HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsAsiagate: Pity the innocent players

Asiagate: Pity the innocent players

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The phrase “parking the bus” was coined by Jose Mourinho, then the coach of English Premiership football club Chelsea, in 2004 when visiting team Tottenham Hotspur ground out a 0-0 draw by playing negative and defensive football.

Report by Conway Tutani

Said Mourinho: “As we say in Portugal, (Tottenham) brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal.”

It means to just get all 10 men behind the ball to stop the other team from playing.

So were the obstacles piled to thwart the Justice Ahmed Ebrahim-led Independent Ethics Committee set up by the Zimbabwe Football Association (Zifa) to investigate “Asiagate”, the scandal of 2009 when some top Zifa officials along with former and current coaches organised an unsanctioned tour of Asia by a purported national football team in collusion with the now jailed Singaporean match-fixing and betting mastermind Wilson Raj Perumal. Their sole purpose was to make money from games in which the players were given instructions to lose. We are talking of big money — they allegedly received US$1 million.

Said Justice Ebrahim last week, announcing their findings: “We have faced legal challenges to curtail our existence as a committee, in the form of an application for us to recuse ourselves; we have been taken to court in an attempt to stop us from proceeding and there has also been an urgent court application in an attempt to interdict us through the courts from continuing with our inquiry.”

Thankfully and commendably, the determined and indefatigable Justice Ebrahim did not lose sight of the goal, culminating in a comprehensive report and, at the last count, life bans on 15 officials and players, leaving Zimbabwean football in a tailspin.

The conspirators pulled it off for all these years because the network was strong — from officials, coaches, players to journalists. The systemic failures within Zifa itself allowed this to go on for years.

But it was always going to be impossible to cover up deception on such a grand scale in this electronic age of instant news coverage and relay in which all parts of globe are now wired together. Furthermore, lifestyles of the masterminds vastly and rapidly changed. They couldn’t resist showing off nouveau riche style. One of the alleged culprits is reported to have built a swimming pool at his Chitungwiza residence. If true, that could be a first for that crowded suburb. As Justice Ebrahim rightly pointed out, this was out of greed, not need.

But, unfortunately, these fallen heroes will never be total “zeros”, as many starstruck fans still hold them in the highest regard, going by the comments in the media. A person is starstruck when they act as though they are infatuated by a person’s celebrity, popularity, or perceived greatness. They get overwhelmed by this person’s presence that they have trouble acting normally or rationally and are prepared to overlook glaring faults and misdemeanours — such as being cheated by the very same celebrities — which they wouldn’t tolerate in ordinary people.

Yes, Asiagate was organised crime because it was a highly centralised enterprise — not a one-off incident — with a form of structure and discipline to it and carefully chosen strategically-placed individuals running the scam, pressuring players to participate in the same manner Mafia racketeers force people to do business with them — and Justice Ebrahim, the seasoned judge that he is, accurately and with precision captured this in his report. Not only had the corruption become an epidemic, so was the abuse of players. Yes, young, raw players were used and abused.

So the much, much belated “advice” from former Zifa chief executive Henrietta Rushwaya, the alleged local mastermind of Asiagate, that football players should have educational and professional qualifications to fall back on in the event that they are banned from the game is ill-timed, insensitive and cruel in the abruptly changed circumstances of the affected players. As it stands, there is no “added time” for them to retrieve their careers — it’s kaput! She should have kept her counsel to herself as she knew the implications of discovery all along. Whether she intended it or not, this was the most cynical piece of advice to give to players who had been banned for life. From the $1 million paid out by Perumal, the players got peanuts, nowhere near what the Zifa “inner sanctum” (as referred to by Justice Ebrahim) reportedly got.

Said Justice Ebrahim: “It was simultaneously to the detriment of some of the young, innocent and uneducated players. Some of the officials and players will undoubtedly have their football futures ruined by these greedy, despicable, ruthless and unfeeling miscreants.”

Let’s remove the parked bus in front of the goal to score for fairness and justice by giving the players a reprieve and dealing sternly with the masterminds.

  • ctutani@newsday.co.zw

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