The unsung football hero

2016-02-29 12:18
Kuben Chetty

Kuben Chetty (File)

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If you have never watched the country’s national soccer team play at one of our local stadiums, you have missed the electric atmosphere Bafana Bafana can generate.

I will never forget the first time I watched Bafana play a football match at King’s Park soccer stadium. It was the first time in nearly two decades that South Africa had played against international opposition.

When Doctor Khumalo scored the only goal from the penalty spot against the mighty Cameroon, thousands of jubilant fans in the main grandstand danced and sang Shosholoza. The grandstand swayed and for a brief second I thought that it would come crashing down, yet it was a wonderful feeling to be part of the crowd and to me, in 1992, this was “the beautiful game”.

But football is also a money-spinner and the custodians of the game, over the past nine months, have been exposed for the ugly manner in which they conduct themselves. Gianni Infantino on Friday won the Fifa presidential election to replace Sepp Blatter. He has vowed to guide the world football body out of its corruption mess. Blatter and Uefa president Michel Platini have been banned from football for six years for ethics breaches and both could face criminal charges. Apartheid-era activist Tokyo Sexwale, who pulled out of the Fifa presidential vote on Friday, described Blatter and Jerome Valcke (sacked former secretary general of Fifa) as friends who had lost their way. Both men played a critical role in securing the 2010 World Cup for South Africa, but how this took place is part of the reason they are being investigated.

Amidst the fanfare and the applause for Infantino, there was no mention of investigative journalist Andrew Jennings. It was the fine work and perseverance of Jennings that led to Blatter, Platini being suspended and Valcke being sacked from the world body. It was Jennings who unearthed the explosive expose of Fifa. In his book FOUL!The Secret World of Fifa: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals, he laid bare the inner workings of an organisation that is the custodian of the beautiful game.

It was Jennings who, through meticulous research and the successful search for a whistleblower, brought the corruption at Fifa to the attention of the FBI.

When he had gathered his information, he told the FBI. Their e-mailed response read: “We cannot tell you what to do, Sir — but we would sure love to see them.”

Jennings continues to be a thorn in Fifa’s side because he believes that there are individuals in the organisation whose conscience won’t allow them to keep quiet when corruption and greed are the order of the day.

For years Jennings gathered information. He wrote another book, Omertà: Sepp Blatter’s Fifa Organised Crime Family. In 2006 he presented the BBC Panorama investigation The Beautiful Bung: Corruption and the World Cup.

Despite his uncovering of the staggering corruption at play within Fifa, very few would listen.

Despite the inaction, Jennings kept plugging away.

Fifa tried to ban him from their meetings and even tried to stop the publication of FOUL!. On Friday, even though he was not acknowledged, Jennings was vindicated for his investigative journalism. Although there have been major casualties at Fifa, the suggestion is that investigations into the corruption have barely scratched the surface.

Many South Africans will want to know how corruption played a part in the securing of the 2010 tournament. When South Africa hosted the world cup, the feeling of euphoria that ran through the country before during and after the tournament was magical.

Former president Nelson Mandela used his global political standing to convince Fifa that Africa was ready to host the global showpiece.

But ultimately it was Fifa president Blatter who ensured it happened. Blatter’s fall from grace has been remarkable.

He stands accused of allowing billions of dollars to change hands during his four terms as president.

Ultimately it is the global soccer adoring supporters who have been cheated by those who control the world game.

These supporters deserve better and Fifa must restore the gloss to what was a beautiful game.

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