FIFA allegations unlikely to resonate in South Africa | News | DW | 28.05.2015
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FIFA allegations unlikely to resonate in South Africa

As South Africa becomes the latest nation to face corruption allegations, can FIFA President Sepp Blatter count on the governing body of African soccer (CAF) to secure his re-election at FIFA's congress in Zurich?

In soccer, or at least in elections for FIFA's presidency, Africa has a voice. With 54 voting members, out of a total of 209, the governing body of African soccer CAF is the best represented in the sport. Every vote counts the same, and until very recently, Asian and African members looked guaranteed to carry incumbent Sepp Blatter to re-election.

Traditionally, CAF has held FIFA President Sepp Blatter in high regard on account of his personal support of African soccer, facilitating more than just the sport with his involvement in Africa's developing nations. But could that possibly change?

With UEFA in a longstanding and open revolt against Sepp Blatter and the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) now taking a critical stance towards the 79-year-old incumbent president, CAF's reluctance to have FIFA's election on Friday postponed may speak volumes by itself. On Wednesday, CAF was unequivocal in its continuing support for Blatter, and little seems likely to have changed after these latest allegations.

South Africa, one of Africa's biggest soccer nations, took center stage in the new inquiries looking into FIFA's current corruption scandal. One banner headline from US Attorney General Loretta Lynch was the allegation that a leading South African bid committee member handed "a briefcase containing bundles of US currency" to a family member of Jack Warner. Warner, a former FIFA vice president, is among the prime targets in the FIFA sting, seemingly after investigators managed to secure his sons' cooperation.

South Africa denies corruption allegations

The South African Football Association (SAFA) on Thursday rejected allegations that it had paid $10 million (9.1 milliion euros) in bribes to Warner. SAFA spokesman Dominic Chimhavi said that everything was done by the book when South Africa placed its proposal and won the bid.

South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula in front of South African flag

South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula insists that no money was exchanged to win the bid

"The bid was made by people with high integrity, including the late Nelson Mandela and [former president] Thabo Mbeki," Chimhavi added. "We are disappointed at the baseless and untested allegations, and request proof from anyone who has contrary evidence."

Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula said that all 2010 FIFA World Cup funds had long been accounted for and audited, and that the South African government had not received any official indictments from US prosecutors in the case to date. He called those who were involved in FIFA corruption scandal "criminals," and described allegations against the 2010 bid as "reckless at best."

"I've stated that it's clear and categorical: we have not transferred any money to any individual of that sort," he said at a press conference in Johannesburg.

Corruption all-too-familiar across South Africa

Heather Walker, former editor of the weekly newspaper "The South African," does not expect major domestic fallout, despite the allegations.

"People are up in arms about Russia and Qatar, but the World Cup in South Africa five years ago was really successful by all accounts. In a place like South Africa, you're just likely to hear a lot of 'so what?' when it comes to such small-time corruption claims, which, if they did happen, actually helped the country in the bigger picture," she told Deutsche Welle.

South Africa is indeed no stranger to corruption. The release of a number of reports since 2014 concerning President Jacob Zuma's private residence at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal Province has been staining the reputation of the country's post-apartheid success. Thursday's final report by the police minister found that the president need not pay back the public money spent on adding a swimming pool, a chicken run, an amphitheater and a visitors' center to his homestead - since these were necessary on account of "security concerns."

Legacy of the 2010 World Cup

But Nkandla has commonly been regarded as just the tip of an iceberg leading from top government officials down to the local police in most townships.

When the 2010 FIFA World Cup arrived, the world was eager to see Nelson Mandela's new South Africa, and the event was a perfect opportunity to showcase how the nation had overcome the shadow of apartheid. New infrastructure - from football stadiums to public transportation links - was built from scratch, involving tenders for building contracts reaching from the Cape of Good Hope to the waters of the Indian Ocean. It was regarded as South Africa's moment to shine and widely hailed as a success.

In the five years since the 2010 World Cup, South Africa has attracted record numbers of tourists - a lasting legacy of the tournament. Publications like the "New York Times" and Britain's "Daily Telegraph" have repeatedly ranked the country as one of the most desirable places to travel to - if you overlook its crime and corruption.

When compared to other domestic allegations of corruption, perhaps some South African realists, like Heather Walker, might consider bribes towards Africa's first ever World Cup to be money relatively well spent. The success of the 2010 World Cup might also prove an excellent investment for Sepp Blatter's re-election bid on Friday.

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