Thursday, 28 May 2015

The FIFA arrests: a great week for football but who can stop Sepp Blatter's fifth term in office?

Just good friends: Danny Jordaan and Sepp Blatter
ANDREW JENNINGS, the investigative reporter who has spent a lifetime exposing FIFA corruption, hit the nail on the head hours after the arrest of six officials in Switzerland. His view: “A great day for football.”

While President Sepp Blatter, stubbornly attempting a fifth term in charge of the world footballing body, denies involvement as his henchmen collapse in handcuffs around him, Jennings neatly brings South Africa in to the debate, pointing out: “Perhaps it’s time to consider Danny Jordaan’s involvement. He was always full of praise for Blatter.”

FIFA’s official response in their hastily convened press conference hours after the arrests: “We go on with the election as planned. We cannot confirm how many are arrested. The World Cups in Qatar and Russia go ahead as planned.”

No doubt Blatter will attempt to describe the arrests as further proof of FIFA clearing out their corrupt element, ignoring his position as the spearhead of the Qatar bid, the chief corruptor amongst the corrupt.

And he’ll probably question the FBI’s involvement in a bizarre action which saw foreign nationals in famously-neutral Switzerland led away in chains from their 5-star hotel rooms for extradition to the United States.

But the FBI is entitled to act as the huge bribes surrounding Qatar and other World Cup bids were carried out in US dollars.

It’s not just bribes that are being look in to. Charge of wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering are also on the indictment from New York. As Jennings says: “This goes back years, I’ve handed over all my documents to the FBI. At last somebody has taken action. I’ve alerted authorities in Britain, Germany and even South Africa to what has been going on, but nobody would act.”

For South Africans, this means the extraordinarily profitable 2010 World Cup will come under scrutiny as the investigation expands. We were required to sign documents during the tournament which allowed FIFA the free flow of foreign currency through our borders; the closure of businesses and roads within a mile of grounds… while South Africa is left with half-a-dozen expensive stadia dotted around the country.

Any credit Blatter gained from finally bringing the World Cup to Africa has to be weighed against what it cost the Rainbow Nation and though Jordaan – who now looks eminently suitable for his role as Nelson Mandela Bay’s fourth majory in ten years – has R350m hidden away in a FIFA Legacy Fund account, what have we really got to show for it?

Jennings happily moved the discussion on from FIFA to Issa Hayatou, who has been in charge of the Confederation of African Football even longer than Blatter has controlled the world game. He says: “I put all Hayatou’s bribes on television four years ago, hopefully this will bring him down too.”

According to FIFA: “Blatter is not dancing in his office, but he is calm.”

But the unforgettable sight of Swiss police hand-cuffing two FIFA vice-presidents in their luxury Zurich hotel where they are accustomed to coffee not coppers will not quickly disappear.

As I write, the Swiss attorney general is questioning those who voted on the 2018 and 2022 World Cup decisions. When Russia and Qatar were announced as hosts in 2010, I was still British-based but had already arrived in South Africa for the World Cup. At the time, I told listeners in Johannesburg and Cape Town that those votes were clearly bogus, the result of bribery and governments who put money before people.

For years, Blatter and his cronies, many of them living lifestyles far removed from the footballers in the tiny nations they represent, have shrugged off such allegations.

Not any more. The timing of this week’s action is classic. Seven arrests for “rampant, deep-rooted, serious corruption” cannot be laughed off. And even as the US authorities moved in, the Swiss – who have put up with Blatter’s conniving for so long – launched their own investigation in to the executive committee.

The US justice department says nine FIFA officials and FIVE executives have been indicted. Yet FIFA say none of them will be suspended for the big re-election vote. The dismiss suggestions of a re-vote over Qatar.

For 17 years, Sepp Blatter has handed out millions of non-profit-making FIFA profits in return for votes. Like so many sporting dictators – Bernie Ecclestone and Formula One springs instantly to mind – he will hang on long after retirement age, long after common sense suggests it’s time to go.

Today Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula insisted South Africa has nothing to hide, that a $10m bribe to encourage votes for South Africa 2010 was without substance. He compared the allegations to "a Hollywood movie". He may well be right.

But the investigation will touch on South Africa. Whether he likes it or not. And a quick look at football in South Africa suggests a few arrests - on match-fixing, corruption or racketeering - might come in handy.

While Danny Jordaan was duly crowned Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay yesterday, the nation was recovering from Bafana Bafana's successive COSAFA defeats against Botswana and Malawi on penalties. Attendances are down, our top clubs can't get past round one in the African Champions League and we can no longer boast a single player in the top leagues of Europe.

Our game is a mess. These allegations form a gloomy backdrop to declining standards and poor development. And we are not alone. It's high time football had a shake up, even if we have to rely on the FBI to do it.

The official statement, as expected: “FIFA welcomes actions that can help contribute to rooting out and wrong-doing in football… we are pleased to see the investigation is being energetically pursued for the good of football and believe that it will help to reinforce measures that FIFA has already taken.”

That’s Walter de Gregorio tap dancing before the world’s media while Blatter hides himself away, claiming a sudden loss of weight and improvement in health make him suitable for another term.

But anybody who knows football knows this: the emperor has no hope. He has no clothes.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Danny Jordaan: SAFA President, Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay... and a huge disappointment from where I'm sitting

High hopes for the President: Danny and me
THE breathtaking betrayal of South African football is neatly summed up in two minutes on a cell phone with SAFA president Danny Jordaan - just 24 hours before another humiliation for our national team.

At the end of a rocky week which saw our top football administrator co-opted by the ruling ANC to become mayor of his home city, Jordaan launched in with: “I have never been paid a cent by the South African Football Association.”

Seconds later, he was detailing how, just this year, he was “awarded R80,000 after tax” by SAFA officials.

Confused? Obviously. We all are. Jordaan and his acolytes have been on the warpath ever since his elevation to mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay municipality was announced. Text messages, tweets and phone calls designed to hush my voice of utter disappointment have been flying faster than Bafana Bafana goalkeeping changes.

But Jordaan, typically, sees no contradiction between “not being paid” and “receiving an honorarium” from SAFA. Just as he sees no difference between “political bias in football” and “being appointed mayor by the government”. Just as he cannot understand why “I can do both jobs” jars heavily with “I need more time to achieve my objectives at SAFA”.

And yes, there he was the next day, shaking hands with Shakes Mashaba's Bafana Bafana before a penalty shoot-out defeat against Botswana in the COSAFA Cup quarter-final on home soil. For clarity: Botswana are ranked 105 in the world, Mashaba has not won in five competitive games and we are going backwards at an alarming rate. But Jordaan feels none of my desperation.

The man is a walking conundrum. He is able to say one thing and do another without blinking an eyelid. But do not mistake this for a hatchet job. Danny and I have been close since before the World Cup in 2010, we have lunched together on several occasions (see picture above), he was my preferred choice for SAFA president when the unlamented Kirsten Nematandani stood down.

I really thought Jordaan would sweep through the mess that is South African football. That he would sort out the match-fixing allegations so boldly laid out by FIFA; that the FIFA World Cup legacy fund – showing a balance of more than R350m when he gave me copies of the account – would be used to develop our game from the bottom up.

Sadly, Jordaan has achieved NOTHING since his appointment. Something I believed impossible. To the match-fixing and the legacy fund nightmares, we can now add a host of new problems which have arisen since Jordaan took office.

It was never going to be easy. In our discussions, Danny told me how – before the fall of Apartheid –he was summoned to the ANC in exile in Lusaka, and asked by the late Oliver Tambo, to “look after our sport, particularly football” when freedom came in 1994.

In one emotional exchange, Jordaan – banned by the old fascist government – told how he was forced to go underground only to be told when democracy came “you are not black enough to run football in South Africa”.

But Jordaan battled through. Elected to serve as an ANC MP in the 1994 elections, he stood down in 1997 to oversee the Cape Town Olympic bid which never quite made it. He went on to spearhead Sepp Blatter’s great ambition – to bring the World Cup to Africa. In 2010 he received great credit for his role in a near-faultless tournament but in truth, it was Blatter’s triumph, and Jordaan’s closeness to Jerome Valcke did little more than make our nation more profitable for the dictatorial guardians of the global game.

Becoming president of SAFA was supposed to be Jordaan’s crowning glory. His attempts at progressing up the slippery slope of Issa Hayatou’s Confederation of African Football failed utterly but he still had SAFA and promises.

When he appointed Shakes Mashaba to run our national team a year ago, Danny fully recognised the risks. He told me “Shakes needs technical help. I will be sending him to see FIFA’s technical guru Gerard Houllier and we will be appointing a Techinical Director to help.”

Of course, neither of those things happened, and South Africa returned from AFCON in Equatorial Guinea earlier this year with a single point after an impressive qualifying campaign. Technically, Bafana were woeful. Mashaba actually boasted about changing goalkeepers three times in three games, his inability to grasp modern tactics was there for all to see, the team disappeared for days after a disastrous exit.

But fawning SAFA officials insisted on lauding Shakes for “a great AFCON” despite producing the worst showing of the 16 qualifying nations despite leading in all three group games. Mashaba went in to the tournament promising victory, he returned to offer a report on the event which never reached the public sphere.

Jordaan insists everything is still in hand. When he rang me, I was about to board a flight at King Shaka International airport. My notes are dotted all around a page of the newspaper I was reading in the departure lounge. It makes for difficult reading if you’re a Jordaan fan, as I had been up to his “mayoral appointment”. I guess I was hoping for a sudden burst of success, a miraculous solving of our problems. Not anymore. Not when you look at the problems facing the FOURTH mayor of his home town in a trouble decade of corruption and incompetence.

Jordaan says: “Neal, you must get the facts right, you must not rush to conclusions. I can’t appoint a Technical Director until we have built a new Technical Centre (an R65m development south of Johannesburg). Dennis Mumble is in charge of that. We are having problems with the paperwork.

“But you cannot appoint the doctor until the hospital is built. When the new Technical Centre comes on-line, we will appoint the Technical Director.

“Houllier? I’ll be speaking to him at the FIFA Congress next month (when Blatter is likely to be voted in once more) or at the World Cup draw. I’m sure I’ll be able to persuade him to come and speak to Shakes.”

A year later, and this is the level of “service delivery” Nelson Mandela Bay’s new mayor can offer. How about the gun amnesty for our Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa, promised after he was shot and killed at Kelly Khumalo’s house last year? And the statue Danny promised to build from the melted down weapons?

“Look Neal, what I can tell you is the government has promised to review the legislation on gun ownership as a result of pressure from SAFA. That is our tribute to Senzo.”

Again, that painful gap between reality and truth. Like the payment issue. There was widespread disbelief when Jordaan insisted he was not paid by SAFA. And he’s at it again on the phone: “I have no SAFA credit card. I have no SAFA petrol card. I work for nothing as a non-executive President.”

But when I ask him if he received money from the ANC he admits to the honorarium: “Every year when we pass the financial report, SAFA delegates agree to a “gift” for all National Executive members. The amount varies. But I can tell you that, after tax, the last one came to R80,000, but that’s over a 12 month period.

“Nobody owns me. Nobody pays me. I have FIVE houses, all paid off. I have two cars, all paid off. My wife and my son work. You are asking me personal questions about my income and I am answering them.”

But he’s not. Jordaan tells me how he used to be a university lecturer and a member of parliament, but he doesn’t explain how that paid for five houses and two cars. Clearly there were some significant “honorariums” in previous years.

But a steady income is just around the corner. He tells me: “I am not the major of Nelson Mandela Bay yet. I still have to be confirmed in the role, but I will be paid a salary by the municipality from June, I think.

“There is no political problem with me running SAFA and Port Elizabeth. Many SAFA members have political roles, not just with the ANC. And internationally, many FA officials have political affiliations.

“You must relax Neal, it will all be fine. I can do both jobs. You must come down to Port Elizabeth, I’ll show your around the offices.”

And how else do you end such a call, other than: “Okay Danny. Best of luck. I think you might need it.”

And you put down the phone.  And put your head in your hands.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The best footballing farewell? It's an open and Schutt case

AMONG the many footballing farewells we will suffer, patiently, as the season comes to a close were the emotional departures of Steven Gerrard and Alje Schutt on Saturday.

The Premier League made the most of Stevie G's last game at Anfield; understandably so. A player who spends 17 years at one club and NEVER changes his hairstyle in the modern age is a rare commodity.

Sadly, after the guard of honor with his three daughters, Gerrard was unable to conjure a final chapter of magic in a career highlighted by that three-goal comeback to win the Champions League in Istanbul.

Instead we witnessed once-mighty Liverpool getting hammered 3-1 by Alan Pardew's revived Crystal Palace; by the end, Gerrard was goal-hanging, exhausted by the hype, hoping for a large slice of good fortune to deny Palace a just result.

Afterwards, the Liverpool players - including a laughing Mario Balotelli - emerged in shirts with Gerrard emblazoned on the back and we listened to The man himself offer a few creaking platitudes about  how tremendously proud he was to have played for such a great club and in front of such wonderful fans.

Few will mention the time, in 2003, when Gerrard agreed to join Chelsea but reneged on the deal after threats to his family from those same fans. And nobody dare mentions what Frank Lampard did to Chelsea after his "move to America" actually saw him go on a full season loan to deposed champions Manchester City.

So good luck in Los Angeles, Stevie... And don't mention the infamous slip which let Demba Ba in to ruin Liverpool's rare title challenge this time last year.

A far more satisfying footballing farewell had already taken place in Port Elizabeth by the time Liverpool submerged themselves in crocodile tears.

The Dutchman Alje Schutt, in his last game for Mamelodi Sundowns, gave his all in the Nedbank Cup final, physically and verbally. he rallied his troops against Roger de Sa's stubborn young side and earned a yellow card for his attempts to keep the referee on his toes.

As extra-time wore on, Schutt fell heavily after an aerial challenge. His 34-year-old ankle had clearly given up. But not Schutt. He manfully limped on until, five minutes before the penalty shoot-out, Pitso Mosimane took him off, saying later: "This final was a tribute to our captain, we wanted him to go home with another trophy."

And he did, thanks to an extraordinary shoot-out which saw Ajax Cape Town's youngsters succumb to the pressure with THREE big misses, to pluck defeat from the jaws of victory.

It's what happened after 120 goalless minutes and a dreadful set of penalties which roused the nation.

Schutt, who burst in to tears when the Nedbank Cup had been added to his 2014 championship medal (that's one more than Gerrard ever managed in 17 years), was thrust forward for his post-match interview late, after much celebration and back-patting from the KaboYellow troops.

What he said should be framed and put on a wall at Chloorkop, and added to every school syllabus. I hope I've got it word perfect:

"This was a great win for Sundowns, I could hardly walk at the end. I'm just so glad we won it.

"South Africa has been so good to me. This is a wonderful country, I have enjoyed my time here, every minute.

"I want to say that xenophobia is not the South Africa I know. Everybody I met was so warm and friendly. They made me feel at home. It cannot be right.

"This is an amazing country. It is not over. I WILL BE BACK."

Hours after Schutt's heartfelt message, friends - South African and otherwise - started sending me messages from Sunnyside, the Sundowns heartland in central Tshwane, saying the police were out in force hunting down foreigners at the dead of night.

I prefer to remember Schutt's words. Xenophobia is not the South Africa I know.

Sent from my iPad

Monday, 11 May 2015

STUART BAXTER EXCLUSIVE: The best season of my career, the struggles... And the future

You wouldn't think Stuart Baxter had just completed the most satisfying season of his long and varied coaching career. You'd hardly notice he has just broken a host of PSL records to guide Kaizer Chiefs to 69 points and a 12-point cushion over crushed champions Mamelodi Sundowns.

In fact, speaking to Stuart on Monday afternoon, as the hype over coronation settled after a sell-out game at the Nelson Mandela Stadium left one fan shot dead by a police revolver, you'd think Baxter had been in charge at Choppa United or Queens Park Strangers.

Oh, he's proud. And he's content with what his squad achieved given that their best striker only scored 7 goals and their only big signing failed to score a league goal in half a season.

Barker, born in Wolverhampton 61 years ago, has coached all over the world, from Scandinavia to Japan and he concedes: "In terms of records and domination, you're right, it has to be the best. It was a real struggle at times, people may not have appreciated that, but we got the job done.

"There was a point, after all the hype over our fabulous start, when it looked like a dip was coming. When we lost and drew a couple, people were saying crisis.

"But this time the lads dug in, they held their nerve and we got the train back on track with some decisive 1-0 wins and although our rivals were asking "Is this another Chiefs crisis" we were able to make sure it didn't develop, and suddenly we were winning again.

"The key? Our defence, obviously. Tefu Mashamaite and Tshepo Masilela were magnificent, so was Tower Mathoho and Siboniso Gaxa, like Tefu, barely missed a game.

"Most of our goals came from set pieces or midfield, where Willard Katsande turned in to more of an all-rounder, making 25 yard passes and intercepting rather than clobbering the opposition.

"Willard even got a goal in the final game, we celebrated that one - we'd worked on a new set piece for two weeks to set it up!"

But for a man who has just won a double of PSL and MTN8 and taken his prize money over three seasons to over R50m, there was little of the Mourinho swagger.

Baxter leaves for Sweden and the UK at the end of month, like he has for the last two seasons. but this time, there are important meetings to be held with Bobby Motaung about signings, new contracts and the mythical academy at Naturena.

Though Baxter has played little part in previous signings - notably David Zulu's R4m move with a knee injury - this time he intends to play a major role in a winter of substantial change at the club, with TWELVE players headed for the exit door.

And he insists that, if he stays at the club, the African Champions League will be taken seriously, as it was this year, though Chiefs suffered a first round knock-out at the hands of Morocco's Raja Casablanca.

Baxter insists: "People who understand the game know we went to Casablanca with a full squad, we won a lot of friends for the way we played. we travelled knowing we had lost the home leg and had vital domestic games to worry about but we DID take it seriously and lost to one of the best teams in Africa.

"We can't beat teams like that without investing in our squad. You know we needed a striker. We had James Keene over for a look, he did well. He's 29, did well in Germany, and he was a free agent. The deal was on the table but it was ignored.

"There are two or three  local strikers we're looking at but there's not much about. You know about Rob Earnshaw (former Wales international) being interested and that's the kind of thing we have to consider.

"We don't want to go down the root of Japanese football, opening doors to players who have passed their sell-by date but look at what New Zealand's Jeremy Brockie has achieved in half a season.

"That's the kind of player I'm talking about, looking for quality where ever we can find it."

Baxter touched on his dream of a new Kaizer Chiefs Academy - the last was shut down five years ago after age cheating problems - and insists: "The Academy has moved on a little bit further, the pitches and dressing rooms are finished at the village, accommodation and education facilities are underway.

"But now need the coaches, a technical director. It hasn't always gone as I would have hoped."

On the thorny subject of dwindling PSL attendances, Baxter and his champions enjoyed huge crowds at Atteridgeville and Port Elizabeth AFTER the title was won but he admits: "It seems to be a problem in South Africa, it could be economics,  I don't know, sometimes we had fantastic support, sometimes felt we needed a bit of a hand from the AmaKhosi in numbers when it mattered most."

But the real problem, perhaps the underlying factor behind his low-key response to a clinical championship charge, lies in Baxter's involvement in refreshing the squad this winter.

He is reluctant to make waves about his future, but ANY top African club - and those beyond our continent - would surely show an interest in acquiring the man who has led Chiefs to two League titles - without massive spending - in three seasons.

"If I stay," he says cautiously, "We are going to have to have a big rotation. I'd have to be a mug to take over a squad I don't choose myself."

When I suggest five players who may not be offered new contracts he says: "I can come up with 12 without even stopping to think. That's a major overhaul. That's what these meetings are about before I leave for Europe. I need to have my input.

"If I get fobbed off, I will cast the net, look at other opportunities. I will allow rumors to gather strength. You can say 12 players will be moved out, if they're replaced by somebody else, how can I stay?"

Sent from my iPad

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A fond farewell to AmaZulu... or can Steve Barker's jolly green giants produce a miracle?

Living on the edge: Mabulelo "OJ" Mabizela
WHILE the PSL seems intent on promoting the Carling Black Label gimmick cup which takes place before NEXT SEASON, some of us are still concerned about THIS SEASON.

As our domestic league hits the final two rounds, the battle for second place is absorbing enough but we have to ask “What happened to AmaZulu’s Great Escape?” at the foot of the league?

The mid-season break saw our historic men in green firmly rooted to the trap-door with just one win when Stevie Barker left AmaTuks for Amazulu. Most of us felt he was jumping out of the frying pan in to the fire.

But the 5-2 win over SuperSport United appeared to signal a major revival and until the narrow – but aimless – 1-0 defeat against champions Kaizer Chiefs there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Needing another win against Gordon Igesund’s men on Saturday – with fellow relegation candidates Free States Stars and Moroka Swallows picking up huge three pointers – Barker’s men simply let all the hope slip away in a 3-1 defeat which revealed the fatal flaws lurking in the Usuthu dressing room.

A quick glance at the Q4 table shows just how well the relegation fighters - particularly Free State Stars - have done, but for AmaZulu, it looks like it won't be enough.

How they stand: the Q4 tabl
Having already got rid of one club captain, ­Carlington Nyadombo, amid allegations of bad muti and poor time-keeping, the new skipper Robyn Johannes found himself confronted by the controversial Mabulelo Mabizela in the tunnel after the match.

OJ, the man who once made waves at Tottenham Hotspur before “home sickness” lured him back, has all the talent in the world. But he’d just picked up his fourth yellow card of the season – he’ll be banned for the vital clash against AmaTuks tomorrow night (Wednesday the 6th) - and been fingered for Jeremy Brockie’s vital second goal.

The feeling was OJ, the 34-year-old who has scored four vital goals in 12 games so far in green,  should have cleared before the Kiwi netted to make it 2-1. But whether that was the cause of the altercation remains unclear. All we know is captain Johannes threw a water bottle at Mabizela, and nearly hit Asive Langwe, perhaps indicative of AmaZulu's accuracy this season.

A fight broke out in the tunnel, and Sedat Ouro-Akoriko, scorer of AmaZulu’s only goal on the night, had to separate the pair before Barker and marketing manager Lunga Sokhela locked the entire squad in the dressing room for an hour.

Steve Barker, whose uncle Clive had a bit of a roller-coaster with OJ at Mpumalanga Black Aces, was quoted in March saying: “Sometimes he gets too involved in the game and also too emotional. We can't be over-robust and over-emotional in games that will, at the end of the day, cost us. We need to be to calm and we cannot lose focus now.”

Today, Barker justified the bust-up. He said: "Emotions are running high here, and we are fighting for our lives. Everybody wanted to win against SuperSport. I would be upset if players weren't emotionally engaged: if they just went to the change room and sat down and accepted the defeat, I would be more worried.

"This incident shows passion, it's good sign. At least players are showing that they were gutted by the defeat, but we need to stand up and be strong against AmaTuks."

Sadly that has come to pass. With just two games left for the clubs battling relegation, Amazulu now need to beat AmaTuks and Maritzburg United on Saturday while hoping Moroka Swallows slip up at Nedbank Cup finalists Ajax Cape Town tomorrow and Bloemfontein Celtic on the final day.

With former AmaZulu boss Craig Rosslee now at Dobsonville and picking up points, it’s a forlorn hope for a club formed way back in 1932.

Those with an acute sense of South African football history will hope troublesome toddler Chippa United (29 points, 14 coaches following the departure of caretaker Mich D'Avray over the weekend) are dragged in to the battle – they’ve got Aces and Chiefs to finish – but the truth is AmaZulu (24 points) are favourites for the drop with Swallows (27 points) competing in the play-offs.

For a club with such a history, for a club once so prominent – I remember those days in the early 1980s when KwaMashu and uMlazi turned up in numbers to worship the likes of Joel Faya and Henry Cele - that’s a desperately gloomy prospect.

Some may take solace from Lamontville Golden Arrows - led by former Charlton Athletic and Bafana striker Shaun Bartlett - clinching the automatic promotion spot in the NFD on Sunday. But given Arrows link to certain PSL officials, that's hardly a consolation for real football fans in KwaZulu Natal in my book.

With Orlando Pirates still involved in the CAF Confederation Cup, Mamelodi Sundowns look set to claim second position - though Pirates won't mind too much if they get past Guinea champions AS Kaloum and in to the group stages.

But perhaps the most bizarre problem we ALL face is this: why did the PSL spend Monday launching the distinctly dodgy Carling Black Label Cup between Pirates and champions Kaizer Chiefs with the PSL headed for the final showdowns and the Nedbank Cup final - which desperately needs a push - still to come?

Answers on a postcard please. The PSL, who seem to care as much about their sponsors as they do about the dwindling number of fans, seem to have no explanation at all.