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FIFA scandal: When is a gift a bribe?

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FIFA scandal: When is a gift a bribe?

When does a donation become a bribe, and when does genuine donation become just that – a donation and nothing else? Those are simple words at play, but in the case of the currently raging FIFA bribery scandal about the hosting of the extravagant 2010 World Cup in South Africa, these words hold the key.

Did South Africa really pay a bribe to host the 2010 football tournament, hosted on the African continent for the first time in the history of the World Cup?

At the centre of this scandal of monumental proportions are allegations that South Africa paid $10 million to Jack Warner, the then president of the powerful FIFA affiliate, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), to get the go- ahead for the World Cup to be held in South Africa in 2010 after the country first lost the opportunity in 2006, when one Charles Dempsey decided to abstain from voting, therefore robbing South Africa, and by extension the African continent, of the opportunity to host the global soccer jamboree for the first time since its inception.

These potentially damaging allegations have triggered panic buttons in the corridors of power in South Africa’s football and government circles.

Football is the most popular sport in South Africa and the 2010 FIFA World Cup was hailed as one of the most successful tournaments. It is small wonder therefore, that since the story broke some powerful football personalities were arrested in a dawn raid by the FBI at a posh Swiss hotel in May, and vibrant conversations, debate and even rumour, have ignited on radio, television, on social media and in everyday social interaction across South Africa – from taxi drivers  to students, even politicians are weighing in on the discussion.

The South African government has vehemently denied the allegations that are believed to be part of the FBI indictment files against top FIFA officials. The crux of the allegations is that bribes were paid to some officials towards South Africa’s bid to host the World Cup. From the FBI perspective, the South African government agreed with the South African Football Association (SAFA) that they should allow $10 million of the FIFA money received by the country from FIFA for hosting the World Cup, and hand over this money to the Caribbean football authorities, to develop soccer there by building  the Dr João Havelange Centre of Excellence in Trinidad and Tobago, a FIFA-approved  legacy project. This was apparently done to influence the vote in favour of South Africa, instead of Morocco, which was also a bidder for hosting the cup. CONCACAF at the time was an important swing vote. This money was clothed, therefore, as a donation to develop football in the region.

According to officials, it is that simple. But is it so?

Since the allegations dropped, the South African government has unleashed its full PR machinery to counter them, amid a heightened anxiety in the corridors of power about the damage this “bad news” will have on South Africa’s hitherto glowing  and untarnished reputation for how it successfully hosted one of the world’s most prestigious sporting event in 2010. The South African Sports Minister, Fikile Mabalula, is leading the rebuttal campaign with press statements and media conferences, amid a swathe of conspiracy theories.

“We won the bid clean…We had our Madiba, we had our Bishop Tutu, and we had the spirit of our people, we had the world. After all, it was Africa’s time,” Mabalula said at one of the press conferences in Johannesburg, emphatically stating: “We categorically deny our country and government bribed anyone to receive the right to host the 2010 World Cup.”

But fans of the so-called beautiful game have been eager for the full story, more so when powerful names such as Danny Jordaan, the politically influential soccer administrator, soccer boss and Orlando Pirates owner Ivirn Khoza, who led the Local Organising Committee that organised the 2010 World Cup, and Molefi Oliphant, the former SAFA president, have all had their names dragged through the mud in the evolving FIFA saga. They all deny any involvement.

Warner, who the FBI accuse of being the recipient, solicitor and ultimate beneficiary of the alleged bribes, has gone public, denying the allegations, while another accused, Chuck Blazer, has confessed to a
US judge that he did receive a bribe.

In the eyes of the South African government and the soccer bosses, the $10 million they paid was a donation to develop soccer in the Caribbean, and nothing else. And the argument is very simple. South Africa had, throughout its campaign to host the tournament, characterised the 2010 FIFA World Cup as an African World Cup, tying it in nicely with then President Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance and the NEPAD ideas.

In an open  letter to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, Thabo Mbeki wrote: “We want to ensure that, one day, historians will reflect upon the 2010 World Cup as a moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide on centuries of poverty and conflict. We want to show that Africa’s time has come.” Within this frame work, South Africa defined Africa as made up of six regions – continental Africa, made up of West Africa, East Africa, North Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa, and Diaspora Africa, of which the Caribbean is part.

The argument goes on to say, South Africa did not need to pay a bribe to anyone as the country was not only ready to host the global soccer showpiece, but had the resources and expertise to do so. The government also argues that it does not make logical sense to have paid a bribe when the vote took place in 2004 and the SAFA only requested FIFA to transfer the money in late 2007 and early 2008. “How, after all, could someone be bribed in 2008 to vote in a certain way in 2004?” the government argues.

“It was not possible for the 2010 bid committee to have made or requested payments to be made in 2007-2008, as has been alleged, because it closed shop soon after the awarding of the rights to host the 2010 event in 2004. In other words, the bidding committee did not exist at the time the alleged bribes were made.

“Our bid campaign was run by, among others, the late president Nelson Mandela, former president Thabo Mbeki and several government ministers, who are men of integrity,” says SAFA spokesperson Dominic Chimhavi.

However, at the end of the day, when everything is said and done, the key question remains in this soccer saga: When does a donation constitute a bribe, and when is it just that, a genuine donation? The answer will only be found by a US judge when the case eventually goes to trial, but for now, the debate is currently raging on in South Africa and Africa at large. What cannot be taken away and is still celebrated is the great job post-apartheid South Africa did to successfully host the 2010 World Cup amid mudslinging from Afro-pessimist media, regarding the country’s ability to do so. The success of the FIFA World Cup 2010 is a memory many Africans still cherish with vim.

Edward Tsumele

  • Japhet Mwaya

    They call it, WORLD CUP, and yet they don’t want Africa to host it. Where do all these allegations of bribery come from? Is it because it is Africa? Does Africa have no right to World Cup host ship? Is Africa not part of the world? The world should stop this nonsense of bribe allegations. It was time for Africa, indeed right time and the success of 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa proves it true. Africa, as a part of this world, always will have a right to World Cup host ship.

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