe the allegations urgently came on Tuesday following “heightened media interest in the past 48 hours”.

Safa said Fifa will send its investigative team to South Africa “at the earliest possible opportunity”.

Manipulating matches
Fifa head of security Chris Eaton — who is leading the world body’s fight against match-fixing — would also visit South Africa in early March, Safa said.

Although Safa did not name the games under suspicion, rampant media speculation in South Africa pointed to the national team’s 2-1 win over Colombia and 5-0 win over Guatemala in May 2010, weeks before the World Cup kicked off.

Two other South Africa games, against Bulgaria and Thailand, were also reportedly under suspicion with jailed Singaporean match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal apparently implicated in manipulating the matches.

Fifa is engaged in a global investigation into match-fixing and scandals have hit leagues in Finland, Italy, South Korea, Turkey and the Zimbabwe national team, among others, but the latest allegations are uncomfortably close to world football’s top tournament and one of sport’s biggest events.

South Africa beat Colombia 2-1 on May 27 2010 in Soccer City’s first international game before it hosted the opening match of the World Cup two weeks later. All the goals came from penalties, one of which was ordered to be retaken, heightening suspicions that the result was being manipulated by betting syndicates with the help of crooked referees.

Widespread suspicion
In the Guatemala game four days later, three penalties were awarded in a game officiated by Niger referee Ibrahim Chaibou, whose handling of other friendlies in Bolivia and Nigeria has attracted widespread suspicion.

Fifa said last year it was investigating the game he controlled between Nigeria and Argentina because of suspicious betting patterns.

This weekend, the Sunday Times newspaper said the referees for the four games were appointed by an agency called Football4U, which has been linked to Perumal.

Lindile Kika, Safa’s head of national teams, told the newspaper that Chaibou was due to referee another friendly, between South Africa and Denmark, but was replaced in the tunnel minutes before the game when Safa officials became suspicious.

Last week more than 80 players were suspended in neighbouring Zimbabwe amid allegations of fixing matches on tours to Asia between 2007 and 2009 under the guidance of Perumal.

The Zimbabwe Football Association’s former chief executive also appeared in court on Monday on charges of corruption relating to the match-fixing. — Sapa-AP