Mbalula: Don't knock us, we've got a nation to build

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula spoke at the press conference at Safa House in Johannesburg on Wednesday about allegations of bribery during the 2010 Fifa World Cup selection process. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula spoke at the press conference at Safa House in Johannesburg on Wednesday about allegations of bribery during the 2010 Fifa World Cup selection process. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

WATCH: Mbalula: It is not a bribe

READ: Hawks will probe Fifa bribe allegations

Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula has defended South Africa’s role in the scandal that is overwhelming global football.

The minister criticised on Wednesday what he saw as attempts to discredit South Africa’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup, in the face of previous scandals which have dogged global football organisation Fifa, including suspicions over previous World Cup bids.

Despite the questions that now hang over the roles of both the South African Football Association (Safa) and the now disbanded local organising committee (LOC), no representatives from either body were present.

In a packed auditorium at Safa House in Johannesburg, Mbalula reiterated the government’s position that neither it nor the LOC had paid any Fifa officials bribes to secure hosting rights.

Instead he stood by a 2008 payment of $10-million, made to the Concacaf in support of a project known as the Diaspora Legacy Programme.

The money was intended for the LOC as part of its operational budget but was instead diverted to the Concacaf headed by former Fifa official Jack Warner.

Warner is one of the officials at the heart of the investigations by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations into corruption at the football body.

On Wednesday Interpol issued a red notice or an international wanted person alert, for Warner along with former Fifa officials and executives on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption.

The diversion of the $10-million came to light after a letter was leaked to the media. It revealed an instruction to Fifa, by Molefi Oliphant—then president of Safa—to divert the funds from the LOC operational budget to Concacaf (the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football).

In the letter, Oliphant, on behalf of Safa, specifically requests that the “Diaspora Legacy Programme”, be administered by the president of Concacaf – then Warner – who “will act as fiduciary of the fund”.

‘Legitimate allocation’

But Mbalula stressed this money did not flow through the coffers of the South African government or the LOC and that it was not a bribe but a legitimate allocation for “an approved programme”.

The minister, alongside his director general Alec Moemi, were at pains to illustrate South Africa’s longstanding commitment to support the legacy of football both in the rest of the African continent and in the African diaspora.

The agreement—according to Mbalula—was that the allocation of funds to Concacaf would be provided to the Caribbean Football Union and used for the Dr João Havelange Centre of Excellence, a football academy in Trinidad and Tobago.

Mbalula said that South African officials could not account for how that money was ultimately used however, and that this was a matter to be dealt with by the ongoing investigation.

No conditions

But Moemi said the funds had come with no conditions and there had been no requirement that they be accounted for. This was in line with the other legacy payments made to other countries on the continent in support of sports development.

Moemi said the fact that Oliphant specifically identified Warner through his role as president of the Concacaf was not untoward.

At the time Warner was both president of Concacaf and the CFU said Moemi, and there was no reason to believe, at the time, that he was anything other than a “person of good standing”.

“There was no basis on which we would doubt nominating him as the highest official of those two bodies,” said Moemi.

When asked by a UK-based journalist whose idea it was to allocate the $10-million to the Concacaf, both Mbalula and Moemi refused to name a person – insisting that it came from the South African government and Safa. Both were “bodies of perpetual continuity” said Moemi.

When the journalist challenged the officials  on the basis that “government’s don’t have ideas, people have ideas” Moemi tartly responded: “Perhaps it is your government that has no ideas, but ours has ideas”.

Mbalula pointed to previous controversies that have plagued Fifa, including South Africa’s loss to Germany of the 2006 World Cup bid , after Fifa official Charles Dempsey abstained from voting.

He went so far as to question why South Africa has been isolated in investigations by the FBI, implying that the country was collateral damage in “battles that are ensuing in the geo-political space”.

He pleaded with South African media not to be the first attack the government over allegations of bribery “when we did not bribe”.

“We’ve got a country to defend and a nation to build,” said Mbalula.

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