51 days to go to the AFC Asian Cup, UAE 2019

Osasu Obayiuwana: Appetites lost for fixing the fixing issues?

When a World Cup host is found to have been involved in match-fixing, not just once (as if that’s not bad enough) but several times, any right-thinking person, concerned about the integrity of the game, would assume that confronting this heinous crime against our sport would be a priority matter.

As Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s secretary-general, repeatedly puts it “match-manipulation is the biggest threat to the game today.”

Unfortunately, the investigation into South African football – or rather, the lack of it – is certainly not going to convince the fraternity that the problem is being tackled properly.

In the run-up to the 2010 World Cup finals, Bafana-Bafana, the host team, was involved in tainted matches against Thailand, Bulgaria, Colombia and Guatemala.

The involvement of the convicted Singaporean Wilson Raj Perumal and his infamous organisation, Football4U, in bribing international referees and South African officials, to ensure results furthered the financial interests of criminal betting syndicates, was uncovered in the 500-page FIFA report, published in 2012.

But four years after the scandal, attempts to clean up the mess and chart a better administrative path for the country’s football, are stuck in the mire.

South Africa’s government, which agreed to set up a commission of enquiry with the world governing body – in which Michael Garcia, the chairman of FIFA’s ethics committee, was to play a key role – has now decided, strangely, that it is no longer interested in the idea.

FIFA will now carry out the investigation on its own.

It is a sharp U-turn from the accord both bodies reached in April last year, following a protracted dispute over who had the ultimate authority to carry out the probe.

“This long-standing open case is harming South African football,” Valcke admitted, following the agreement with South Africa.

“It is vital that this matter, which dates back to 2010, is concluded soon, with the culprits to be sanctioned in accordance with the zero tolerance policy.

“At the same time, it is critical that structures are set-up, in order to tackle similar cases should they happen in the future.”

Fikile Mbalula, South Africa’s sports minister, who ironed out the deal with FIFA, in conjunction with Kirsten Nematandani, the previous South Africa Football Association (SAFA) president, also made positive noises after the deal was reached.

“[Our] meeting is a major step in bringing to a close an episode that has damaged South African football. We have made a pledge to FIFA… that we will support them and SAFA to bring this (the match-fixing scandal) to an end,” he said at the time.

But Mbalula’s convivial tone was not to last, after FIFA fired a warning shot that they will be compelled to act on their own, in frustration over the delay, from South Africa’s authorities, in setting up the enquiry.

The sports minister accused Valcke, who, interestingly, became a South African citizen in June 2012 (in addition to being French, by birth) of having no respect for the laws of his new country.

“Jerome had allegedly said they (FIFA) would appoint a committee to investigate… he never made a call to us to find out how far we are with the process [of appointing a commission of enquiry],” Mbalula alleged last November, whilst speaking with the local media.

“This is total disdain because he is disregarding and disrespecting our constitution. We are not a banana republic.”

With no movement from the South Africans for nearly a year, following the Zurich agreement, the process was clearly bogged down in inexplicable local bureaucracy, which has given the negative impression that match-fixing is not a matter deserving of their urgent attention.

And FIFA certainly hasn’t covered itself in glory either.

By failing to apply a firmer hand against the South Africans much sooner, when it was clear that the scandal was not being treated with the urgency it deserves, the governing body has certainly handed ammunition to its critics.

It hardly takes a genius to figure out that solving the various organisational problems associated with the fast approaching World Cup in Brazil is what currently occupies the minds of FIFA’s chieftains. No organisation toys with the goose that lays its golden eggs.

But five long years have passed since the match-fixing scandal occurred, with no one being brought to book for bringing the game into disrepute.

That does the game a great disservice, which must not be allowed to continue.

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.l1542226949labto1542226949ofdlr1542226949owedi1542226949sni@a1542226949nawui1542226949yabo.1542226949usaso1542226949

Osasu is also a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force.