/ 11 January 2013

Safa still scoring own goals

Some introspection from Bafana Bafana before the start of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Some introspection from Bafana Bafana before the start of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Sport security expert Chris Eaton – author of the Fifa report on the South African Football Association's match-fixing scandal –says football authorities worldwide are "passing the parcel" instead of confronting the scourge of graft.

If you need local evidence to support his claim, look no further than the bizarre situation at Safa House: nearly a year after Safa admitted that pre-World Cup friendlies were fixed, most of the accountable top brass are still at their desks.

Safa's national executive committee provoked outrage last week by lifting the suspensions of the president, Kirsten Nematandani, the chief executive, Dennis Mumble, and three senior officials – Lindile "Ace" Kika, Barney Kujane and Adeel Carelse.

The reinstatements send a message of brazen unaccountability. It appears that senior officials are closing ranks and digging in for an attritional battle against the charges, one that will immobilise Safa and further distract it from its urgent youth development priority. The old feud in the association is worsening the stalemate, with Irvin Khoza's camp poised to exploit the scandal to recapture power from the Danny Jordaan-backed Nematandani regime.

Adherence to good governance would require that the five officials remain suspended until an inquiry's findings are reached. Moreover, adherence to common sense would demand immediate resignations in the light of a swathe of evidence of gross incompetence.

In mid-December, the five were asked by the national executive committee to take "administrative leave of absence" after being implicated in Eaton's report, which was requested by Safa in response to media reports of graft in Bafana's pre-World Cup friendlies against Thailand, Bulgaria, Colombia and Guatemala. The report alleges that these and other games were organised and fixed, using corrupt referees, by Football4U, a front company for Singaporean criminal Wilson Raj Perumal's betting syndicate.

Due process
Safa and the minister of sport have vowed to set up a commission of inquiry, and the Hawks have also started an investigation and asked Interpol to help.

Fifa's media department told the Mail & Guardian this week that it was satisfied that due process was being followed. "As always in cases of match-fixing, the national football association bears the responsibility and has the competencies to investigate and sanction. Fifa has full confidence that Safa and the South African police will reach the correct conclusions at the end of this process."

But Fifa are the original experts in prevarication and time-wasting. They sat on Eaton's report for nine months before handing it over to Safa, without any recommendations.

Last week, Safa sources said off the record that because Eaton left his Fifa post weeks after writing the report, its authority is compromised.

This week, Eaton strongly denied that his exit has any bearing on the report's credibility. "This was an official investigation conducted at the request of Safa and sanctioned by Fifa. I did not leave Fifa in response to this investigation or any other investigation," he said.

Eaton, an Australian national, now works in Doha for the International Centre for Sport Security, an anti-corruption institute funded by the Qatar government.

Devastating indictment of folly
The Eaton report does not offer clear evidence that any of the five men profited personally from the syndicate's operation. Even so, it is a devastating indictment of folly, expedience and cowardice – in that sequence – by top Safa officials.

Perumal et al preyed on administrative chaos and financial problems at Safa by tempting the association into a "referees exchange" deal that would save it the effort and (modest) expense of organising and paying referees for the friendlies. But, by outsourcing the appointment of referees to a private company, Safa broke article 13 of Fifa's statutes, a critical first line of defence against graft.

"At the very least, it appears that Safa staff members were either easily duped or extremely foolish," reads the report. "There is a very real possibility, however, that some were involved and were corrupted by Perumal and his co-conspirators at the time, Anthony Santia Raj, Jason Jo Lourdes, Gaya Alassane and others operating under the umbrella of Dan Tan Seet Eng."

The report alleges "there is persuasive circumstantial evidence and, when combined with the 'ordinary man' test of behaviour, this inevitably leads to the conclusion that several Safa employees were complicit in a criminal conspiracy to manipulate these matches". The report suggests that Kika, chairperson of the technical committee of referees, became the syndicate's connection in Safa and his position is the most obviously untenable.

But Carelse, Mumble, Nematan­dani and the former chief executive, Leslie Sedibe (now head of Proudly South African), stand accused of serious incompetence in actively or

passively handing over the association's reputation to a web of shady strangers. Then they failed to act or speak out when it became patently obvious that the Bafana warm-up schedule was being invaded by a criminal operation.

The only Safa figures who emerge from the report with a measure of credibility are the former head of referees, Steve Goddard, and three referees, Robert Sithole, Lazarus Matela and Matthew Dyer, who struck the investigators as frank and co-operative in their interviews.

Goddard is the only official who told the investigators he was offered (and refused) a bribe from Football4U. He is also the only official who has lost his job since 2010.

Football4U's dodginess
Before refusing a bribe, Goddard had been warned about Football4U's dodginess by the Botswana Football Association president, David Fani. Goddard verbally reported his suspicions about the company to his superiors, Kika and Carelse. He later made a desperate phone call to Nematandani – a step for which he was reprimanded for going directly to the president.

It appears that Nematandani did not act on Goddard's concerns, and two further rigged fixtures took place – between Nigeria and Korea, and between Japan and Zimbabwe. His alleged failure to respond to an appeal for action by his referees chief, thus deepening the mire, points to how effectively the conspiracy had compromised the entire organisation.

By implicating the leadership, Perumal paralysed them; perhaps terrified of an embarrassing revelation on the eve of the World Cup, Nematandani, Carelse and Mumble appear to have tried to ignore and disown the crisis.

It's hard to draw such a generous interpretation in the case of Kika. Goddard told the investigators that he later received a death threat from Perumal after he replaced the Singaporean's chosen referee for a friendly against Denmark – Ibrahim Chaibou of Niger – with Dyer. He claims Kika then placated Perumal by promising him the chance to appoint Chaibou for a later friendly between Nigeria and Korea.

The report notes that Kika was the only official who communicated with Perumal and his men using his personal email address instead of his Safa address. His bank accounts and personal email records have not yet been accessed by investigators.

Perumal was convicted and jailed for matchfixing in Finland in 2011, and is now being held in Hungary. Fixing remains rife, says Eaton – but he doesn't fear for his life.

"I've been doing police work since I was 17, and I'm now 61," he said. "I've not met too many criminals that concern me. The task is too important. These criminals have had it too easy in sport. It's time they were challenged."