OPINION: If its Fiks, it's likely broken
Richard Poplak takes a look at how Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula has reacted to the Fifa corruption scandal.
Any press conference held by Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula counts as an own goal, but the Fifa corruption charges presser he held on Thursday counts as the world's first own hat trick. And while it didn't rate as the most absurd press conference of the day - that honour belongs to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and his Comedy Central Nkandla report - when all of the FBI's investigations have run their course and the absent football money has been accounted for, we may come to think of Nkandla as a freebie.
Ten million American dollars.
We now know that at least that much went errant during South Africa's "bid" for - or more accurately, purchase of - the 2010 World Cup finals. Valuated at current exchange rates, that's about R121,864,500. Meanwhile, over in central KZN, the presidential palace has so far cost South African taxpayers R247,000,000, give or take a million or two.
It does seem as if we got the Cup Finals for a steal.
But here's the thing: Fifa was supposed to come to our shores and sprinkle us with gold dust, inviting South Africa - and by extension the rest of Africa - into the family of nations. The problem, however, is that the family of nations is more like the sad cast of a B-grade mob movie, while Fifa is so rotten that it corrodes everything it touches. Merely by watching a football game, a fan acts as an accessory to a vast international criminal syndicate that reaches into every corner of this debased, fallen planet. Enjoy that Spain/England friendly? Voluntarily hand yourself over to the authorities for robbing sovereign-debt bogged Spaniards of couple of suitcases of euros.
I should probably note here that Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula doesn't see it this way. Nothing wrong with the state of football, according to Fiks. And certainly nothing amiss with local football. During a press conference he called on Thursday to address the latest Fifa scandal, the minister insisted that no South African official has yet bothered to scan any of the 164 pages of the newly unsealed indictment posted by the US department of justice on their website, an event that shortly followed the arrest of seven Fifa officials in a pimping Zurich Bauer au Lac hotel. If anyone had, they'd have learned that 14 officials were implicated in major acts of corruption, most notably Trinidad and Tobago's former soccer don, and a former vice-president of Fifa, Jack Warner. Now, Warner is widely regarded by anyone who knows anything about Fifa as possibly the world's single largest scumbag - a man so unabashedly filthy that he makes Seff Blatter's bleating about corruption-free sport seem like an avant-garde one-man play written by Beckett and performed by Johnny Depp.
And had those same non-reading officials read the indictment, they also would have learned that two "high-ranking South Africans" were implicated in malfeasance that includes, but is not limited to, the paying of $10 million in bribes to secure votes for the 2010 World Cup Final bid. How bad is it? Quite bad, actually. If you'll bear with me, I'll quote section 186 of the indictment in full:
- Previously, the defendant JACK WARNER and his family had cultivated ties with South African soccer officials in connection with and subsequent to a failed bid by South Africa to host the 2006 World Cup. In the early 2000s, Co-Conspirator #14, a member of WARNER's family, had used WARNER's contacts in South Africa to organise friendly matches for CONCAF teams to play in South Africa. At one point, WARNER also directed Co-conspirator #14 to fly to Paris, France and accept a briefcase containing bundles of US currency in $10 000 stacks in a hotel room from Co-Conspirator #15, a high-ranking South African bid committee official. Hours after arriving in Paris, Co-Conspirator #14 boarded a return flight and carried the briefcase back to Trinidad and Tobago, where Co-Conspirator #14 provided it to WARNER.
It gets worse. Because the "high-ranking South Africans" with whom Warner had "cultivated ties" were unable to pay the 10 million up front, they arranged with Fifa officials to deduct the money from the fake subsidy Fifa was obligated to pay South Africa in order for to help fund the organisation's quadrennial windfall, from which it reaped at least $2 billion in revenue.
That's a full-blown conspiracy in my books, friends.
But according to Mbalula, none of this really happened. This is, after all, the same Mbalula who swanned off to Vegas to watch Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao bank nearly half a billion dollars by hugging each other so tightly that money burst out of their assholes - a trip he insisted was privately funded. Our sports minister claimed that he was in Vegas "cultivating ties" with sports bodies, which would no doubt lead to the improvement of local boxing, currently in such a shambles that provincial coaches often pay for their own road trips to tournaments.
How clean is the South African conscience? "According to Mbalula, "Our financial records and books for the 2010/2011 financial year and those before and after the World Cup have been audited by the Auditor General of South Africa and no [missing money] has been found." This is the magic country where missing money is not a liability but an asset, a topsy-turvy Willy Wonka's dollar factory in which cash keeps coming off the conveyor belts, and the golden ticket winners keep stuffing their pockets.
"As a country, we will be the first to endorse the fight against corruption," continued the minister. "If FBI want South Africa to assist in the investigation, they know what to do."
But I'm not so sure the FBI does know what to do. Think about it from the FBI's point of view: they've released a comprehensive 164-page indictment, and no one in a position of authority in South Africa has yet read it. What's next? Send a fax? A telegram? A buxom beauty in a bunny suit?
"We have noted with keen interest the allegations from the US Attorney General and will follow through with the investigation," claimed Mbalula. But see, this is the problem - while Mbalula was obfuscating about Fifa, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko was going on about Nkandla. He called the press to sit at his knee while he read from a 51-page report that cast such features as swimming pools and a chicken coops as "critical security components", and that there was no need - as per the Public Protector's report released in May of last year - to pay back any of the expenses.
"While the pursuit of a just and corruption-free society is noble‚" said the police minister, "this pursuit should be conducted in an objective and fair manner so that it's very intent is not undermined."
That sound you hear is South Africa retching up dinner.
Corruption is a global game, brothers and sisters. It happens everywhere. If you are not in a position of power, someone in a position of power is presently screwing you. But it can only be combatted locally. Zero tolerance. A red card every time a politician commits a foul. Cameras at the goalmouth. Clean refs. No razor blades in the cleats.
We must fight harder, because there are real victims here. The most obvious is the South African taxpayer, who has had a massively bad day. But what about the kids who Safa and Fifa are supposed to "uplift" through the power of sport? The World Cup opportunity was clearly squandered in terms of soccer development in this country, a fact that is made more obvious when we watch Bafana Bafana fool around on a pitch. We got boned, bru, and hard.
And yet, this is by no means over. "If you touch our shores with your corrupt enterprise… you'll be held accountable," said FBI top cop James B Comey of the Fifa mess. Personally, I love the idea of African and Latin American corruption washing up on US shores, instead of the other way round for a change.
I just don't enjoy paying for it.