Sunday, 6 January 2013

While Bafana sleep, SAFA burns: the eery backdrop to the 2013 African Cup of Nations

Togo or not Togo? This is the 2010 side put
together by Wilson Raj Perumal which contained
NO Togo internationals against Bahrain
STRANGE days indeed for South African football. Bafana Bafana will be sleeping peacefully in Cape Town tonight while SAFA burns.

When Gordon Igesund’s “dream team” take on a sub-standard Norway on Tuesday in the Mother City, the action at SAFA’s glitzy headquarters next to Soccer City is likely to be far from friendly.

Look, it’s great to see Cape Town actually getting a Bafana game. They didn’t bother to bid as a host city for the 2013 African Cup of Nations, so they get this friendly, with former Wimbledon boss Egil Olsen bringing six debutants on tour to play the hosts followed by AFCON champions Zambia in Ndola on January 12.

It won’t be much of a test. In Norway, “home-based” generally means “didn’t quite make it”. There are many other nations where the same is true.

Gordon Igesund, apparently oblivious to the pressure created by a unique failure to emerge from the group stages at the 2010 World Cup, assures us: “It won’t be a train-smash if we draw or lose, it will not be the end of the world. To me, the only result that really matters is the one on the 19th against Cape Verde at Soccer City.”

And the same can be said of the friendly against Algeria on January 12 in Johannesburg, the final run-out before the big kick-off.

Truth is, these pre-tournament friendlies are meaningless of course. Unless, like South Africa’s games before the World Cup two years ago, they turn out to be fixed by a dodgy agency called Football 4U.

Wilson Raj Perumal’s company, the people behind Zimbabwe’s Asiagate scandal, were called in to organise those friendlies when SAFA suddenly realised they didn’t have anything planned at the back end of 2009. Perumal even offered to pay SAFA R1m for each friendly successfully hosted. Amazing.

Initially, I thought it was an innocent mistake from a desperate SAFA. Now I know differently. The guilty party knew EXACTLY how Zimbabwe got themselves in a fix in 2009 with the shock waves still reverberating around that scandal.

Perumal is a 47-year-old Singaporean with a long history of match-fixing. It was he who put out 11 amateurs masquerading as Togo’s national side against Bahrain in September 2010. And of course, he was behind Zimbabwe throwing matches against Thailand, Malaysia and Syria in 2009.  He says he does it to help African footballers “living in squalor”, paying them paltry amounts to fix matches while he makes huge profits on the Far East betting markets.

Perumal was first jailed for match-fixing in 1995 when he paid a football captain in Singapore $3,000 to throw a game. In 2000 he was convicted of assault for attacking Ivica Raguz, a player in Singapore’s Woodlands Wellington team. Apparently he was trying to weaken the team.

Perumal is still wanted in Singapore after being sentenced to five years for running over a police officer outside Changi airport in May 2009. He skipped bail and fled to England, where he lived under an assumed named before he left for Finland, where he was arrested in 2011 for attempting to fix local league matches. In the midst of all this, he managed to find time to sort SAFA out too.

Telephone records seized from Perumal’s hotel room in Finland show a global network of contacts including FIVE national football federations stored on his mobile, along with numbers for several current and former international players and referees.

Perumal served one year of a two year sentence in Finland and was released last year, his current whereabouts is thought to be Hungary where he is on remand… for match-fixing.

It would be best if South Africa simply came out and said all they know about their dealings with Perumal rather than attempting to brush everything under the carpet. Especially now, before a major tournament.

The identity of the man who first called Perumal – and allegedly took R1m from him for each of the friendlies – needs to be made public to clear up this mess.

Instead, President Kirsten Nematandani, suspended when FIFA’s report on those games dropped a fortnight ago, reinstated himself in the car-park outside the Association’s offices on Friday. Yes, in the car park, because his office was taken.

Curiously, the man who filled Kirsten’s dancing shoes, Chief Mwelo Nonkonyana, is none too happy about the man in suspenders returning with fellow exiles Dennis Mumble, Lindile “Ace” Kika and Adeel Carelse even before the enquiry promised by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula.

In fact, that inquiry may now never be held. Mbalula says “hosting AFCON is of chief importance” maintaining that the match-fixing report will now be referred to “appropriate committees”.

That’s dangerous stuff. If FIFA sense a government minister interfering with football affairs, they have been known to take punitive action.

The Sunday Sun quotes a source saying: “Kirsten feels his name has been dragged through the mud, now we have to do damage control” while suggesting (strongly) an on-going war between Nematandani and Nonkonyana beneath a split picture of the pair and the headline GLOVES OFF AT SAFA.

Kirsten himself says: “AFCON is around the corner. This is where we need to channel our energy now. This has been a challenging time, a test of strength.”

My own source suggests “everyone knew SAFA’s consultant was fixing games before the World Cup.”

And the obvious conclusion is that Nematandani was reinstated on orders “from the very top” to keep him from revealing all about those unbeatable friendlies against Thailand, Bulgaria, Colombia and Guatemala. You’ll see what I thought of the 5-0 win against Guatemala at Polokewane on the night here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjzwzNhaeTM&list=UUkGxwYf7NwY7vYMdeTBg41w&index=26.

So SAFA, while keeping team hotel robberies secret and upsetting the SABC over their deal to cover tonight’s game on SuperSport, is humming with intrigue and back-stabbing over the real personality behind the match-fixing scandal.
  
They say the truth will out. Perhaps. If FIFA are serious about stopping match-fixing after Australian Chris Eaton’s resignation as their match-fixing hunter. But this one goes right to the top, close to the president himself. So it’s unlikely.

We could also mention the curious case of Thuso Phala and Siyanda Xulu, who had “everything taken” by robbers while in camp with Bafana at the Elangeni Hotel in Durban last month. That nasty little tale has been kept top secret by SAFA too.

It’s  also worth mentioning a report in Sunday’s City Press, claiming SAFA are bleeding cash, with R10m lost in the first four months of the current financial year and R56m gone last year. SAFA are mumbling about it being "just a cash flow problem", but again, we’ll see.

Despite this bleak backdrop, Gordon’s Boys must play on. Beating Norway’s local lads and Algeria’s AFCON failures shouldn’t be too tough. Then they take on cheeky Cape Verde, near-neighbours Angola and mighty Morocco in a bid to reach the knock-out stages on home soil as they did so emphatically – but against all expectations – in 1996.

I believe that, despite all the SAFA suffering, Bafana WILL get to the quarter-finals… and they do so with one glimmer of good news. Sipho Sithole, the musical AFCON publicist, tells me 350 000 tickets have been sold so far, despite confirming that the government’s funding for marketing only arrived on December 21.

Sithole laughs: “Four days before Christmas. And they expect us to have all the billboards and flags in place. It’s going to be difficult. But ticket sales are going as well as we could have hoped.”

If you are still hanging around the local Super Spar and struggling to get your tickets, twitter Sipho on @nativerhythms or call the hotline on 087 980 3000. It’s not too late.

QUESTIONS FOR SAFA:


Do you accept you broke FIFA Statute 13.1 (g), which prohibits the control of its affairs by an outside party?

Why was the appointment of Football 4U International never brought to the attention of the SAFA NEC?

Who decided to suspend Kirsten Nematandani when the report landed? And given that he is your president, who has the power to make such a quick decision when he was NOT one of the six named by FIFA for "further investigation"?



A shorter version of this story will appeal as my Neal and Pray column in www.thenewage.co.za on Tuesday.

7 comments:

  1. Well said Neal; I will repeat, let soccer fanatics run soccer, we cannot have politicians ruining the beloved sport...Zambia is a living revelation; Rhoo, Neil Tovey, Clive "The Dog" etc should be somehow involved with SAFA...

    Let soccer PASSIONATE blokes run our soccer...
    @_Unit_The_Unit

    ReplyDelete
  2. U are correct re Norway, Neal. Saw them training on Sat at Ikamva and they looked very relaxed. Nothing intense or serious. Re SAFA shenanigans, maybe money, power and greed are too powerful motivators. Just hope one day someone will do the right thing......

    ReplyDelete
  3. mmmm .... how nice that a comment on your previous article has given you such an insight on the world of Wilson Perumal.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Source for the Bafana robbery? Please don't say twitter.

    ReplyDelete
  5. One of the better articles regarding the Bafana match-fixing: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2013/jan/03/match-fixing-scandal-south-africa

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