Early impressions of the ZIFA match-fixing scandal

Jul 13, 2011

A Zimbabwe Football Association investigative committee has released a long-awaited report on allegations that top officials of the organisation arranged for teams to lose matches in return for money from Asian betting syndicates. It is early days yet in a saga that may drag on for a long time, but it seems clear that many of the people involved will end up with soiled reputations or worse.

The scandal has been dubbed by many media as 'Asiagate,' an unimaginative and rather unfortunate name for the way it tarnishes a continent for the fact that the fixed matches took place there. How would Africans feel and react if the circumstances of the alleged malfeasance were different and the press in Malaysia, Singapore or Vietnam called it 'Africagate?'  

It is striking that the first report of the findings of the committee appeared in the Herald. Why doesn't ZIFA have a website in this day and age? Such a prominent organisation should be in a position to release important information such as this committee's findings on its own website rather than to have to depend on how the news comes out on another outlet, the Herald or any other. There is also the issue that the sports editor of the Herald, Robson Sharuko, is implicated in the report, making the paper an interested party that can no longer be automatically assumed to be neutral in the way the saga is reported. If charges of wrong-doing by Sharuko are upheld, there will be many questions about the Herald as well.  

How Zimbabwe is a placid-seeming place on the surface but is deeply repressive and fearful underneath oddly comes out in the report. Henrietta Rushwaya is the former ZIFA CEO fired last year for "mismanagement and insubordination." The match fixing investigators wanted to know from one of the people it interviewed why she was allowed to get away with as much as she apparently did during her tenure, including arranging the match-fixing it is alleged was widely and long known by insiders, from the ZIFA board downwards.

Part of the answer:   Ms. Rushwaya had a propensity to instill fear in her subordinates and those she dealt with through a cunning way of name-dropping in her conversations. Accordingly, she assumed a position of invincibility as she was held as a person with connections and who could make anybody's life unbearable if the person did not play along to her whims. Players, in particular, were afraid to cross her path and amazingly board members also felt intimidated by her. It is then not surprising that she could... manage the logistics of travel for the entire delegation include non-footballing persons allegedly from the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) and in the process enhance her status as being untouchable. 

 This is the police state Zimbabwe has unfortunately become. The names and presence of members of a spy outfit with a reputation for brutality can be effected to control people in even the sphere of sports! Just the mere fact that people around Rushwaya believed, fairly or otherwise, that her alleged CIO connections and name-dropping made her 'untouchable' is because of how Zimbabweans have seen abused with impunity for many years. But it seems particularly sad and ridiculous that this fear factor that is routinely employed for political control in Zimbabwe has become so pervasive that it used in the running of the affairs of soccer as well. That is indicative of how deep and entrenched that use of fear to control people has become in the society.

Right from the start, some of those named as participating in and benefiting from the lost matches-for-money scheme have mentioned inaccuracies in the investigators' report. For instance, Sharuko says he was not the 'official journalist' at as many of the thrown matches as alleged. Another official said to have been party to throwing matches played in Vietnam in 2007 says his passport will show he has never been to that country, and that he pointed this out to the committee several times while it was conducting its investigations.

These are issues that can be verified. The committee would lose some of its credibility if it is found to have failed to check on the veracity of basic claims made about who was where when and did what.   

The transcripts of some of the committee's sessions with  'suspects' suggests that their line of questioning was sometimes weak. Easy questions that could often be answered in a broad, non-specific way seemed to satisfy them, with no follow ups even when a rambling, off-base answer cried out for it.

Examples of fuzzy questions asked by the committee were,  ''How did you view the matches that you played? What else can you tell us?'' 

These are far too non-specific for an investigation of serious wrong-doing. It would have been worth it for the investigating committee to have hired a relevant professional or two to nail down issues in their questioning; to leave no ambiguity about what was said or what was meant. There is already a lot to suggest  that some very shameful things took place at the highest levels of ZIFA for a long time. It would be a shame if the committee's lazy, sloppy questioning un-necessarily gave wrongdoers technical escape routes from being held accountable for their misdeeds.  

Sharuko is accused of participating in the nefarious scheme by virtue of his being often the journalist accompanying the traveling losing-for-payoffs ZIFA teams to many of their match engagements. He has a loud, influential sports voice by virtue of his column in the Herald. Luke Masomere, a hapless coach fingered for a role in throwing games, devastatingly says of Sharuko, ''I sensed I was being used. I could not understand why Robson was writing glowing stories about me when I was losing.'' Ouch.

Sharuko's boss at the Herald has come out to say he supports his sports editor, that it is too soon to make any judgments. That is a justifiable position to adopt at this point. But it remains to be seen how well-advised it was for Sharuko to immediately use his column to attempt to rebut the ZIFA investigating committee's statement that, "The blameworthiness of traveling journalists cannot be underplayed. While the selection process of who goes where for the media houses is their prerogative, the over reliance on one journalist for most of the games would indicate complicity."  

Sharuko has a distinctly unfair advantage in getting his point across by having access to a Herald column to do so. Is the paper right to continue to allow him to use that column to write about a matter in which he is implicated? That would seem to raise many troubling questions that the Herald seems not to have posed. If the charges against Sharuko stick and are proven, letting him use his column as his personal pulpit at this stage of the game may come back to bite the Herald very hard. They could justifiably argue that they were not aware of any match-fixing hanky panky he might have been involved in on the trips the Herald assigned him, but what would be their defense for allowing him to continue to write articles on an issue in which he has now been implicated? It would seem caution would require the Herald to let him write on anything else but this bombshell.  

Sharuko doesn't come off that well from the article he wrote anyway. It is rambling and he embarrassingly refers to himself in contexts removed from the immediate issue at hand. He is all over the place in giving examples of how soccer malfeasance elsewhere in the world has taken place without sports journalists knowing about it.

One cringed for poor Sharuko at this difficult time, because the allegations about his level of participation in this particular mess are way beyond general issues of what the media should have guessed about whether or not there were matches being often thrown by soccer teams representing Zimbabwe. His accusers place him right at the center of the alleged match-fixing action as a participant. It might have been better for Sharuko to resist the temptation to use his column to ramble in ways that couldn't and didn't put the allegations to rest for his readers, and instead only make him look cornered and panicky, despite the bravado of his words. 
It is striking how the alleged big beneficiaries of the purported dirty scheme were middle-aged 'administrators' and various kinds of fixers and hangers-on contributing little or nothing tangible to the game of football even if ZIFA were not corrupt. The young boys who served as minor props by showing up in soccer boots and uniform to dutifully lose games were paid the left-over crumbs.  

Early as it may be in ZIFA's 'Asiagate,' it already looks like there will be very few people named who will emerge from it with their reputations intact. 


Post a Comment