South Africa has declared itself innocent of any bribery allegations in relation to winning the hosting rights of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. In a swift response on Wednesday, South Africa Sports minister, Fikile Mbalula declared in a news conference that neither South Africa’s government nor the 2010 World Cup bid and organising committee bought votes for the right to host the FIFA organized tournament.
Mbalula also denied that the $10million payment to former FIFA vice president, Jack Warner over World Cup Legacy project during their successful bidding exercise for the Mundial was “a bribe”. “The fact that a payment of $10million was made to an approved programme above board does not equate to bribery. Those who allege should prove their allegations,” Mr. Mbalula said.
South African government’s decision to make a categorical statement on the corruption imbroglio follows last week’s indictment filed by US prosecutors that alleges world soccer’s governing body paid the sum ($10 million) to the Caribbean Football Union, headed by Warner.
Although, FIFA issued a statement on Tuesday declaring that, in 2007, as part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the South African government approved a $10m project to support the African Diaspora in Caribbean countries; the US indictment says the money – an alleged bribe from South Africa for the World Cup – was shared by Warner and other CONCACAF members in return for their votes.
A letter from the South African FA addressed to FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke detailing the specifics of the payment made in 2008 emerged on Tuesday, triggering Sepp Blatter’s resignation as FIFA president later that day.
But, Mbalula insists South Africa should not be dragged into the FIFA corruption scandal, clamming that the country’s hosting rights campaign was clean. His words: “We refuse to be caught up in a battle of the United States authorities and FIFA. We have never been spokespersons for FIFA and don’t intend to speak on behalf of FIFA. Our purpose and intent is to ensure that we respond to the allegations levelled at our country, government and its citizens. We therefore wish to categorically deny that our country and government have bribed anyone to secure the rights to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.”
Warner is among 14 FIFA officials and corporate executives charged by the US Department of Justice last Wednesday with running a criminal enterprise that involved more than $150m in bribes.
Meanwhile, Interpol has put six men linked to FIFA, including Warner, on its most wanted list. The ‘Red Notices’ announced on Wednesday were issued for Warner and former executive committee member Nicolas Leoz. Others listed were Argentinians Alejandro Burzaco and brothers Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, who together were accused of paying more than $100m in bribes for media and commercial rights to soccer tournaments, as well as Jose Margulies, a Brazilian broadcast executive.
The announcement comes a day after Sepp Blatter announced he will step down as FIFA president amid the widening corruption scandal.
Russia and Qatar’s rights to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively have also been thrown into doubt amid the corruption allegations that have rocked the sport’s world governing body.
By Olisemeka Obeche