Osasu Obayiuwana: Without a will, there’s no way to beat Africa’s cheats

During an exchange of correspondence, with a well-known and well-informed personality in refereeing, who’s handled top-level matches in Africa and around the world, including CAF Champions’ League, Cup of Nations and FIFA games, he made a telling statement that left me deeply concerned about how corruption and match-fixing has impacted on the continent.

“It seems an accepted norm in CAF (Confederation of African Football) that people know that bribery exists. But it appears that they cannot or do not want to deal with the matter,” he said.

With the European police agency, Europol, disclosing that African matches are a part of the 680 games, worldwide, that organised criminal gangs have fixed or tried to fix, the question that CAF, and its 54 member associations, ought to confront, as a matter of extreme urgency, is what will be done to combat this existential threat to the game’s soul and essence?

With the continent’s mandarins solely preoccupied with the quest for power, within the CAF executive committee, at the last elective congress in Morocco, not a single mention of this cancerous problem was made.

That Zimbabwe, home to arguably the biggest national team match-fixing scandal in the world, or South Africa, where a judicial enquiry is to be set up – to examine a series of international matches, involving the national team, that were manipulated ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals – never make the CAF congress agenda, is a clear indication of the disturbing level of inertia.

“Match manipulation is a cancer… It eats football, wherever football is played,” Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary-general, told me, on the eve of the last Africa Cup of Nations finals.

“CAF, like all other confederations, has no option but to deal with this. Match manipulation is the biggest problem facing football today.”

Steven Goddard, the former head of the Referees Department at the South African Football Association (SAFA) is one man that knows, only too well, how the cancer of match fixing has eaten into the fabric of the game.

An Englishman from Yorkshire, who has lived in South Africa for many years, Goddard was offered a bribe by the dubious Football4U organisation, headed by the Singaporean criminal Wilson Raj Perumal, who was convicted in Finland for manipulating games there.

Perumal and his organisation fixed four games of Bafana-Bafana, South Africa’s national team, ahead of the 2010 World Cup finals and were central to the ‘Asiagate’ scandal in Zimbabwe, in which 85 people were sanctioned, including a former CEO of the FA, for colluding with Perumal’s organisation.

“They came to the football association and approached us with a programme for the development of referees, and to offer us FIFA referees for matches, which SAFA accepted… They offered me 30,000 Rand (just over $3,000), to be their “agent” in South Africa, which I turned down,” Goddard told me, when I visited his home, on the outskirts of metropolitan Johannesburg.

After alerting his superiors within SAFA about Football4U’s illegal plans, Goddard, according to FIFA’s report on the South African scandal, received a call from Perumal, who threatened his life.

Goddard was subsequently fired and has been fighting an unfair dismissal case against SAFA in court.

“I have been left out of the football structures for a considerable period of time… One can feel very bitter about the situation… It is disappointing that one has put in 30 years of effort, in trying to run things correctly and one finds himself out of a job,” he said.

Considering the fact that only 13 countries within UEFA’s 53 member nations have national laws that make corruption in sport a criminal offence, it is perhaps no surprise to know that no African country has such laws on their statute books.

Chris Eaton, FIFA’s former director of security, recently said the “lack of political will” amongst the continent’s national governments, in addition to the lack of a robust approach, from national football associations, is a major stumbling block.

“Africa needs a substantial, continental reform really… Most serious people in sport in Africa today recognise that.

“There is a need for regulation and oversight of the official and even unofficial bodies that are part of the sporting milieu.

“African police are as competent and capable as any police in the world. There is no doubt if they put their will to it and have the funding to it, they can do it (tackle corruption and match-fixing).”

But, as Joseph-Antoine Bell, the former Cameroon goalkeeper observes, raising a generation of people who clearly distinguish between right and wrong, and stand, unequivocally, for the former, is also a vital tool for combating the global menace.

“We can only tackle match fixing by instilling the right values in our people,” he tells me.

“It is not just a question of football… It goes to the root of asking this: “What kind of man are you?’ We are not just raising football players but people.  They must be taught what is important about life.”

I couldn’t have put that any better myself…

Osasu Obayiuwana, a lawyer and BBC broadcaster, as well as the Associate Editor of NewAfrican magazine, is one of the world’s leading journalists on African football. His regular commentary on the state of the African game can also be read at footballisafrica.com. Contact him at moc.l1558652484labto1558652484ofdlr1558652484owedi1558652484sni@a1558652484nawui1558652484yabo.1558652484usaso1558652484