Foul smell taints amateur football

Match-fixing has taken root in the South African Football Association’s (Safa) lower leagues, which is being compounded by the body’s failure to pay many of its part-time match officials, sources allege.

“Corruption is rife in the ABC Motsepe League,” says former Bafana Bafana gaffer Clive Barker, who was Durban FC’s assistant coach for the last third of the season. “I would say that, on average, one in three matches is fixed.”

But Safa spokesperson Dominic Chimhavi counters that the body has a “zero-tolerance” approach to corruption.

Barker’s explosive allegations come as a number of officials in this third-tier league – including referees, assistant referees and assessors – claim they haven’t been paid by Safa in years.

The ABC Motsepe League is in effect the third division behind the Premier Soccer League and the National First Division.

According to sources in the association, nonpayment probably runs into millions of rands.

“Officials we know of haven’t been paid for years. It’s breaking their families – particularly if they rely on that money because they are otherwise unemployed,” a member of the referees’ community told the Mail & Guardian.

A referee from Johannesburg claims he hasn’t been paid by Safa for at least three years.

He declined to have his name published for fear of discrimination but, when asked how much Safa owed him, he responded: “Plenty, plenty, maybe R10 000 or more. I think it’s now three, maybe four, years since they paid. Me, I have a job, so it’s not so bad. Others are suffering because they don’t work.”

The Motsepe league is subdivided into nine provincial regions, with the regional winners competing in a centralised playoff system to decide on the two clubs that gain promotion to the first division.

These leagues are said to be alive with manipulation, mainly because it is far more lucrative to play in the first division than in one of the nine provincial Motsepe leagues. Only the playoffs are televised.

So bad has the situation become that a handgun was allegedly brandished at one match in KwaZulu-Natal as the season drew to an end.

In a separate incident in the same province, Barker took his team (which plays in the KwaZulu-Natal stream of the Motsepe league) off the field in protest during a match against Milford FC at the Umhlathuze Sports Complex in early April. This was after the referee played 10 minutes of extra time when only three minutes had been allotted, as well as awarding a questionable late penalty against Barker’s side.

“Guess how many free kicks we had awarded against us in the match against Shooting Stars in Pietermaritzburg?” asked Barker, rhetorically.

“Fifty-six to our six. They were given a penalty when we were leading 3-2 — so you see, it’s not sour grapes — and blasted it into row 13 of the stands. The ref ordered a retake and it hit the crossbar and bounced out by a metre. The goal was awarded for a 3-3 draw.

“We take a cameraman to all games, home and away. It got so bad that I was on the verge of phoning Patrice [Motsepe, the league’s sponsor] to complain. I didn’t because there are some fine young players in these leagues and some honest teams. It’s just being spoiled by the rotten apples,” Barker said.

Further allegations of fast practice have surfaced in Limpopo, Free State and Mpumalanga.

But Safa’s Chimhavi said the extent of the graft has been exaggerated and pointed out that the football body has an anticorruption line for complainants to report such incidents, which are then duly investigated.

He did not dispute the accusations of nonpayment, but said they are isolated incidents.

“Those not paid have not submitted proper documentation, otherwise we don’t have such issues. Those claiming they have not been paid in years are not being honest and must identify themselves. We can’t solve the issues of ghost individuals.”

When Safa’s response was put

to one of the complainants, he said: “Every season it’s the same story. Why would we give them the wrong account details? There is no other documentation. We get paid because we have to submit match reports by Monday lunchtime after a weekend match, and that counts as our invoice. That’s how Safa compiles the results and the league tables.”

The payment of referees is a complicated business. The PSL handles referees’ payments in the PSL and the first division. The payment of referees, assistant referees and assessors (known as match commissioners) in leagues lower than that is handled by Safa, with referees getting R250 a match and their assistants R200. Assessors receive R500 for each match.

In addition to match fees, officials are paid a travel stipend of R750 for every match. This is often split four ways among the referee, his two assistants and the assessor, resulting in just under R200 each per match – minus their contribution to petrol for the journey.

“These guys are often unemployed and their share of the petrol money is often their only source of income,” said one source.

“Guys – if they get three or four games a month – are receiving, say, R700 or R800 take-home pay per month and they’re expected to come out on that. I don’t know where Motsepe’s sponsorship millions are going.”

The payment matter is further complicated by the fact that the petrol is not paid for by Safa but by the two competing clubs — with each club contributing R375.

This state of affairs has prompted suggestions that desperate officials are often vulnerable to the match manipulation that is said to be infesting the lower leagues.

But Safa says it is incorrect to link any nonpayment of service fees to corruption.

One of several sources canvassed said: “Limpopo and KZN are pretty bad – but the Free State is the worst of all. There’s a mafia running Motsepe league football down there.

“It’s reached the state where Safa needs to submit to a forensic audit, because Patrice needs to know where his money is going to.”

Safa’s Chimhavi had not responded to Barker’s allegations of one in three matches being fixed in the Motsepe league by the time of going to print.

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