Blatter was not good for African soccer


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International Football Association president Sepp Blatter defied calls from the media and developed countries to resign before the FIFA congress on 29 May because he argued he could not allow the actions of a few individuals to destroy the world’s most beautiful and most popular game.

FIFA had just been rocked by a scandal in which seven top officials were arrested in Zurich where they had gone to attend the FIFA congress. The seven were part of 14 people- including nine FIFA officials- whom the United States had indicted for allegedly receiving more than $150 million in kickbacks and bribes.

Blatter went ahead with the congress and the elections in which he was seeking a fifth term.  This, he said, was for the good of the game. Besides, he argued, though he was ultimately responsible for what happened within FIFA, he could not monitor every individual.

He won the elections, getting 133 of the 209 votes with his only rival Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan winning 73. Blatter’s vote was not enough because a candidate needed at least 140 votes to be declared the winner but Prince Ali conceded defeat avoiding a re-run.

Unofficial results said that out of the 133 votes, 53 came from Africa, 46 from Asia and 35 from America. Africa, it was reported, had voted for Blatter because he had developed soccer on the continent and brought Africa on to the world football map when it hosted the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Confederation of African Football president, Issa Hayatou, who is also FIFA senior vice-president, had this to say:  "What made us support Sepp Blatter is that he has truly helped the African continent. By allocating this 2010 World Cup, by the various training courses he organised, by the various sporting facilities constructed. All of this rallied the continent to support his cause."

Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick told the British Broadcasting Corporation a day before the congress: “Blatter feels Africa, he sees Africa and he has imparted so much – a lot of developmental programmes. Without Blatter we wouldn’t enjoy all the benefits we enjoy today from FIFA. What Blatter pushes is equity, fairness and equality among the nations. We don’t want to experiment.”

FIFA has indeed poured millions into African football since Blatter took over in 1998 but at the same time it has killed African soccer by protecting corrupt national football association officials.

Just before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, I had the privilege of heading a six-member team of investigative journalists tasked with looking at why African countries were performing so poorly at the World Cup when they boasted stars like Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Samuel Eto’o and George Weah, who was voted World Footballer Of The Year in 1995, just to mention a few.

We also wanted to know why African countries were performing so poorly when FIFA was giving each country a grant every year for soccer development.

The project was carried out by the Forum for African Investigative Reporters, which I worked for full-time as peer mentor and investigations manager. Initially, the idea was to look at the transfer of African players but because of the World Cup which was being played on the African continent for the first time, we decided to focus on Africa’s performance especially after we learnt from our members that some of the international football stars like Nwanko Kanu of Nigeria and Michael Essien of Ghana were putting more money into community development in their countries than the national football associations were putting into soccer development.

We were also inspired by the fact that a Cameroonian reporter, David Ayuk, who been assigned to look into the fortunes of CAF president Hayatou, who comes from that country, was intimidated to the extent that he not only abandoned the story but quit journalism altogether to go into farming. He would not budge even when FAIR sought the help of the Committee to Protect Journalists to assist him.

Our investigation covered five of the countries that were participating in the World Cup: Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and South Africa. We could not get someone to cover Algeria because journalists from North Africa tend to join our sister association the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism. But to give the story an African perspective we included Kenya in East Africa, and Zimbabwe and Zambia in Southern Africa.

Our team comprised Olukayode Thomas who covered Nigeria and Ghana, Chief Bisong Etahoben (Cameroon), Eric Mwamba (Ivory Coast), Dumisani Ndlela (Zimbabwe and Zambia), Pathisani Moyo (South Africa), and Ken Opala who covered Kenya.

Our findings were quite revealing.  The report was titled: Killing Soccer in Africa.

The only country that stood out was Ghana. It was developing soccer and had become one of the best African performers. Its problem was match fixing. Declan Hill wrote in his book: The Fix, that Ghana fixed its 2006 World Cup match in Germany against Brazil. Looking at the 2010 World Cup, I felt that Ghana fixed its quarter finals match against Uruguay but I had no proof.

Corruption was rampant in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In Cameroon one of the biggest scandals was the selling of players to overseas clubs at a very young age. One of its best known players Samuel Eto’o is only 34 (29 at the time we did the investigation), but he has been playing international soccer since he was 16. The transfers benefitted corrupt officials.

At one time, FIFA bailed out the Cameroon Football Association by giving it money to pay  outstanding salaries to its workers. They had not been paid for 44 months. The association, however, only paid the workers salaries for 16 months and pocketed the balance (for 28 months).

Corruption in Cameroon spread beyond soccer. I had to authorise Chief Bisong, an editor of his own paper, to pay for court documents detailing charges against several Cameroonian Football officials because court officials would not give him the documents for free.  These were supposed to be public documents where if any payment was required, it should have been for photocopying them.

In Nigeria, the NFF agreed to hire Glenn Hoddle, the former England boss, as national team manager just before the World Cup. An NFF official told Hoddle that though his package was $1 million it would be announced as $1.5 million so that officials could pocket the balance. Hoddle rejected the deal and went public.

At the World Cup itself the NFF accommodated players in a cheap hotel where they had to share rooms with the NFF paying only $100 per room when it had been allocated $400 per room per player by FIFA. When Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan suspended the national team from all international competitions for two years because of its poor performance and ordered an audit of NFF, FIFA gave him three days to withdraw his decision.

FIFA said it would not only ban Nigeria from international soccer, but would ban Nigerian soccer clubs from African competitions and would not pay Nigeria the money that was due to it for participating in the World Cup, which was estimated at at least $8 million.

In Zimbabwe, FIFA threatened to suspend the country from international soccer when President Robert Mugabe ordered an investigation into the Zimbabwe Football Association which at the time was being run his own sister’s son, Leo. There were reports that funds that had been raised for the national team to play in the African Cup of Nations in 2006 had been embezzled.

 Kenya was suspended by FIFA for six months in 2006 after the Sports Minister Najib Balala fired the Kenya Football Federation for mismanaging federation funds. The football association became so arrogant that the government had to bail out the Harambee Stars, the Kenyan national team, in May 2010 to play neighbouring Uganda because the national team had no money for transport. Ironically, federation officials were on an all-expenses paid trip to the United States at the time.

In Ivory Coast, 20 people died in 2009 in a stampede at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium after a World Cup qualifying match between Ivory Coast and Malawi. The Ivorian Football Federation had sold 36 616 tickets for the match when the stadium accommodated only 34 600.

Also in 2009, FIFA threatened to suspend Zambia when the government suspended Football Association of Zambia president Kalusha Bwalya for refusing to stand before a parliamentary committee to answer charges related to his involvement in the transfer of a minor, Emmanuel Mayuka, to an Israeli club, Maccabi.

In the host country, South Africa, the organisers of the World Cup were all out to make money for themselves. Reports said the organisers were going to share $195 million after the World Cup.

There were several corruption scandals involving the construction of stadiums for the World Cup. One whistleblower, Jimmy Mohlala, was killed for trying to expose corruption in the construction of Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit. The British Broadcasting Corporation said another three people were also killed over the same issue.  

In Johannesburg, it turned out that the black empowerment component of one of the companies that won the tender to build the largest stadium for the World Cup, Soccer City, was a security guard who lived in a poor suburb, totally unaware that he supposedly owned 26 percent of the company, Global Event Management.

FIFA and Blatter kept a blind eye on all these and more and continued to back the football officials who elected him to power for the fourth term in 2011 and the fifth term just over a week ago, not because he developed soccer in Africa but because he protected them.

*The full report: Killing Soccer in Africa is a pdf dossier of 28 pages, but we produced several shorter versions to suit the media. One of the versions was published in the UNESCO Global Investigative Journalism Casebook.

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

One Comment

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  1. This is an informative piece Baba, but there are several questions which arise. Why didn’t FIFA suspend USA for dragging football matters to court? Will colonies now be allowed to deal with criminal actions by football authorities and not suffer any revenge by FIFA?