Safa ’s enduring shame

More than four years after the fact, there remains no movement on the World Cup match-fixing allegations that continue to cast a shadow over South African football and which the game’s administrators refuse to address.

The past weeks have been marked by a sudden cacophony, a call to arms as it were, from those at the centre of the storm.

Safa, after years of inertia, says it is pressuring Fifa to hurry up an investigation South Africa should have done itself a long time ago.

And it came as a major windfall not long thereafter, when Fifa told Safa it was investigating all Perumal’s worldwide match-fixing activities – which extended to England, Finland and many parts of eastern Europe, across Asia and in Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe – and would be grateful if Safa would desist.

That became the convenient hook on which Safa could absolve itself of near criminal inactivity, including an obvious obligation to call the police to investigate.

By claiming to have had its hands tied by Fifa, Safa could keep the saga firmly under the rug.

When Mbalula got involved, his initial call was for a general investigation into the state of soccer on the back of near bankruptcy for Safa and for results for the national team.

Fifa slapped him down and he then narrowed his focus to the match-fixing saga by asking President Jacob Zuma to initiate a commission of inquiry.

After almost a year, Zuma eventually said no, in a further embarrassment for the publicity-hungry sports minister.

Mbalula’s hopes of rising like a knight to the rescue of the country’s most popular game fell flat but it is still within his ambit to ask for police involvement.

There is certainly cause for the cops to look into the matter. Perumal’s recent boastful book, Kelong Kings: Confessions of the World’s Most Prolific Match-fixer, tells of several months of grooming Safa to do his bidding, and details his brazen manipulation.

He writes about a Safa employee, “Jacob” taking an initial bribe of $3000 (R33000) and offering him a further $10000 for every match in which Perumal would be allowed to put his referees in charge.

Perumal had by this time grown tired of relying on players to do his bidding, it was too hit and miss. If he could control the referees and their assistants he had a foolproof way of ensuring the desired results.

He had changed from betting on the “winner” to the number of goals scored in a match and it did not matter who scored them. It was a lot easier to win the bet.

According to the book, he would tell match officials: “I need three goals in this game” or “I need four”, and whether the result was 4-0, 3-1 or 2-2, he would collect on his winnings.

Perumal brought three sets of match officials to South Africa – one from Niger, one from Togo and the third from Kenya.

The most infamous was the Niger referee Ibrahim Chaibou, who was in his last year of officiating on the Fifa panel and so a prime target for Perumal, to be tempted by a major payday before his forced retirement at the mandatory Fifa age. He was paid $60000 or $70000 per game.

The first of the pre-World Cup friendlies was Bafana against Thailand in Mbombela Stadium on May 16 2010, officiated by the Kenyan Samwel Langat Kipngetich.

Bafana won 4-0, but Perumal claims the result was not fixed because bookmakers did not offer odds on the game, so there was no betting to be done.

This match has previously been listed among those fixed in 2010, but it appears the result was legitimate.

There were no penalties or red cards, though Siyabonga Nomvethe did have a goal ruled out for offside when he appeared to be at least three yards on.

The book claims Botswana FA president David Fani, acting as match commissioner that day, had warned Safa of Perumal’s company, Football4U, at the game after Perumal had unsuccessfully tried to fix a match between China and Botswana in 2009. Fani’s concerns fell on deaf ears, or if heard, nothing was done about them.

Bafana took on Bulgaria on May 24, this time handled by Togolese match official Kokou Hougnimon Fagla. Perumal claims the referee had agreed to allow three goals in the game, but then says he “froze” and the game finished 1-1.

Ironically, perhaps, he even failed to give what looked like a legitimate penalty to Bafana when the ball struck a Bulgarian player’s hand.

Siyabonga Sangweni had put Bafana ahead before Valeri Bojinov equalised.

No more goals meant Perumal lost money and the set of match officials were sent home.

Three days later Bafana played Colombia and again Kipngetich was in charge. Once again Perumal claims he called for three goals and he got them.

Kipngetich awarded three penalties. His first was for a dubious handball in the box saved by the Colombian goalkeeper from Teko Modise. That was not going to plan.

So the match officials ordered a retake and at the second attempt Modise scored. Itumeleng Khune brought down a Colombian attacker for a penalty scored by Giovanni Moreno to make it 1-1.

Perumal alleges Colombia were so incensed by the match officiating they threatened not to come out for the second half.

They would be further angered just before the hour-mark when the referee ordered another penalty for a foul on Siphiwe Tshabalala and Katlego Mphela netted. Three goals in the game, job done.

But having put in such a dubious display, Perumal says they could not use the Kenyan match officials again and they were also sent home.

That left Ibrahim from Niger to officiate in the fourth friendly that would result in Bafana’s biggest ever international victory – a 5-0 walloping of Guatemala in Polokwane.

Knowing what we do now, this highlight in the country’s history books should surely run hollow.

The referee awarded a penalty for a handball that was clearly outside the Guatemala box and Mphela scored on 11 minutes.

He would award a total of three penalties in the game, with Mphela capitalising again on the second, but Guatemala missing theirs. It was justice, though, as the ball clearly struck Bafana left back Lucas Thwala on the chest, and not the arm as the referee suggested.

Perumal claims he also wanted to fix the 1-0 win over Denmark on June 5, but Goddard had worked out what was happening and with Ibrahim lined up in the tunnel ready to take his place on the pitch, pulled him from the game.

Perumal then claims he threatened to sue Safa for a breach of contract, publicity the association clearly did not need, and was allowed to put Ibrahim in for the pre-World Cup friendly between Nigeria and North Korea played in Tembisa. Ibrahim awarded just one penalty, but the game was won 3-1 by the Super Eagles and Perumal claimed his bet.

The book is deeply embarrassing for Safa, because it shows them to be naive, even idiotic. At the centre is Leslie Sedibe, a smart-talking, power-dressing lawyer who took over as Safa CEO in late 2009 with much expectation.

But the way he was duped by Perumal is embarrassing and it is no surprise he did not last long in the Safa structures.

Sedibe sent a request recently to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to consider investigating the match-fixing saga. His statement said: “I was CEO of Safa at the time. I am determined to maintain and protect my good name and reputation, and I am of the opinion that this matter has dragged on for far too long. Justice delayed is justice denied.”

What he will gain is undoubtedly a further sullied reputation and an image of dull-wittedness, even if exonerated of anything criminal.

Parliament says it wants an amendment to the SA Sports Act that would see world sports bodies like Fifa capable of being summoned to Cape Town to account for their dealings with their local affiliates.

That seems largely impractical but symbolically important.

Parliament could be much more proactive in insisting locals finally instigate a probe that would finger the guilty and put the affair to bed.

Since Fifa investigators have had much bigger issues to worry about it would seem prudent for Safa to ask Fifa if it can start its own investigation and, failing a yes from Zurich, call in the cops. All the posturing is fooling nobody.

Mark Gleeson is a SuperSport commentator. This is an edited version of an article from the latest edition of Business Day Sport monthly

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