SAfrica, Fifa agree on match-fixing probe

JOHANNESBURG - South African football is about to relive some of the emotion surrounding the 2010 World Cup - just not in a good way.

  • Published: 6/04/2013 at 01:55 PM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Spectators attend a friendly match between South Africa and Guatemala at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane, South Africa in 2010. (AP Photo)

Three years after the first World Cup on the African continent, South Africa's government will set up an investigation into allegations of match-fixing in the run-up to the tournament in an agreement with Fifa.

The games might be probed include a warm-up between South Africa and Thailand.

The South African Sports Ministry, Fifa and the South African Football Association (SAFA) said on Friday they had reached a "concrete conclusion" on a commission to look into possible corruption in games involving South Africa's national team just weeks ahead of the World Cup.

"This longstanding open case is harming South African football," Fifa secretary-general Jerome Valcke said after a meeting with South Africa Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and SAFA president Kirsten Nematandani in Zurich.

Fifa would provide "advice and support" to the South African investigation, Valcke said, as the allegations also bring match-fixing close to Fifa's showcase tournament.

No players have been implicated in fixing, with suspicions centred on the involvement of now-convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal and his bogus company, which appointed referees for games and who may have manipulated them to feed illegal betting scams.

Perumal, a Singaporean, has been identified as a central figure in match-fixing in other parts of the world. 

Now, South Africa's widely-praised hosting of the World Cup has been tainted after a Fifa report last year found "compelling" evidence that some of the national team's warm-up games were fixed.

The SAFA conceded there was evidence it had been infiltrated by match-fixers ahead of the games and some of its own officials are under suspicion.

Nematandani was among five SAFA officials temporarily suspended after a Fifa report said Perumal arranged friendlies against Thailand, Bulgaria, Guatemala and Colombia and chose the referees.

South Africa won three of the games and drew the other, while those against Guatemala and Colombia were marred by a series of dubious penalties awarded to the home team.

After months of little or no progress, it was agreed on Friday that an independent commission would be set up by the government with its mandate limited to only investigating any irregularities in South Africa's friendly games ahead of the World Cup, the three bodies said in a joint statement. 

Fifa has strict rules regarding government involvement in football but also says it needs the help of governments to fight the now widespread problem of match-fixing.

"The rise of match manipulation globally has become one of the most pressing issues facing football today," said Mbalula, the sports minister. "Therefore it is vitally important that national authorities such as ourselves play a full role."

Fifa also proposed that its own ethics committee be part of the commission, but this was subject to approval by the South African government. 

The exact matches that might have been fixed haven't been identified, but South Africa's 5-0 win over Guatemala and 2-1 win over Colombia in late May 2010 have long been under suspicion. 

Three penalties for handball were awarded by Niger referee Ibrahim Chaibou in the South Africa-Guatemala game, which is the match that raised the most concern.

Fifa also wants to question Chaibou for his handling of other friendly games in Africa, Asia and South America, where a high number of penalties were awarded, apparently to feed illegal betting. 

The South Africa-Colombia game was the official opening of the Soccer City stadium in Soweto near Johannesburg, the venue for Spain's victory over Netherlands in the World Cup final a little over a month later.

All three goals in the South Africa-Colombia match, which was refereed by Kenyan official Samuel Langat, came from penalty kicks. Langat was dropped from Fifa's list of referees authorised for international matches at the end of 2010, while Chaibou reached the mandatory retirement age of 45 in 2011.

Other warm-up games might be looked at. South Africa beat Thailand 4-0 and drew with Bulgaria 1-1 ahead of the World Cup, which was widely accepted as a success despite initial doubts that the country could organise the tournament.

"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," Valcke said. "Fifa will provide any advice and support possible both at investigatory and disciplinary level."

Nematandani said Friday's decision on a government-appointed commission would go to the federation's executive committee on Saturday for approval.

That's likely to be nothing more than a rubber-stamping of the agreement that sees the South African government take the lead in the investigation.

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Writer: AP and AFP

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