Global football authorities must quell corruption in soccer to ensure that the fair play mantra advocated by FIFA is not merely a rhetorical tool in the eyes of football lovers.
For decades, FIFA has fought non-stop to prevent corruption and unethical practices amongst the men and women trusted to officiate football matches.
Information at hand has revealed that the global football authorities are failing dismally to fight the scourge of graft in soccer. Experts say unfair treatment and poor remuneration of referees as well as the advent of betting continues to breed fertile grounds for money to exchange hands from corruptors to referees.
Last week, the CAF took stiff action when it cracked the whip on 11 officials implicated in the Anas Aremeyaw Anas’ documentary which exposed corruption in football administration in Africa.
The probe affected a total of 22 referees, with Kenyan referee Marwa Range banned for life while Togolese Yanissou Bebou and Gambian Jallow Ebrima banned for 10 years each.
The decision was taken after the Disciplinary Board of CAF held a meeting on 7th July 2018 on referees who were captured in the secretly recorded video taking bribes before officiating various games.
Ivory Coast referee Denis Dembele, a regular on the African national team and club fixtures circuit, got a six-year ban.
A further seven match officials received suspensions ranging between two and five years, according to the statement.
Another 11 referees – 10 Ghanaians and one Liberian – have been provisionally banned pending appearances before a CAF disciplinary board on August 5.
An analysis of data on corruption in football from FIFA, CAF and academic writings on graft in soccer point to one answer: Referees continue to be susceptible to bribes while intimidation from supporters of ‘big’ teams and sports betting have a major impact on referees’ performances.
Although refereeing crews are there to keep things fair on the field of play, result manipulation is one of the practices that strikes at the very integrity of the game.
Officiating bias has been suggested by such varied yet extensive platforms, especially considering the fact that soccer has evolved to become a lucrative monetary business.
The opportunistic view of huge monetary profit through match-fixing has become a passport to riches due to the huge amounts of money invested by wealthy individuals and corporations.
Transparency International (2014) describe the relationship between corruption and soccer as follows: “Sport is a multi-billion dollar business. It has intricate ties to political and private interests. This means rich opportunities for corruption. Yet across the sporting sector, most deals and decisions take place behind closed doors. This allows corruption to go unchecked and unpunished.”
The Namibian situation
NFA president Frans Mbidi this week during an interview with The Patriot said match fixing is not an issue in Namibia, but indicated that constant preaching against unethical practices should be continued.
“We need to continue preaching football ethics. Our referees are professionals, hence we do not have issues with match-fixing,” he said while admitting that corruption is rampant in the global footballing circles.
Asked about the message the recent CAF expose and suspension of referees sends, Mbidi said “the message sent is two-fold.”
“It shows that the authorities are in control and they are not sitting idle because perpetrators are finding new ways to manipulate the outcome of matches. In our case, it is important that we continuously perfect and probe our system and safeguard the integrity of the game to ensure that we[Namibia] do not fall prey,” he said.
But while Namibia’s football authorities say unethical conduct amongst referees is not a problem, two veteran sports journalists who have traversed the continent covering football matches are not surprised by CAF’s latest findings.
New Era’s sports editor Carlos Kambaekwa and Conrad Angula who headed the sports desk at The Namibian newspaper for many years have their own views about the ethics and refereeing standards on the continent and domestically.
Kambaekwa said match-fixing involving referees is rife “but difficult to prove.
It is hard to prove unless referees come forth themselves. We had the case where some people wanted to bribe our referees in Angola but luckily our guys reported it,” he said.
Kambaekwa also feels that the so-called big teams are prone to receive more favourable decisions from referees.The veteran scribe gave an example of the Bidvest Cup final between UNAM FC and African Stars. The latter won the match 1-0 after UNAM was denied a clear goal after the referee claimed one of the UNAM players handled the ball.
“In most cases 50/50 decisions always go in the favour of the big teams, this is just how it is all over the world. Betting also plays a major role because it is used to manipulate results. Generally, our referees are doing well,” he said.
Kambaekwa added: “Perhaps cases of referees being bribed are minimal, because clubs do not have money to pay referees. I mean, who would risk losing their status as a top flight referee over N$500?” he asked.
He is also of the view that African countries are always on the receiving end of bad decisions at international competitions.
“The current World Cup in Russia is a good example, if you look at the decisions that were given against Senegal, you would agree with me that our[Africa] teams are always disadvantaged,” said a concerned Kambaekwa.
Angula on the other hand believes that equal treatment should be accorded to all referees to avoid potential collusion involving referees.
“Some referees are allowed to travel with their cars when they officiate matches out of town while others are expected to make their own way, we even know of referees hitch-hiking with teams despite knowing that they are going to officiate matches involving such teams. Do we really expect referees in such a position not to be biased?” he questioned.
Angula is also not surprised that most of the referees that were recently disciplined for unethical conduct hail from North Africa.
National teams from that part of the continent have dominated continental football over the years, with the majority of the five African representatives at the soccer World Cup mostly coming from north and West Africa.
At the ongoing global showpiece in Russia, all five representatives from Africa came from the upper half of the continent.
“It is true that in terms of quality their players are superior because most of them play in the big leagues in Europe, but at times when our teams go and play in that part of Africa the refereeing is often pathetic. Bad decisions whether taken intentionally or not is one of the many reasons why teams from North Africa continue to dominate football on the continent,” said Angula.
CAF fights corruption
Earlier this year the Confederation of African Football (CAF) took over the payment of referees officiating international matches.
Africa’s football governing body scrapped the system of host countries and their national associations footing the officiating fees, reducing the possibility of host sides influencing match officials under the guise of paying indemnities.
The move was seen as a move to eliminate suspicions between national associations.
Although such a decision also reduces the financial burden on national associations, it is mainly welcomed because it is envisaged to force a seismic shift that could eliminate historical ethical challenges if it removes the suspicion perceived between national associations and the referees. Another move taken by CAF to remove corruption was to remove the Best Referee in Africa award.CAF president Ahmad said that award was scrapped over fears it could ‘breed corruption.’
Eliminating contact between match officials and host sides before matches has been the main cause of suspicion of match fixing by referees.