FIFA’s Blatter arrives in Zimbabwe

FIFA’s Sepp Blatter met Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe for

talks Monday after the head of world football arrived for a two-day

visit to a country where the game is mired in a match-fixing

controversy.

Blatter, who arrived earlier in Harare on a private jet,

inspected training facilities that urgently need funding amid

Zimbabwe’s troubled economy, and pledged $1 million over four years

for football programs in the country. Another $500,000 will be

provided to support training under the FIFA’s worldwide Goal

Project.

”Football is more than kicking a ball,” Blatter said at a news

conference. ”I do not come to Africa to impose European football,

I respect particularities and culture. Africa has more talent than

Brazil but Africa’s talent is not yet developed.”

Blatter had been scheduled to accompany Mugabe to a women’s

international match against regional neighbor Malawi, but officials

said later that Mugabe did not attend because of a scheduling

conflict.

Zimbabwe’s Mighty Warriors women’s team beat Malawi 8-2.

An advance party of four FIFA officials, including two

match-fixing investigators, arrived Sunday.

Last year, Zimbabwe captain Method Mwanjali and four team mates

admitted taking money to lose matches on a 2009 tour to Thailand

and Malaysia. Zimbabwe lost 3-0 to Thailand and 6-0 to Syria and

the players said they were paid between $500 and $1,500.

Zimbabwe Sports Minister David Coltart said Monday he hoped the

FIFA team, which includes its head of security Chris Eaton, will

recommend punishment for those found guilty.

”Hopefully FIFA will stick by the (Zimbabwe) government’s

determination to deal with corruption,” Coltart told The

Associated Press. ”We expect them to endorse that there has been

criminality and prosecution must follow.”

Mugabe told the state broadcaster on the steps of his official

State House offices he was ”honored” by Blatter’s visit.

”It is a great visit from the most powerful man in football. We

hope a bit of his power remains with us,” said the 87-year-old

Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

Blatter then met with children training on a football pitch

outside Harare.

Coach Matthew Makuwerere said the sport lacked training

facilities, adding that it had long stifled young people’s dreams

of becoming professional players.

”We hope player development we have been wishing for will now

be realized,” he said.

Eaton is scheduled to meet with Coltart, police commanders and

the state Sports and Recreation Commission – all of whom have

assisted administrators in probing the match-fixing in 2009, known

in local football circles as ”Asiagate.”

Zimbabwe FA chief executive Jonathan Mashingaidze said Eaton

will study corruption reports that have been compiled by his

organization. He also said the national body will be guided by FIFA

on prosecution and any life bans on players and a member of the

coaching team who accepted money.

Punishments for the Zimbabwe players could be part of a new wave

of crackdowns on match-fixing in world football. Similar

investigations are also under way in Finland, Italy, Greece and, at

a lower level, in Malaysia and South Africa.

”We can’t intervene in the early stages of investigations but

when offenders are found guilty they will be suspended or banned

for life,” Blatter said.