Former FIFA official: Clean up African football

March 18, 2013

Africa needs to do a lot more to combat match fixing, including setting up a regional body to investigate credible allegations, if it wants to restore the faith of fans in the sport, a former FIFA official told The Associated Press on Monday.

Chris Eaton, a former security chief for football's governing body, called for a new body made up of police across Africa, sporting bodies as well as gambling organizations. He said it would need appropriate funding both from inside and outside Africa and should go beyond ''writing reports'' to produce credible investigations.

''Africa needs a substantial, continental reform really,'' said Eaton, who now is director of sports integrity for the Doha-based International Centre For Sport Security. ''I think you will find most serious people in sport in Africa today recognize that. There is a need for regulation and oversight of the official and even unofficial bodies that are part of the sporting milieu.''

Speaking at the Centre's two-day conference, Eaton praised police in Africa but said governments on the continent didn't seem serious about combating the problem.

''It is a lack of political will,'' Eaton said. ''African police are as competent and capable as any police in the world. There is no doubt if they put their will to it and have the funding to it, they can do it.''

While UEFA and the Asian Football Confederation have acknowledged the problem of match-fixing and taken steps to combat it, Africa has so far done little - despite the fact there an ''enormous amount of allegations involving Africans in match fixing,'' Eaton said.

The Confederation of African Football did not address match-fixing at its recent conference, and President Issa Hayatou was re-elected despite having been linked to several corruption investigations including a decade-old World Cup kickback scheme that is being examined by FIFA ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia.

The 66-year-old Hayatou ran unopposed after engineering rule changes that made his only challenger, FIFA executive committee member Jacques Anouma, ineligible to stand for election.

Match-fixing has become a global problem, and a report from the European Union police agency, Europol, found organized crime gangs have fixed or tried to fix hundreds of football matches around the world in recent years.

Europol said an 18-month review found 380 suspicious matches in Europe and another 300 questionable games outside the continent, mainly in Africa, Asia and South and Central America.

Last month, a former assistant to South Africa's national team was jailed for three years for trying to fix a match. Referee Ibrahim Chaibou, from the West African country of Niger, has had at least five of his matches flagged as suspicious by betting monitoring companies, an action that usually prompts FIFA and national football organizations to look into the possibility that it was fixed.

Chaibou denies any wrongdoing.

John Abbott, chairman of Interpol's Integrity in Sport Initiative, said he thought a continental body would be a hard sell in Africa.

''You always come back to the issue of national sovereignty. Criminal justice systems operate on national basis,'' Abbot told the AP. ''It would be helpful in terms of focusing activity and providing more leadership. But if you think it will be golden bullet that will answer everything, I'm afraid the issues are more difficult than that.''

Abbott also dismissed suggestions from some at the conference of a WADA-style body that would tackle match-fixing, saying it was ''an idealistic'' solution given the role of organized crime in corruption.

''The real future success in tackling match-fixing is getting various stake holders working together more effectively both on prevention programs and improving how we investigate allegations of match-fixing,'' he said. ''Sometimes there are very long delays and poor sharing of information and we all need to improve that.''