FIFA funding a curse to African federations


By Omulo Okoth
The situation in East Africa shows that FIFA grants have a hand in wrangling between federations and Governments. It has become a curse of soccer development in the region.

The $250,000 annual funding by FIFA to member federations for projects of their choice has become a curse to African federations. Most federations in Africa say the funding is meant for Youth Development Programmes, although FIFA does not restrict it to Youth Development Programmes alone. 

However, once an applicant specifies its purpose, it must be used for that specific purpose alone. Any benefactor is most likely to support any project meant for the youth because the future of all sports lies right there. It is emerging that this annual funding is the catalyst that perpetuates problems in many federations. This money has oiled campaign machines for federation chiefs to retain their plum positions or, better (worse?) still, venture into parliamentary politics. 

Government officials, blocked by strict FIFA rules that Government interference in running of soccer in member states is punished by sanctions, can only watch helplessly as federation chiefs wallow voluptuously in FIFA largesse. 

The order by FIFA against Government interference has served federation officials very well. They are only answerable to FIFA. Thus a Government minister in charge of sports can not order investigations into their operations, lest they are suspended from international competitions. 

However, FIFA Head of Media Department Mr Andreas Herren says the aim is essentially to make sure that some sort of consistency can be achieved in the administration of the game in every country. It is to curb indiscriminate replacement of federation officials by overbearing ministers who envy their positions of influence and power. 

There is no gainsaying that national soccer teams provide a symbol of national unity in many countries more than the imagination of many presidents. For the ministers, this offers a perfect opportunity to place their cronies and relatives in positions of influence and power. To this extent, the FIFA rule served an important purpose. However, this rule has been misconstrued to mean they are only answerable to FIFA, irrespective of their impropriety. That they are not bound by the laws of the land. 

FIFA has solidified this misconception by wielding the big stick on Governments that suspend elected federation officials who steal money from those federations they were elected to serve.

But again Mr Herren explains: "Changes to the leadership of the associations are of course possible and certainly permitted. However, FIFA insists that they are not simply to be decreed at the whim of a ministry but that they must be brought about by democratic elections within the framework of a general assembly," Mr Herren said.

FIFA defeated Tanzanian government
The situation obtaining in East Africa shows that FIFA grants have a hand in wrangling between federations and Governments. It has become a curse of soccer development in the region. 

In October 2000, FIFA suspended Tanzania Football Association (FAT) from all international competitions. This followed a row of dismissal of FAT leadership. Tanzanian Government had removed FAT executive committee in July on suspicon of corruption. The Minister for Sport and Culture Mr Juma Kapuya dissolved the committee under chairman Muhuddin Ndolanga and secretary general Ismail Aden Rage, who were accused of fraud and theft involving about $52,500.

FIFA did not recognise the changes. It sent its delegate Joseph Mifsud from Malta who directed Tanzanian sports authorities to form an interim committee to oversee fresh elections.  He further directed that the body should be headed by Ndolanga - the head of the suspended committee - and include members of the new committee.

Tanzanian Sports Council chairman Jenerali Ulimwengu hit the roof. They refused to accept FIFA delegate's demands and a stalemate ensued. The Government relented to FIFA demands early 2001 and elections were held in November in which Ndolanga returned to the federation as the chairman - home and dry.

Uganda spent FIFA funds on bus not youth
In Uganda, former international player Dennis Obua fought a battle of his life to retain the chairmanship of Uganda Football Federation (FUFA) following allegations of misuse of FIFA funds for Youth Development Programme.

Obua admitted that the money wasn't used for the youth development programme for which FIFA released it.

"We used most of the grant on Uganda Cranes' (national team) international travel as the Government doesn't fund soccer in this country," Obua told the influential regional weekly newspaper East African last year.

A mini-bus bought for use by the federation cost $13,140 and a van $6,286, figures said to have been grossly inflated.

FIFA funding investigated in Kenya
In Kenya, FIFA ordered an audit of the Youth Development Fund in September 2000 into the $250,000 grant which started in May 1999 and July 2000. 

KPMG Peat Marwick, who are also FIFA's auditors in Zurich, reported that transactions totalling $82,000 could not be supported by any documentary evidence. Rather than restrict the fund to its purpose, $40,000 ended up in the federation's main account without a letter of authority and reason of transfer. The report said the money catered for various KFF expenses which wasn't in accordance with the application approved by FIFA and not backed by supporting documents. 

FIFA withheld further funding last year, but resumed after Kenya Football Federation (KFF) officials convinced FIFA officials during the World Under-20 Cup in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last July to resume the funding but deduct the $82,000 which could not be accounted for.

In the meantime, the Government ordered the suspensions of three top KFF officials, secretary general Hassan Haji, treasurer Levi Obondo and deputy secretary general Dan Murunga. It was a mystery how the chairman was spared the chop yet he is a signatory to all federation's accounts, as were the suspended secretary general and treasurer.

FIFA system fertile ground for fraud
It is instructive that Government ministers may want to dip their fingers into the FIFA funds. When that happens, things just move on well. When it doesn't happen, threats of suspensions or audits abound. Although Mr Herren says FIFA does not protect crooks or intend to be above law, the situation on the ground is a clear insulation of crooked officials by the FIFA rule of non-interference. 

"FIFA's standard approach in situations where there is an issue between the government and the association is to send a delegation to the country in question composed of members of FIFA and the confederation of whose continent the asociation is domiciled, here CAF," he said.

"The delegation is to meet with representatives of all parties involved in the issue most notably also from the Government or ministry, the associations etc."

In addition to the visit of the delegation, FIFA also asks for audit of the association's accounts to ascertain the validity of the allegations and accusations. FIFA has done so in Hungary, Poland, Cameroon and Nepal, among others," Mr Herren said. "Depending on the results, the need for a normalisation committee may arise which then has the task to organise new elections to be held at a special general assembly," he said. 

FIFA's line of argument is quite plausible, but it provides a fertile ground for fraud and wrangling.

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