Monday, 9 November 2015

Africa in Sports Scandals: Starting with Football, Not Ending with Cricket

 By Takura Zhangazha*

The 2015 edition of the University of the Witwatersrand Power Reporting conference began with an outline of  the coverage of the FIFA corruption scandal by Insight investigative journalism division of the Sunday Times (UK).  

After a schedule that also included discussions on  ‘data journalism’, the ‘fatal activities of Australian mining companies’ and the role of bankers and lawyers in offshore tax havens a second sporting scandal was unearthed. And it was on the global  sport that is cricket. 

In contrast to the investigative report on football, the International Cricket Council (ICC) was laid bare via an incisive documentary film, ‘Death of a Gentleman’ done by two cricket journalists/bloggers that was shown at the end of the first day of the conference.

In both exposés there is damning evidence of corruption that however ends up being ambivalently dealt with or downright ignored.  But there is no doubt left in the mind of the newsreader or documentary viewer that there is definitely more than something fishy that has been going on in football and cricket over the last decade.    

And Africa or at least African member states of FIFA and the ICC get some mention too.  Nigerian football administrators are implicated in bribes while one of  Zimbabwe’s former cricket chiefs is seen at a controversial meeting to change the rules of the ICC.

Moreover, as part of the smaller countries that have disproportionate votes on both sports world bodies, Africa appears to be complicit in shady deals of powerful executives who want flagship world tournaments to be awarded in specific ways.  For example the simultaneous awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar respectively is fraught with irregularities that included a dinner hosted in Johannesburg at a ridiculous US$1m cost.  The latter however eventually ended up costing US$200 thousand with the remainder unaccounted for. Both by way of actual money and not knowing from whence the money had come from.

In cricket, it is the power of the Indian Cricket Board that is brought to bear on South Africa through threats to withdraw its cricket team from touring the latter. This reportedly led Cricket South Africa to accede to demands for support of reform of the ICC.

It is these weak and vulnerable position that African member states find themselves in that make them susceptible to not only corruption but also a damning complicity in compromising fair competition in global sporting competitions. 

And it will not end with football or cricket.  There is obviously another can of worms that will emerge from the recently announced report on doping in athletics and we are yet to hear of the potentially shady deals that have been going on in the International Amateur Athletics Federation. At least it will be about doping. Though anyone would also welcome inquiries into how the International Olympic committee also awards bids to host the Olympics.

 In all of this, as it probably is the world over, it is African sporting fans that lose out.  They begin to not only doubt the transparency and fairness of global sporting competitions but are also caught between a rock and a hard place. From the love they exhibit for these various sports disciplines, expressions of nationalism and identity in global competitions through to the fact that it may all, in the final analysis, be contrived and patently unfair.

Not that this is or will be peculiar to the African continent but it helps to have Africans also joining the global derision of global sports executives, the administrative bodies and associated governments for a job badly done.

Finally, it was an Angolan journalist at the conference  who asked a question that was reflective of the broader dimension to these sporting scandals.  His question was, and I am paraphrasing here, whether these sporting scandals are not symptomatic of deeper disorder and lack of transparency in other bigger international organizations that deal with the global economy and peace.

*Takura Zhangazha wrties here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)