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Not beautiful game after all

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MIJIGA— I saw the criminal machinery at work

Match-fixing is the cancer that has been eating into the fabric of Malawi and world football for ages. World football governing body Fifa’s life ban on former Flames midfielder Hellings Mwakasungula—who maintains his innocence for his alleged involvement in the vice—might, as PETER KANJERE finds out in this FRIDAY SHAKER, be just a tip of the iceberg.

After stunning the then World Cup-bound Algeria 3-0 at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) finals in Angola in the opening match courtesy of Dave Banda, Elvis Kafoteka and Russel Mwafulirwa’s goals, the Flames were, ahead of next meetings against the hosts and Mali, on the brink of securing quarter-final berth qualification.

However, what followed was a seemingly well-choreographed cocktail of defensive errors that culminated in heartbreaking 2-0 and 3-1 losses to Angola and Mali.

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In the match against Angola, Flames defenders stood motionless in a straight line as striker Flavio jumped unchallenged to head the ball into the net in the 47th minute.

If that were a script of how not to defend in football, what followed in the build-up to the second goal by Manucho in the 53rd minute was pure comedy.

A Flames player, wide on the left, passed the ball backwards. Manucho tried to intercept it. A Malawi defender tried to clear the loose ball, only to flick it onto the feet of the Angolan forward, who raced clear to score. Fans back home were shocked.

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Now with Mwakasungula’s ban being linked to matches played between 2008 and 2010, watching a video clip of the match against Angola, all seems clear as to why all of a sudden the Flames looked so feeble that they were flat. Fifa is still investigating the match.

Match-fixing is a process of losing a game deliberately through the poor performance of players, referees and officials, among others. Match-fixing is influenced by illegal betting involving matches. Coercing players, coaches and officials into fixing matches earns some quarters a lot of money.

Well-known football scout Felix Sapao Thursday linked the issue of Mwakasungula’s ban to convicted match-fixer Wilson Raj Perumal, who, he claimed, visited the Flames hotel in Angola.

Sapao said Perumal also visited Malawi to watch the Flames play against Guinea at Kamuzu Stadium and he learnt about his trip from a former Zimbabwe Football Association official. Malawi won the game 2-1.

“I always suspected Malawi in Angola was bought. I found Perumal in the Hotel Presidente; the hotel Malawi was staying in, in Luanda. I alerted Walter [Nyamilandu] and Wilkins Mijiga and the coaching staff. We searched the hotel. Perumal run away at that point. I advised the then Fifa head of security about Perumal’s presence at the hotel.

“I exposed Perumal after he tried to recruit me because I had arranged camp for TP Mazembe in Zimbabwe. I advised Caf and Fifa. Mazembe were in camp for the 2010 Fifa World Club Cup in Harare because of Harare’s high altitude and Parumel had been working with the Zifa CEO [name withheld] and Kudzi Shaba [who has also been banned by Fifa]. It is then that he called and told me all that he does. He had not told me when he came to Malawi.

“[Because of the exposure] I had to be interviewed by the FBI in South Africa in 2012 organised by Fifa security. Interpol even came to interview me in Lilongwe at Area 30. I did not suspect Hellings to be working with Perumal at all. I had been suspecting others but, now, I presume they are vindicated [sic].

“After Perumal was arrested in Finland a few years ago, he has become a Fifa witness, working with Fifa, exposing all match-fixers. A whole bunch of e-mails between Perumal (then using an alias Lionel Duarte) and Hellings Mwakasungula were sent to Fam [Football Association of Malawi] five months ago as evidence. This was for Fam to ask Hellings to respond to the allegations. I hear he never responded. These mails date back to 2008,” Sapao claimed Thursday.

REVEALED IT ALL—Sapao

On August 27 2014, CNN website published an interview which its television station had with Perumal, who revealed that he used to target one footballer who would in turn coerce team-mates to throw games away.

“I have fixed matches with just a single player,” he told CNN. “But, of course, you would like to have the goalkeeper, we would like to have the defenders, then the striker …” he is quoted as saying.

True to this, a former Flames player Thursday said he learnt after the match against Angola that two midfielders, two defenders and another player for Flames received money from the match-fixer.

“After the game, one of the Flames players, who refused to get involved in the issue, called me from Angola that five Flames players received money from the match-fixer prior to the game. They received $1,000 each,” the winger, who was dropped from the final squad to Angola, said.

Fam President, Walter Nyamilandu, Thursday said his secretariat would comment on the matter soon.

Mijiga, who travelled to Angola in his capacity as 2010 Afcon fundraising committee chairperson for the Flames, corroborated Sapao’s version of events.

He said Sapao alerted him, the then Flames coach Kinnah Phiri, Jack Chamangwana (now deceased) and Nyamilandu about possible match-fixing as they were chatting outside the hotel.

“On the evening of the eve of the game, Felix Sapao found us (the president Walter, coaches Kinnah, Jack and the technical team at the terrace of the hotel on the 26th floor, having a conversation about the massive game the next day

“The first thing that Felix asked was ‘where are all the members of the squad?”

He was told they were in their rooms resting. Then Felix said ‘let us hope it is not too late but, on getting into this hotel, I have bumped into a match-fixer from Singapore and if he is here our match tomorrow is compromised. We must get him thrown out immediately.’

Mijiga added: “I learnt later that the match-fixer fled the hotel on meeting Felix who he knew had recognised him…then just immediately in [sic] the match, Malawi conceded ‘silly’ goals. The whole panel and those that were privy to Felix’s insights the night before had hands on their heads in despair as we all knew that this was the match-fixing Mr Sapao talked about.

“Going back to the hotel was a torturous and arduously long journey. The young players in the squad, who were surely not part of this criminality and treachery, openly accused some of the senior players of betraying them and throwing away the match to Angola for money. That is the day I saw the evil that is the criminal machinery in football at work.

“Now that the truth has eventually come out, as it always does, one can only hope that Fam will get to the fullest detail [sic] of this and the bottom of this matter to expose everyone else ever involved in this sickening treachery. Failing to do that will create an impression of complicity by Fam.”

Meanwhile, Mwakasungula has told Tuesday’s edition of The Nation newspaper of Malawi that Fifa is accusing him of having fixed a match against Algeria and a friendly in Bahrain.

“Fifa never summoned me for any hearing,” Mwakasungula is quoted as saying.

“The truth is that I was never involved in match-fixing. My hands are clean.

“There are other matches they accuse me of helping fix which I didn’t play in. For example, I have never played against Bahrain. One of the matches they accuse me of manipulating was that against Algeria at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations finals. I was man-of-the-match and Malawi won 3-0. Where was match-fixing in this result?”

Fifa banned the former Flames midfielder alongside Karlon Murray, Keyeno Thomas (Trinidad and Tobago), Ibrahim Kargbo (Sierra Leone), Kudzanai Shaba (Zimbabwe), Séïdath Tchomogo (Benin), Leonel Duarte (Cuba) and Mohammad Salim Israfeel Kohistani (Afghanistan).

Zimbabwe’s The Herald newspaper Thursday quoted Shaba as declining to comment on his ban.

“I have nothing to say on that. They told me there is a window for an appeal to be lodged, but I think the best way is just to maintain my silence right now,’’ he said.

Reports of match-fixing are also common on the domestic scene.

Last year, Fam disciplinary committee overturned life bans which National Referees Association (NRA) had imposed on four referees who were accused of accepting a K15,000 bribe to influence results of a Carlsberg Cup match between Chitipa United and Nchalo United at Mzuzu Stadium.

Initially, Northern Region Referees Committee suspended centre referee Azizi Nyirenda, assistants Limbani Chisambi and Lameck Phiri and fourth official Stephano Gomani, before NRA imposed the life bans.

However, a Fam disciplinary committee set aside the life bans and suspended the referees for failing to report the incident.

Over a decade ago, Anti-Corruption Bureau summoned referee Charles Kafatia (now deceased) and Mighty Tigers official Robin Alufandika for alleged match-fixing.

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