First, to Ghana where the media and public are finally waking up to the fact that corruption has threatened some of their international football. It is an odd situation in that country. The Ghana Football Association is actually relatively good at exposing and speaking publicly about corruption in the sport. Their officials had the courage to take on Abedi Pele, a national icon, when his team was linked to fixing. Their officials had the courage to reveal another national hero – Abukari Damba – was working with fixers . And their officials had the courage to give a foreign journalist open interviews about the existence of fixers at all the big international soccer tournaments.
This courage extended to some of their national players. Publicly men like Stephen Appiah and Yusuf Alhassan Chibsah told me of being approached by fixers at the Olympics and World Cup Tournaments. Privately, players and officials spoke to me, and continue to speak me, about the existence of corruption in the sport. They do so because they have little confidence in the Ghanaian media.
This phenomenon is what is odd about Ghana. In most places, it is the officials who are desperate to play-down corruption, while a hungry media competes to uncover more stories. In Ghana, the players and officials talk about the corruption and, generally, the media tries to play it down.
A few days ago, we had another example of this bizarre paradigm. For another player came out publicly and said that the fixers had also been approaching him during the World Cup of 2006. Richard Kingson, the goalkeeper, said during a church service in Nigeria that another Ghanaian led him to a meeting with fixers who offered him $300,000 to let in two-goals. This is interesting stuff, and seemingly confirms what Appiah told me (he also said that he had been approached by fixers at the tournament) and directly contradicts what Kingson said to me in an interview where he flatly denied ever being approached at the 2006 World Cup by the fixers. It also begs a whole list of questions:
Who was the person who set up the meeting?
Who were the fixers?
Is that the first or last time that you met them?
Did they approach anyone else on the team?
Did they offer you more money because you were a goalie than anyone else?
Did they tell you that they had other officials working with them?
Did they tell you that they had other teams on their payroll?
Did they talk about working with anyone on the Ghana teams in the past?
However, if you follow most of the Ghanaian media, you would be mistaken in thinking that the real story is how Richard Kingson’s wife, possessed by an evil spirit, confessed to making him impotent and a terrible player by witchcraft (No, I am not making this up).
Today, the Ghana Football Association has again come to the rescue and announced that they will set up an inquiry into the affair and possible bribery at the 2006 World Cup. I anxiously await my official, public invitation to help them.
To Canada – where this week a group of former colleagues presented a documentary about fixing in the third-tier league the Canadian Soccer League (CSL). It was good stuff: well-presented, new material on an old story. (Full disclosure – some of them are old friends and there were handbags thrown at my last blog entry. I wrote that much of the work on the story had been done by the freelancer Ben Rycroft. This is true, but to the eternal credit of the CBC producers, they gave him full credit and lots of time on-screen. Well-done to them, my mistake and I apologize for the error).
However, where the piece went slightly off-kilter was in the spin surrounding it. There was a clear inference in the CBC press material that the exposure of an international fixing ring and a fixed game in the CSL is new material. They are not. They international fixing story was broken four years ago. The CSL fixing story was relatively well-known in the soccer community and reported in both Canadian and international newspapers last year. Again this was not the fault of the journalists, but the CBC spin presents the Canadian soccer world with a major problem. Here is why.
The stark truth is that the Canadian soccer officials have had over eighteen months to find out about corruption in one of their leagues (read newspapers) and then do something about it. Instead, they have done nothing. In fact, one source close to the German police investigation told me that there were nine countries where the German/Croat fixers had worked. There was no secrecy about their activities. The fixers had already stood up in a German court and openly confessed to their work. Their testimony has been well-covered in the media. However, of those nine countries, only the Canadian officials have not taken any effective action. The Germans were bewildered that there were no Canadian police investigations, nor any sanctions by the Canadian soccer authorities.
This is the problem about spinning an old issue as a new story, it lets the people who are supposed to be guarding the sport in Canada completely off the hook. It sets the public discussion back a number of steps and allows officials a wonderful excuse for not doing anything. In fact, even on Friday, the Canadian Soccer Association told another colleague (Richard Starnes of the Ottawa Citizen), that they had known about the fixed game but were waiting for direction from FIFA on what to do about it. What a lovely joke! – Waiting for FIFA to tell you what to do about corruption in soccer – It sounds like some sort of odd existential play or a living oxymoron.
All of this inaction in Canada is in direct contrast to Ghana – in that country at least you can count on the officials to take clear, direct action when they hear about corruption in their sport. Let us hope that, finally, the Canadians will do the same.