Another soccer bribery scandal envelops South Africa

Even in disgrace, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter remained a popular figure in many soccer circles. In particular, he fought to bring the World Cup to Africa for the first time. After his choice, South Africa, was beaten out by Germany for the 2006 hosting rights, it was awarded the 2010 tournament. Unfortunately, that event and much about South African soccer have since become tarnished by charges of corruption.

While most of the so-called FIFA scandals have revolved around activities in Concacaf and Conmebol and marketing rights to regional events, the May 2015 federal indictments exposed activities related to South Africa's bid campaign for the 2010 World Cup.

In retrospect, the request sounds ridiculous -- a  letter surfaced from the then-South African Football Association president Molefi Oliphant in March 2008 to Jerome Valcke, Blatter's No. 2, asking that $10 million for the African diaspora in the Caribbean be deducted from FIFA payments to the South African organizing committee and redirected to then-Concacaf president Jack Warner.

Oliphant's reason for parting with the $10 million was that the South African government had paid the organizing committee $10 million -- and instead of getting paid back by the organizing committee it wanted its money sent to Warner.

Allegations made by U.S. prosecutors were that South Africa's payment of $10 million to Warner was a bribe for his vote and the other Concacaf members of the executive committee in South Africa's race against Morocco.

(The irony is that a very similar sort of payment made by FIFA -- to pay a dubious debt with supposed World Cup organizing funds -- is at the heart of the bribery allegations against members of the German federation in its successful bid against South Africa.)

But the $10 million payment wasn't the end of the problems for South African soccer.

South Africa organized four pre-World Cup 2010 friendlies, and it turns out the results were manipulated by a Singapore-based betting syndicate that supplied crooked African referees.

In one game between South Africa and Guatemala, Niger referee Ibrahim Chaibou called two penalties for phantom handballs. In a second match against Colombia, South Africa won, 2-1, after a penalty kick was converted on the third attempt.

Kirsten Nematandani, the head of the South African soccer federation in 2010, was banned from soccer for violating FIFA ethical rules related to general conduct, loyalty and disclosure.

Amazingly, that isn't the end to soccer and bribery on the field in South Africa.

South Africa won its opening home game in the final round of World Cup 2018 qualifying before more than 26,000 fans in Polokwane. But the 2-1 victory last November featured a dubious penalty and a goal that followed a quickly taken free kick three minutes later. A red flag was raised by suspicious betting patterns.

FIFA has yet to provide more details about the case: "Further information concerning the South Africa v. Senegal match in question will be provided once the decision becomes final and binding."

But it does not look good for South Africa even if no one connected to the team or federation was involved.

“The buoyancy we felt with hosting the World Cup seems very far away now ago,” local soccer editor Richard Maguire told Reuters on Monday.
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