By Peter Alegi | November 2nd, 2014 | No Comments
For a quarter century Chuck Blazer was the most powerful soccer administrator in the United States and CONCACAF. He was a member of the FIFA Executive Committee from 1996 to 2013. Investigative journalist Andrew Jennings revealed in 2011 that Blazer was under FBI investigation for tax evasion. Thanks to a devastating, detailed report by The New York Daily News published this weekend, we now also know that Blazer became an FBI informant. (Click here for full text.)
In doing so, U.S. authorities sought to gain “a rare window into the shadowy financing of international soccer, a world notorious for its corruption and lavish excess,” the Daily News reports.
Blazer’s debauchery is legendary, as this blog has highlighted in the past. But the Daily News presented new evidence documenting how he “failed to pay income taxes for more than a decade while hauling in tens of millions of dollars, a discovery the feds used to threaten him with prosecution and convert him into a cooperating witness.” The newspaper provides fresh evidence of Blazer’s misallocation of funds and misuse of assets belonging to CONCACAF. He went so far as to run up $29 million in credit card charges. Damning proof, it is alleged, that Blazer was “intoxicated by power and cash.”
The 69-year-old soccer official, now dying of colon cancer, “lived like there was no tomorrow,” emboldened by global football administration’s modus operandi—one that makes “you feel like you’re the king of the world,” one source told the Daily News; “And it’s all for soccer.”
Addendum (11/6/2014): Listen to “Beyond The Pitch” podcast “dissect and tell the story behind the tale that is titled Mister Ten Percent, Chuck Blazer, a lengthy piece that digs deep into his background and explains how a soccer dad from New York rose to the dizzying heights of world football royalty, how he climbed the ladder armed with ambition and ingenuity and what led to his fall as fresh reports in New York media suggest that he is now cooperating with federal authorities.”
By Peter Alegi | October 27th, 2014 | No Comments
Just two days after former 800m world champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi died in a car crash, South Africa mourns the death of another sport celebrity. 27-year-old Senzo Meyiwa, captain of Orlando Pirates and South Africa, was shot and killed on Sunday evening during a robber at his partner’s home in Vosloruus, East Rand.
According to initial reports, two armed men entered the home of actress and singer Kelly Khumalo and demanded cash, cell phones, and valuables from seven people. An altercation ensued and one of the assailants shot Meyiwa once in the chest. The player was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital.
Kick Off magazine reported on its website that “News of the shooting prompted widespread sympathy on social media and condemnation of South Africa’s rampant gun violence.”
Tsepo Masilela, a Bafana Bafana teammate of Meyiwa’s, seemed to capture the shock of many when he tweeted: “How do you kill someone for a cellphone?”
The South African Police Service (@SAPoliceService) offered a R150,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
Chris Thurman, an academic and editor of Sport versus Art, summed up the horrible past days for sport in South Africa via Twitter: “RIP Mbulaeni Mulaudzi & Senzo Meyiwa. Men who offered South Africans two of the best features of our story, struck down by two of the worst.”
By Peter Alegi | October 22nd, 2014 | No Comments
On Thursday, October 23, Football Beyond Borders, a London-based non-profit organization, is hosting a panel discussion on the power of football to combat social exclusion. It features author, journalist and tv pundit Guillem Balague, award-winning writer David Goldblatt, Premier leaguer Joey Barton, sports agent Sky Andrew, and other special guests. The event is part of the FARE network #FootballPeople action weeks.
Two new documentaries about Football Beyond Borders’ work in the UK and Brazil will also be premiered. Copa dos Povos is about the international Favela World Cup that took place in Brazil in the summer; and All Stars in Scotland: FBB Youth Tour, which follows the first ever FBB school tour to Scotland.
The event is at Amnesty International’s East London HQ from 7pm until 10pm, with food and drinks available. Tickets are sold out but you can watch a livestream of the event on the FBB YouTube channel.
By Peter Alegi | October 13th, 2014 | No Comments
Ivory Coast fans taunt Sierra Leone during a recent 2015 African Nations Cup qualifier. Luc Gnago/Reuters
Spectators went beyond the usual gamesmanship at Sierra Leone’s practice in Yaoundé, Cameroon: chants of “Ebola, Ebola” rained on the visitors. “You feel humiliated, like garbage, and you want to punch someone,” said John Trye, a reserve goalkeeper, speaking to Jeré Longman of The New York Times (click here to read the article).
Two months ago, Sierra Leone had reached number 50 in FIFA’s world ranking–an excellent result for a country ranked 183rd in the Human Development Index. Coached by Johnny McKinstry, an ambitious 29-year-old from Belfast, the team seemed poised to qualify for the 2015 African Nations Cup before the catastrophic Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
The Confederation of African Football decreed that Sierra Leone’s Nations Cup home qualifiers had to be played outside the country. When the team journeyed to Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, to play a “home” match against the DRC, midfielder Khalifa Jabbie reported that “they treated us like aliens.” In Abidjan, the Ivory Coast players opted for fist-bumps with their opponents instead of shaking hands; fans in the stands taunted the visitors with “Stop Ebola” signs and insulting chants (see photo above).
Already facing stiff competition in a qualifying group that includes Ivory Coast and Cameroon, the itinerant Sierra Leoneans lost matches and became demoralized. “The players tried their very best but sometimes what the mind’s willing to do, the body simply can’t anymore,” said their Irish coach. Making matters worse, a couple of weeks before Sierra Leone’s away match in Cameroon, McKinstry was fired with a curt email from the sports ministry, which then fought publicly with the country’s Football Association over the selection of his successor.
While Sierra Leonans have much more serious matters to deal with than sport, the stigma and fear associated with Ebola is also denying emotional solace to a nation generously endowed with football passion and patriotism. As their new coach, Atto Mensah, put it, “This is the only way we can make people happy. We owe them joy.”
By Peter Alegi | August 24th, 2014 | 2 Comments
Albert Ebossé, the Algerian league’s top striker last season, was killed by a stone thrown from the stands during a match on Saturday in Tizi Ouzou. It was hurled by someone in a section of the stadium occupied by supporters of his own team, JSK.
The Algerian authorities have opened an investigation on this senseless killing. Meanwhile, the Tizi Ouzou stadium is closed until further notice.
Born in 1989 in Douala, Cameroon, Ebossé stood out on the pitch for his physical size, scoring ability, and unbreakable spirit. In a series of tweets, the Algerian football analyst Mezahi Maher described him as “one of the best I’ve seen in the Algerian league. [He] Seemed invincible against the nastiest defenders. That air of indestructibility further adds to the shock.”
Widely respected by teammates and the media in Algeria, Ebossé embodied the hemle (Bassa for “pride”) so revered in Douala, as Ntone Ndjabe explained in a terrific World Cup preview of the Cameroon squad published in the Financial Times.
When, during a match in Sétif, spectators spewed monkey chants at him, Maher recalled, Ebossé remained composed and focused. Later in the match he soared above the defenders to score on a powerful header. Ebossé celebrated by doing a “monkey dance” for the crowd. Hemle.
His 17 goals in 2013-14 attracted the attention of several European clubs. However, with a daughter born just one week ago and a year left on his JSK contract, Ebossé decided to stay put: “Tizi Ouzou is special. Here I feel as if I’m with my own family in Douala.”
It was a member of his “family” who killed him.
By Peter Alegi | August 11th, 2014 | 1 Comment
Elite footballers, coaches, and advocates are threatening to sue FIFA and the Canadian local organizing committee for gender discrimination at next year’s Women’s World Cup.
An international group that includes the last two FIFA Players of the Year, Nadine Angerer (Germany, @NAngerer) and Abby Wambach (USA, @AbbyWambach), is demanding organizers switch the six venues from artificial turf to natural grass, the only surface that’s ever been used in the men’s World Cup finals.
While FIFA guidelines state that the world body “will always prefer a perfectly manicured grass pitch to an artificial surface,” the 2015 tournament is set to be played exclusively on plastic pitches. Through their legal counsel, the players are demanding their right to “Equal Playing Fields.”
“By singling out women for differential and unequal treatment,” states the official letter (click here for full text) to FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the Canadian organizers, “you not only subject the world’s top players to heightened risk from an array of turf-related injuries, but you also force them to experience the legally cognizable indignity of playing the game’s most important event on what your organizations admit to be an inferior surface.”
At the time of writing, neither FIFA nor the Local Organizing Committee have issued a public statement in response to the players’ demands. But few aficionados would disagree that if the 2015 Women’s World Cup were to be played on natural grass it would be an important victory for gender equality and the beautiful game.
By Liz Timbs | August 6th, 2014 | No Comments
JOHANNESBURG—As of July 26, Ephraim “Shakes” Mashaba is officially South Africa’s new national team coach. Mashaba fills the void left by the exit of Gordon Igesund, whose contract was not renewed for reasons that have yet to be explicitly stated by the South African Football Association (SAFA).
Much of the media coverage in the build up to Mashaba’s appointment had suggested that Bafana Bafana, as the national team is known, were going to be under the guidance of a foreign-born coach. Among the names circulated were Carlos Queiroz of Portugal (an ex-Bafana coach), Stephen Keshi of Nigeria, and Frank Rijkaard and Dick Advocaat of the Netherlands.
SAFA President Danny Jordaan said “The appointment of Shakes Mashaba was a unanimous decision by the NEC (National Executive Committee).” (He did not indicate whether or not Mashaba was the first choice; but the general opinion seems to be that Shakes was chosen after Queiroz’s financial demands were deemed to be excessive.)
Mashaba is a strong candidate for the head coaching job. In the 1970s and 1980s he played for Orlando Pirates, Moroka Swallows, and Swaraj, and then became one of South Africa’s most accomplished homegrown coaches. In fact, this is not Mashaba’s first stint as Bafana head coach. He held the full-time position from 2002 to 2003 and prior to that he was briefly caretaker coach in 1992 and 2001. Mashaba is undefeated as Bafana head coach. (Mashaba also coached the Swaziland national team, Isihlangu, from 2008-2010, and Venda club Black Leopards from 2004-2008).
But where Mashaba has distinguished himself is coaching South Africa’s youth national teams. He has been in charge of the under-17 (amaJimbo), under-20 (amaJita), and under-23 (amaGlug-Glug) and enjoyed good success with these sides, including amaJita’s victory in the COSAFA Youth Cup in Lesotho last December.
Reactions to Mashaba’s appointment from South African football experts have been largely positive. Former Bafana coach Clive “Mad Dog” Barker enthusiastically endorsed Shakes’ return. “He’s good guy and it just shows that good guys do come first sometimes. I’m right behind him and I think he’s going to produce the goods,” Barker said. “It’s fantastic that he’s a local coach and he’s got an ability to work with young players,” he noted.