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Asiagate Scandal Rocks Zimbabwean Football

It could be a Hollywood script. From kidnappings to death threats; from dressing-room violence to underworld Asian syndicates. The CEO of a national organisation arrested by anti-corruption police and almost 100 players, officials and administrators suspended. However, this is not a big-screen work of fiction. Rather this is the match-fixing scandal that has engulfed football in Zimbabwe.

Dubbed ‘Asiagate’ by the local press, the revelation that members of the Zimbabwean national team and former Zimbabwean champions, Monomotapa, had been working with Asian gaming syndicates to fix matches has rocked the beautiful game in the country.

The 'Asiagate' scandal has rocked Zimbabwean football in the last 12 months

The matches in question occurred between August 2007 and January 2010. The majority of the matches took place in Asia, but it was not simply confined to one continent. Matches against at least 11 different countries are suspected to have been fixed, including Bulgaria, China, Jordan and Singapore.

Furthermore, the 2008 champions, Monomotapa were discovered to have attempted to fix African Champions League matches, as well as having impersonated the national side and fixing matches against Malaysia.

The scandal erupted after an investigation by the Sports and Recreation Commission into the question of why the national side had toured Malaysia in 2009 without having received official authorisation from the Zimbabwe Football Association (ZIFA).

The series of fixed defeats caused Zimbabwe’s world ranking to plummet to as low as 130. However, a number of the players, officials and administrators were lining their own pockets, receiving up to $5,000 for each match lost. Indeed, the CEO of ZIFA, Henrietta Rushwaya, was rumoured to be receiving up to $50k for each match.

Former ZIFA CEO, Henrietta Rushwaya, was arrested on 2nd February on charges of bribery and corruption
She was not the only high-ranking official that has been fingered in the scandal. Jonathan Musavengana, the programmes officer, and FIFA-registered match agent, Kudzi Shaba, have also been linked with the scandal, while it has been suggested that certain high-profile journalists received cash payments for their silence on the matter.

Last month, Rushwaya was arrested and charged with concealing information from a principal, bribery and corruption by the Anti-Corruption Commission, although doubts still remain as to whether she will actually face criminal prosecution. With strong political connections, including close friendships with the President, the deputy Prime Minister and the head of State Security, she reportedly ran a ‘Genghis Khan-lite’ administration that had a ‘propensity to instil fear in her subordinates and those she dealt with through cunning ways of name-dropping.’

In early February, ZIFA announced that 67 players would be suspended, before ZIFA President, Cuthbert Dube, seemingly narrowed the probe to three players – Nyasha Mushekwi, Method Mwanjali and Thomas Sweswe. However, in another twist, the new ZIFA Chief Executive, Jonathan Mashingaidze, announced that all players who undertook trips to Asia between 2007 and 2009 had been suspended.

This totalled 98 players, plus numerous officials and administrators. Former national team coach, Norman Mapeza, plus his assistant, Joey Antipas, have also been suspended. Whilst emphasising that all the players and staff had only been suspended, not banned, ZIFA also made it clear that they would remain suspended until they had cleared their name before an independent disciplinary committee, chaired by Justice Ahmed Ebrahim.

The saga did not end there though. Days after the arrest of Henrietta Rushwaya, ZIFA Chief Executive, Jonathan Mashingaidze, was kidnapped and extorted over $10k for his role in the match-fixing investigation. Further questions were raised when it was revealed that one of the kidnappers worked for the Central Intelligence Organisation. Another ZIFA board member, Benedict Moyo has reported that he fears for his life after receiving threats after the publication of the Asiagate final report.

ZIFA Chief Executive, Jonathan Mashingaidze, was kidnapped over his role in the investigation

Despite threats of life bans from FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s security department last month announced an amnesty period, running until April, during which players and officials are free to volunteer information without punishment. It hopes that it will allow them to take a step closer to identifying the key figures behind the scandal, rather than those simply caught up in it.

The clearest testimony thus far relates to Monomotapa’s African Champions League match with Etoile du Sahel in Tunis in 2009. It comes from the former Monomotapa captain, Mthulisi Maphosa. Maphosa had missed the now-infamous Malaysian tour when the club had impersonated the national side through injury.
Called to speak to ZIFA after a report from a ZIFA councillor, Onisimo Makwengura, which had suggested something fishy about the match, he pulled no blows in explaining what had occurred.

Talking about how there had been no training before the match and how the team coach had arrived late and spoken very little to the players, he detailed how the team had seemed to have conceded very soft goals:

“We conceded our first goal around 15 minutes from the start. Our goalkeeper slipped and fell on the ground when the ball went high. Even a small boy could have avoided that goal. To my surprise, the goalkeeper, who I knew that every time he concedes a goal gets angry, was in that instance smiling.”

He continued to explain how the second goal seemed soft again. However, the major confrontation came just before the post-match press conference. Maphosa explains:

“When they were preparing the chairs, Dhlakama (the head coach) answered a call in English. After that call, he said to me that Sisi called and she was telling him that we were supposed to lose 3-0, so we had lost some money. I then asked who Sisi was, and he said Henrietta Rushwaya."

Monomotapa captain, Mthulisi Maphosa, has spoken out against his former head coach and team manager

Maphosa stormed out of the press conference after a heated argument with Clayton Munemo, the club manager. Confronting the players, he told them that if those responsible for selling the game did not come forward, he would personally tell the team directors.

“That is when the guys sat on the bench said definitely something was happening because Clayton Munemo never sat on the bench as, every three minutes or so, he was on the phone speaking in English. They even said they suspect that it must be the guys from Malaysia they saw when they played as the national team.”

The situation came to a head when Maphosa called the entire technical department together for a team meeting, confronting the coaching staff.

“Taurai Mangwiro (one of the coaches) said he was not part of it as he was surprised to hear Dhlakama telling Vorster (one of the defenders) that they should concede another goal. I then told Clayton how our keeper conceded the first goal. Clayton ended up accusing me of inciting the other guys to revolt. I headbutted him and he stormed out of my room.”

He went on to suggest that the club’s two central defenders, Voster Chitemu and Luckmore Simango, were among the conspiracy, questioning where they had the money to live the lifestyles that they appeared to be leading at the time.

A key figure behind the whole Asiagate match-fixing scandal appears to have been Singaporean betting agent, Wilson Raj Perumal. Perumal had been convicted of match-fixing in 1995, and was arrested again in February last year near Wembley. He was accused of running scams worldwide, including teams from not only Zimbabwe, but also Finland, Togo, Singapore and Botswana among others.

Wilson Raj Perumal has been at the heart of several match-fixing investigations spanning several continents

The fallout from the scandal will affect Zimbabwean football for years to come. The national team is already suffering from the suspension of almost every player that had represented the side for a three-year period. The governing body has been forced into a dramatic overhaul, resulting in the arrest of its former CEO and the suspension of five other board members.

ZIFA has said that ‘it will be reasonable, fair and, to some extent, lenient in the way it will handle those players and officials found to be on the wrong side of the football laws. They are human beings and they are very much aware of the consequences of life bans.’

However, Sepp Blatter has threatened to issue life bans from FIFA and permanently blacklist officials and players involved in any form of match-fixing or cover-up. A paragraph from Zimpapers, a Zimbabwean website sums up the situation succinctly:

“It was the Sunshine City a mere two weeks ago when Sepp Blatter’s delegation flew in direct from Zurich to the VIP suite at the Harare International Airport domestic terminal. Moments after Blatter had left the capital the following day it was freezing cold. And in his wake was a football tsunami. The world football boss had himself delivered the fatal judgment on all the would-be convicted mercenaries.”

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