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Fri Apr 25 10:10:26 SAST 2014

Lowdown on fixing saga

MARK GLEESON | 18 December, 2012 07:140 Comments

FIRST revelations of the Bafana Bafana match-fixing scandal were made almost 18 months ago, but a promised commission of inquiry is likely to paint a bleak picture of the behind-the-scenes workings at the SA Football Association.

The scandal will reveal complicity, bewildering stupidity or a toxic combination of both that will help explain to an increasingly sceptical public why the local game remains so mired in mediocrity.

The questions will revolve around a series of pre-World Cup friendlies that were arranged to give Bafana some competitive practice before the 2010 finals.

They had to be hastily arranged because, despite being appointed hosts six years previously, Safa had done little to put together a decent pre-tournament warm-up programme. (Indeed they had embarrassingly been the last of the 32 competing teams to even organise their own tournament accommodation!)

It was in the months leading up to the World Cup that Safa executives were introduced to Wilson Raj Perumal, a Singapore citizen who, under the cover of an organisation called Football 4U, had put together a network of contacts at national associations and clubs across the world to fix match results for the benefit of Asian betting syndicates.

Perumal's offer to help Safa out of the dilemma and organise friendly matches on its behalf was gratefully accepted, even though it is in contravention of Fifa regulations that bars member associations from handing over the running of their games to private bodies.

The planned commission of inquiry - which Safa has promised to speedily assemble - will likely delve into who opened the door for Perumal to meet with the Safa top brass and why they were so eager to take up his offer.

More tellingly should be the questions of whether any money exchanged hands and if there is proof of criminal wrongdoing.

But even if Safa was in a corner and keen to get any help it could as the countdown to the World Cup had begun, the referees should have been a clear danger signal.

It is here that the inquiry judge will uncover whether officials were just rank stupid or suspected something was amiss but did nothing about it. Traditionally, South Africa has always brought in referees from neighbouring countries to handle its home friendlies - it makes sense from a costs perspective and also builds up good ties within the region.

Given this, Perumal's crew of officials from Niger, Kenya and Togo - all being paid to do his bidding - should have raised the eyebrows of the most casual observers, never mind the top refereeing brass at Safa.

His refs were in the country for almost one month with Perumal and a phalanx of goon-looking bodyguards, adding to the image of impropriety.

Perumal tried to get them onto other World Cup warm-up matches around the country too - games involving Australia, Japan, Nigeria, North Korea and the US - and a match at The Wanderers between Portugal and Mozambique.

It was at that game at the cricket stadium that Safa match commissioner Steve Goddard had seen enough and pulled off a clever switch that saw a substitute South African officiating team hidden in one changing room while Perumal's cheating officials were being prepared for the game in another.

Just before kick-off, the South Africans appeared in the tunnel and led out the players, wresting control of the game away Perumal's crew. They all speedily departed the country after that.

This incident was no secret to soccer insiders and the investigating judge will want to look at why no Safa official made any attempt to investigate Goddard's complaints.

How many of the other top Safa officials, including vice-presidents and executive committee members, heard about the event yet chose to ignore an obvious breach of good governance?

Goddard, meanwhile, has been conveniently sidelined, drummed out of the Safa structures.

It took another year for the scandal to be made public, but even then when the first newspaper revelations were made in June 2011, Safa's reaction was lukewarm, indeed indifferent.

Only after Fifa showed interest in the South African leg of Perumal's worldwide activities did Safa's apathy levels drop a little.

Over the past few days, Safa has sought to limit the damage by suggesting, in press statements, that it did not investigate the affair because Fifa asked that any local inquiry be delayed until after a bigger worldwide investigation.

This is a disingenuous manipulation of the facts and fails to explain why nothing was done immediately after it became apparent Perumal was up to no good. Who made the decision to quietly sweep it all under the carpet until reporters started snooping around?

Safa has much at stake in the next months, with the African Nations Cup and a new business unit that seeks to tap into corporate money to fund ambitious development programmes.

Robin Petersen's plans have merit but the organisation he represents is muddied and sullied by an obvious lack of morality.

The commission of inquiry is likely to show corporate South Africa just how deep the poverty of good governance goes, and how the vast majority of officials are self-serving rather than in service of the game.

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