YOU know football’s in trouble when FIFA president Sepp Blatter starts jumping up and down and threatening to call Interpol.
The 75-year-old was doing exactly that in Harare this week, threatening life bans for all those implicated in the current rash of match-fixing scandals around the football-speaking world.
While South Africa, his next port of call, are being investigated over two pre-World Cup friendlies a year ago—a 2-1 win over Colombia at Soccer City and that record 5-0 defeat of Guatemala at Polokwane—Turkey, Italy, South Korea and Zimbabwe are also currently entangled in endless match-fixing scandals.
Blatter, recently re-elected in a one-horse race to stay in charge of world football until 2015, said on his one-day visit to the Zimbabwean capital: “We will ban all those involved in shady deals in this country if they are found guilty. This is a country that has talent which no administrator would want to see going to waste. You have work to develop that talent and not to kill it through things such as match-fixing.”
Blatter, who will be at Durban’s Oyster Box hotel tonight to help Princess Charlene and Prince Albert of Monaco celebrate their nuptials, didn’t seem to see any irony in his dealings with the controversial President Mugabe, not considered one of the world’s greatest leaders of men.
After he toured the Zimbabwe FA Village at Mount Hampden and visited President Robert Mugabe at State House, the Swiss stroller, accompanied by slick right-hand man Jerome Valcke, added: “We have instruments in place that we can use to deal with those elements that are fond of bad behaviour in football. These instruments are there and they shall be used against all those found on the wrong side of the law.”
Mr. Mugabe was rubbing his hands at such words, and even mention of Interpol failed to worry the old despot as Blatter added: “From now on, FIFA will be working with Interpol to investigate some of these malcontents. At FIFA, we do not tolerate corruption and that should cascade to associations countrywide.
“We will make sure that all those that are found guilty do not come back to football for good. They do not deserve space in football.
“We want to see players from Africa taking up their space in the world football. All that depends on you and the people that you work with. Africa has talent. I love Africa and I shall continue working with Africa to develop the continent further.”
Blatter then offered financial assistance to ZIFA in their fight against corruption—and in their bid to develop talent in a continent “with more potential than Latin America.” It amounts to something like $2.5m.
Nothing like the $55m he promised in the FIFA World Cup legacy fund for southern neighbours South Africa. And nothing has been seen of that little windfall yet, despite my recent enquiries.
Still. Give them time. I’m sure all the grass roots footballers will benefit. Soon.
Meanwhile, here’s a quick round-up of yesterday’s football corruption news.
In TURKEY yesterday, seven officials were jailed and a further 25 were “being prepared for interrogation” over Fenerbahce’s Spor Toto Super League triumph last season. Fenerbahce will probably be stripped of their title and relegated to Turkey’s second division.
Two further clubs, Sivasspor and Eskişehirspor, may also be punished with Turkey’s newly-re-elected Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying: "Fenerbahçe is not the only club that is being investigated. We are talking about a large match-fixing organization. I hope the investigation will be completed in a fair manner soon.”
In ITALY, federal prosecutor Stefano Palazzi said yesterday Inter Milan bribed Serie A referees during the 2004-05 season in the “Calciopoli” match-fixing scandal.
Palazzi claims former Inter president Giacinto Facchetti violated the ethics of football and attempted to provide an unfair advantage to the Nerazzurri. The investigation kicked off last year after the trial in Naples of former Juventus general manager Luciano Moggi, a scandal which saw Juve relegated and stripped of two Serie A titles.
Now, predictably, Juventus are calling for Inter to be stripped of their 2006 Scudetto, while Inter insist they are innocent of all charges. Italy’s football association is expected to make a decision at its meeting scheduled for July 18.
In ZIMBABWE, even while Blatter was speaking, the local papers are claiming footballers, top coaches, officials and journalists “face imminent arrest” over their roles in Zimbabwe’s “Asiagate” match-fixing scandals, quoting Ralph Maganga, the Zimbabwe FA lawyer.
Maganga said: “There are very interesting names of some coaches, players, officials and even journalists in the report who are mentioned but they will be made public when it is published and when the police have finished their investigations.”
FIFA security chief Chris Eaton and Investigative Officer Terry Steans are looking into events surrounding Zimbabwe’s part in a series of games in Asia in 2009, where “results were determined by betting syndicates working in cahoots with local football officials, national team coaches, selected players and local sports journalists.”
In SOUTH KOREA, Hong Jeong-ho, captain of the nation’s Olympic football squad, is the latest player to be questioned by prosecutors over corruption in the K-League.
An official said yesterday: "Hong told us last Friday that he had nothing to do with the case. For the time being, we told his club Jeju to keep him on the bench."
Eleven K-League players have been indicted for allegedly accepting cash from gambling brokers in exchange for offers to make deliberate mistakes in games. Several more players are either under arrest or being questioned.
It’s not pretty, is it? Hopefully Uncle Sepp, in charge of the world game since 1997, will manage to deal with all these problems before he walks away in four years’ time. Presumably after his do at the Oyster Box with Prince Albert.
You’re doing a great job Mr Blatter. As you said in Zurich before they re-elected you a month ago, football is in a very healthy state. Just ask that nice Mr. Jack Warner, FIFA’s man in Jamaica who retired last week. Just before he could be cleared of corruption charges.
I'll be discussing this on eTV's Sunrise in South Africa with Stacey Holland tomorrow morning at 7am. Tune in if you can...or listen to Robert Marawa's superb Discovery Sports Centre every night on www.metrofm.co.za.
Who the hell is Neal Collins (@nealcol on Twitter)? See www.nealcollins.co.uk.