Match-fixing rears its ugly head again!

By Prof Dr Steve Cornelius, Centre for Sport and Entertainment Law, University of Pretoria

In the run-up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, the South African national football team enjoyed an almost unprecedented run of success in the friendly matches played as part of their preparation for the first mega event staged on the African continent. Subsequent to the World Cup, allegations of match-fixing began to surface and it appeared that the success of the South African team, affectionately known as ‘Bafana-Bafana’ (our boys), was in no small measure attributable to the intervention of known match-fixers.

When the South African Minister of Sport suggested that the South African government was considering the establishment of a judicial commission of enquiry into the pre-World Cup match-fixing, FIFA objected, in the strongest possible terms, to the perceived political interference in football and threatened to expel South Africa from international football if the government went ahead with its plans. As a result, the South African government backed down and the matter of pre-World Cup match-fixing was never fully investigated.

Now, almost seven years later, the scourge of match-fixing has again (or perhaps still) reared its ugly head in respect of the South African football team.

It emerged that Ghanaian referee, Joseph Lamptey, who officiated in the World Cup qualifying match between South Africa and Senegal, made some dubious decisions, which allowed South Africa to win the match 2-1. Lamptey was banned for life by FIFA and, whilst there was no indication yet that any South African officials or players were involved, it puts a further question mark on the integrity of football in Africa.

This begs the question: would this latest incidence of match-fixing still have taken place if the pre-World Cup corruption had been properly investigated. And, why would FIFA see a formal judicial inquiry as political interference?

Surely, any International Federation that takes the integrity of its sport seriously would welcome an investigation by national authorities into match-fixing and other conduct that would undermine the integrity of their sport. So why did FIFA not jump at the opportunity to clean up the sport when it was presented?

Perhaps the events of 27 May 2015, when top FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland on various charges of corruption and the subsequent indictments in the United States, give a clue.

One certainly has to question whether the FIFA reaction to the proposed judicial inquiry was not a protection of self-interest on the part of some top FIFA officials, most of whom have subsequently been discredited.

And one has also to question whether this latest incident of match-fixing is isolated, or whether there is a much deeper systemic problem that lies festering, threatening the integrity of ‘the beautiful game’.

Prof Cornelius may be contacted by e-mail at ‘steve.cornelius@up.ac.za’