FIFA, South Africa defuse match-fixing probe spat

Sepp Blatter (left) and Fikile Mbalula give a media briefing in Johannesburg on May 21, 2011.  By Samuel Shivambu (AFP/File)

Sepp Blatter (left) and Fikile Mbalula give a media briefing in Johannesburg on May 21, 2011. By Samuel Shivambu (AFP/File)

ZURICH (AFP) – South Africa and FIFA have managed to head off a full-blown battle over the country’s probe of a pre-2010 World Cup match-fixing scandal, which world football’s governing body saw as political meddling in the game.

FIFA said on Friday that the dispute had been defused after talks at its Swiss headquarters with South African sports minister Fikile Mbalula and the head of the South African Football Association, Kirsten Nematandani.

FIFA said that a deal had been struck that marked a “new milestone” in the fight against match-fixing, with an independent judicial commission of inquiry to be set up by the South African government.

Mbalula has been pushing for an inquiry to delve into a FIFA report which claimed that four of South Africa’s warm-up games before they hosted the World Cup were fixed by corrupt referees from Kenya, Niger and Togo.

But FIFA bristles at what it sees as government interference in football and had argued that the SAFA should investigate itself.

“This long-standing open case is harming South African football. It is vital that this matter which dates back to 2010 is concluded soon, with the culprits to be sanctioned in accordance with the zero tolerance policy,” said FIFA’s secretary general Jerome Valcke.

Under the deal, the mandate of the inquiry will be limited to matters related to the friendly matches.

In addition, FIFA, the SAFA and Mbalula have backed a proposal that an independent representative of FIFA’s ethics committee should be part of the South African inquiry team.

“The rise of match manipulation globally has become one of the most pressing issues facing football today. I understand fully that FIFA needs strong action from associations like SAFA to tackle this problem,” said Mbalula.

“Is vitally important that national authorities such as ourselves play a full role,” he added.

Nematandani was among five SAFA officials temporarily suspended after a FIFA report said convicted Singaporean match-fixer Wilson Perumal arranged friendlies against Thailand, Bulgaria, Guatemala and Colombia and chose the referees.

South Africa won three of the games and drew the other, while those against Guatemala and Colombia were marred by a series of dubious penalties awarded to the home team.